I Am Not Eternal

24 March 2020

I spoke to the latest oncologist assigned to mollify me yesterday about life expectancy now that the stage 4 lung cancer has entered my brain. We talked about further radiotherapy — I’ve just had a round that went by swimmingly until the last day and then threw me into a personal apocalypse for over a week — a return to chemotherapy and the new third generation targeted therapy drug I’ve just started. She knew I’d read the literature on the latter and it’ll keep me going, on average, around 10 months before the other options are all that’s left. But maybe I’ll be lucky and get another year or two. She told me about clinical trials and the rapid rate of change in drug availability. But we both knew I understood precisely what ‘terminal’ meant: around a year and a half +/- whatever bonus I might get.

Out of curiosity I asked her why she chose to specialise in oncology. It is, after all, a field in which almost all patients die, and despite the glowing headlines cancer research isn’t delivering much more than the occasional few extra days of life for patients with the 200-odd complex diseases we so flippantly brush together and label the singular ‘cancerter’. Not a happy scenario at all.

Unlike almost every other oncologist I’ve spoken to — around 10 in a system that assigns doctors randomly for each patient visit — she admitted that she could do nothing for patients except give them drugs and talk to them. The talking, she said, was the most important part, and what attracted her to the field. People need to communicate their greatest fears, their hopes forlorn or otherwise and be told first that someone is there for them and then what they might not have relished they could still do.

I was so unwell and had already had her explain 18 of my current symptoms that I didn’t ask her name or look for her ID, and she was as masked as I was in these virus plagued days. But it struck me that she was the most personable doctor I had ever spoken to, and there have been very many. I am not eternal and for far more mundane reasons, neither is she. But her belief in the power of communication is. At least I hope so. It’s inspired me to start writing again. Maybe about cancer, but as Dr House once said, “cancer’s boring”. Well, too much of it is. And I’ve only got a short time to write.

Cancer, communication, writing, oncology

Writing, Blogging, Learning

5 March 2008

Collaborative Reviews and the Battle for Literature

Gav Bad Speed-Reads, by andropolisThought in isolation is a little sterile, prone to fits and starts. Writing can help the learning process by forcing ideas into shape, but only conversation in its many forms can really beat out misconceptions. A blog is, or at least should be, a conversation in motion, and in that I’m thankful of the comments I received on my post yesterday.

I particularly want to mention John Quiggin’s rejoinder because it made me think more about the nature of the book review and what a certain type of blog can add to it. My position has been that online reviews tend towards the book report form, and I’ve been thinking – somewhat narcissistically – of blogs like this, single author affairs. In the first part of his comment Professor Quiggin pointed to the value of the book seminars on Crooked Timber, a multi-author blog to which he contributes and I read.


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22 February 2008

A Few Words on Big Ideas

Brevity can be liberating; sometimes the fewest words offer the most meaning. When applying for a job as a tutor in my second year of graduate school I was asked to describe my research in one sentence. One. Only. I stopped, thought, looked at the interviewer’s bookshelves, looked at her, looked at the floor, looked at my hands. All I could think was . . . daaah.

Microreviews for Kitties

Photo from: I Can Has Cheezeburger?

Then I started to talk and nailed it. One year in 20 words. So it can’t be too hard to write one sentence book reviews, right?

That’s what I’ve been doing with the ‘Reading’ and ‘Recommended’ sections in the sidebar — sharing quick thoughts on the big ideas of literature. Now I’m expanding the effort to include ‘Maybe, but . . .’ and ‘No! No! No!’, just to capture the full range of my reactions to what I read. You’ll notice that my definition of a book is fairly liberal.

Past microreviews are now stored on their own page with links to sites that carry more details. Feel free to leave any comments and suggest alternatives to what I’ve written. I’ll post them on the page to offer counterpoints.

Nothing, I hope, is truly incontestable in this puzzling world.