Marcus was thoughtful enough to send me The Emperor of All Maladies, which I had meant to get months ago, but with everything going on, it slipped the brain. I was barely into the book, tears in my eyes, thinking “yep, yep, yep” and identifying with so much. It’s a truly riveting narrative, and it’s what the very best books always are – an opportunity to learn.
One thing which really struck deeply home was when the author talked about how it’s difficult to think of cancer as a thing, it’s more on the person side, and that’s so true. I don’t think of my cancer as random cells happily cloning and evolving at the expense of the rest of me; I don’t think of it as a nebulous disease; I don’t think of it as a thing. It’s more like you separate, and there’s a shadowy self staring you down, a dark charcoal swipe of a doppelgänger, challenging you to wage war for your life, and cancer cells are much better at the whole evolution business than we are, which is why you get poisoned and radiated to what feels like an inch from death. All that said, and given the recent nightmare of treatment, I found myself profoundly grateful for the current stage of medical and technological advance when I read this:
The sixteenth-century surgeon Ambroise Paré described charring tumors with a soldering iron heated on coals, or chemically searing them with a paste of sulfuric acid. Even a small nick in the skin, treated thus, could quickly suppurate into a lethal infection. The tumors would often profusely bleed at the slightest provocation.
Lorenz Heister, and eighteenth-century German physician, once described a mastectomy in his clinic as if it were a sacrificial ritual: “Many females can stand the operation with the greatest courage and without hardly moaning at all. Others, however, make such a clamor that they may dishearten even the most undaunted surgeon and hinder the operation. To perform the operation, the surgeon should be steadfast and not allow himself to become discomforted by the cries of the patient.”
I’d dearly like to be able to go back in time and smack the fuck out of Heister, and a host of others. Misogyny seriously sucks, and boy, is it ever present in cancer treatment. It’s certainly lessened a great deal, but it’s still more than present. Sigh.
Anyroad, highly recommended, for everyone.
ETA: Feeling better, got my anger and FUCK ITs back. Yeah.