Tag Archives: cancer

Seeing the Beauty in an Invalid

As I sat by the hospital bed of a dear friend holding her hand, the well-known opening lines from Auden’s “Lullaby” came to mind:

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Once There Was Light

I turned to Jane Kenyon’s “Having It Out with Melancholy” when a friend’s illness suddenly took a turn for the worse.

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Lucille Clifton’s Cancer Poems

In her 1980s cancer poems, Lucille Clifton captures a range of feelings, ranging from confusion to anger to acceptance.

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Women Who Refuse To Be Broken

There are certain poets who appear indomitable and, in their confident affirmations of life, inspire the rest of us. Lucille Clifton was one of these poets.

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Trapped in an Emergency Room

When a friend found herself suddenly trapped in a large metropolitan emergency room, Nabokov’s short story “Cloud, Castle, Lake” came to mind. It’s about a man who wants to leave travel tour and is prevented.

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Clifton Poems Make Connection Possible

In a recent event honoring the memory of Lucille Clifton, poet Toi Derricotte read a poem about how Clifton’s poetry opened up a relationship with the mother of a sick child. Here I share Derricotte’s poem as well as the poems she read to the mother and examine why they had the effect they did.

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A Fatal Diagnosis, an Almost Ghost

A good friend has just been diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer, putting me in mind of a poem by Lucille Clifton when she learned of her husband’s lung cancer diagnosis.

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A Cancer Patient Reads “The Bacchae”

One of my students, suffering from cancer, has an exciting interpretation of Euripides’ “The Bacchae.”

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The Long Goodbye

My friend Alan Paskow is in his final days. Although not in a coma, he appears in perpetual sleep, and each day his breathing is more labored. Thomas Hood’s poem “The Death Bed” captures some of the experience of waiting and watching.

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Responding to Intruder Death

As we do every week, Julia and I visited our friends Alan and Jackie this past Sunday evening, Julia to administer Reiki massage and I to talk. Alan was tired from his chemotherapy treatments and in pain from a cracked rib (he doesn’t know how that happened). Nevertheless we talked about literature, including Sir Gawain […]

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Becoming the Hero of Our Own Life

David Copperfield  (1935)         “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show,” writes narrator David Copperfield at the beginning of the great Charles Dickens novel.  But why the uncertainty?  Can’t we just decide to be the hero of […]

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A Battle with Cancer: The Epic Version

From time to time I have written about my friend Alan, who has been assaulted by a series of cancerous tumors that the doctors keep on removing, either through surgery or through radiation/cyberknifing.  He has had tumors removed from his eyelid, his neck, both lungs (six in all from the lungs) and now, most recently, […]

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Befriending, Not Fighting, Grendel’s Mother

I am still vibrating from the powerful student essays I received last week. I talked about one yesterday and will share another today. This is one from a student whose mother is dying of brain cancer. Erica Rutkai (she is letting me use her name) decided to move from California to the east coast when […]

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Satirizing Doctors, the Best Medicine

Doctors debate while patient dies in Hogarth’s “Harlot’s Progress,” plate V I’ve talked several times about my friend Alan, who has been battling cancer for a while now.  At present he is still alive, still working out at the gym, and still in the dark about what kind of cancer he has.   He longs for […]

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The Kafkaesque World of Cancer

Tony Perkins in Welles’ The Trial               I ran into my friend Alan in the gym on Monday.  As I have reported in a number of past posts, Alan has been battling tumors in both lungs that continue to baffle doctors.  At least one doctor predicted that he would be dead a […]

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Arguing over Life, Death, and a Semicolon

John Donne          Cancer has gone from being a word to being a reality for me as two close friends have been struck.  Alan Paskow, whose progress I’ve been reporting on, had an operation before Christmas that removed three tumors from his right lung (one the size of a grapefruit).  And Beth Reynolds had a tumor […]

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And a woman said, “Tell us of Pain”

Here’s a poem that deals directly with pain, from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet.  I don’t entirely understand it but I’m intrigued by some of its claims: “And a woman spoke, saying, “Tell us of Pain.” And he said: Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. Even as the stone of […]

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Can We Imagine Another’s Pain?

In Friday’s post I mentioned how we read and discussed the first few pages of Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World in our most recent salon, held to support colleague Alan Paskow as he battles with cancer.  Scarry claims that language is inadequate when it comes to physical pain so […]

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Alan’s Cancer vs. an Exquisite Corpse

Colleagues of my friend Alan Paskow held another one of our salons Monday night.  Alan is a former professor of philosophy at St. Mary’s College, now retired, who currently has cancer in his lungs.  We have been meeting once a month or so to show our support and to generally reaffirm how important community is.  Monday […]

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Death and Language’s Limitations

In spending the last two weeks discussing how poetry can come to our aid in a season of death, I have been exploring how poetry responds to its greatest test. Death and dying can trigger our deepest fears, generate panic, denial and anger, prompt us to question everything we believe in, and send on frantic […]

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Sir Gawain and a Friend’s Cancer

Just as Sir Gawain and the Green Knight supported me as I grieved for my son, so is it supporting me now as I interact with a close friend, a philosophy professor, who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Alan’s tumors began in his neck and eyelid and have now migrated down to his lungs. […]

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