Thursday, February 26, 2009

I lived

Well, it went well yesterday with the lumpectomy (I cannot get used to that word!) and the surgeon didn't kill me. The good news is not only that I lived through it, but that the lymph nodes are all clear, which means that radiation should be all that I have to do now and that I shall not end up bald and puking. I am wearing a little flowery tube top sort of thing around my chest to hold everything together. It would be flattering if I were about 50 years younger. I get to take it off tomorrow.

The worst part of the whole experience was getting the shots of radioactive dye into my delicate breast without any anesthetic. The radiologist kept apologizing and I assured him that I knew he was only doing what he had to do. In a bad German accent, I told him that he was only following orders, which made him laugh and tell me about visiting Berlin once. So we got through it, and I didn't glow in the dark. A couple of hours later I went into surgery and then recovery where I was presented with the above little pillow, made by one of the volunteers for breast cancer patients. I came home around 2:00 and iced my chest and slept. Today I am a bit sore but it's not too bad and (prduct placement)Tylenol helps.

So now I guess I will become a Breast Cancer Survivor. This is a bit like being a Recovering Alcoholic. I don't know why they use that label. I mean, you don't say someone is a pneumonia survivor, or a measles survivor. Why always attach that label to someone who has had cancer? It seems to me that it adds to the fear we all have of that disease, since it reminds you that some people can die of it. Well, you can die from a lot of things. You then become identified by a disease you have had. It's almost as if that becomes your identity, the way that alcoholics become defined by their alcoholism, even though that is only a part of who they are. After she had breast cancer, Susan Sontag wrote a book called "Illness As Metaphor." I don't know if that was what she meant, but in a way perhaps she felt defined by it by becoming a "survivor." Maybe we need to think of it some other way.

So let's all remember go get our mammograms every year.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Alas, Poor Jane

Friday last I went up to the university theater to see a musical version of "Jane Eyre." I have always loved this Gothic romance. The Orson Welles version came out when I was in high school, and my friend Ethel and I went to see it after school one day. We loved it so much we stayed to see it again, causing great upset to our parents, who had expected us home much sooner. The first time I went to England, I was able to to go to Haworth, where the Brontes lived. In the gift shop at their former home, there was a little TV set, playing the Welles version. In the very home where Charlotte had written it! On that same trip, my friend Susan went to see the non-musical play "Jane Eyre" in London, starring the actor who played the very bad guy in "Jewel in the Crown." Not so good as Welles, but it was well done.

The Kent State University Theater department puts on two musical plays every year and they are invariably outstanding, so I really looked forward to seeing this one. The major problem was that it was just not a very good musical. The set, the lighting, and the costumes were up to the usual excellent standards of the theater department. The singers were, for the most part, adequate. However, now that actors no longer know how to project, everyone was miked, but apparently forgot and tried to project anyway. The result was so distorted that it was hard to understand most of the content. I kept hoping the sound technician would adjust things, but that didn't happen. We had good seats, I don't have a hearing problem, and it was maddening.

The music was pretty terrible anyway and the dialogue was pretty bad, too. The actors had to sing their stories instead of acting them, which made for some pretty dead spots as they were standing there going on and on, sort of singing pages from the book. It's hard to describe the awfulness of this thing. One egregiously dreadful scene involved a pretty young woman playing Blanche, the woman who Jane thinks is going to be Rochester's bride, singing this cheery song about - God, I can't remember what it was about, only that she and the orchestra (which was excellent) weren't able to come to terms with the pitch. It involved a lot of very high note, just a hair off-key, which I am sure disturbed a lot of dogs 'way out in the county. All in all, a disappointment.
I almost forgot: Another excruciating aspect of this show was the attempt at an English accent on the part of the student performers. I noticed in the programme that they did have a dialect coach. I think that must have been the man I saw sobbing in the corridor during the intermission.


Tomorrow I will have the surgery I mentioned in my previous blog. Everything is fine - I cleaned out my desk. Washed a load of underwear. Talked to everyone in my family. Talked to a few women who have had this "procedure" - I love that word - and obviously survived it. I should be back at the blog in a few days. Think good thoughts for me.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Keeping Abreast of the News

So I'll just start out from the beginning. I flunked my latest mammogram. That was not a good thing to hear. I had another, very painful one, called a compression mammogram during which one is very much compressed. Something showed up after they tried about 6 or 7 times and then I had a biopsy. What that showed was a very small but not at all nice little thing. It is stage one and non-estrogenic which is not too bad, if you have to have something strange living in your body. The surgeon says the prognosis is very good and that I have a choice between a mastectomy or a lumpectomy and to think about it and let him know. I asked him what he would recommend if I were his mother. He said the lumpy thing. So next week that's what I'll have, with a side of radiation to follow.

I shall now be a member of a club I didn't really want to join. This is not one of the things I ever thought about during one of those wide awake at 3 a.m. nights. Falling asteroids, yes, but cancer, no. I tried to de-disaster this, but it didn't work this time. I will be fine, but it does put a glitch in my equanimity. The hardest part is telling the family, but nobody panicked.
Last week there were two great concerts to distract me. In the morning, the Cleveland Orchestra had the Brahms Violin Concerto and Tchaikovsky's 4th Symphony with that great pizzicato 3rd movement. It was tremendous and thrilling. That night the Hausman Quartet, which is a resident group on campus, did a terrific free concert at the library with lots of fugues by Bach and Beethoven and ended with some tangos - it was Valentine's Day. I don't know if I'll make it to the Cleveland concert next Friday (my seat is in the very last row of the top balcony and I love it, but will I be in good enough shape to climb up to it?) and they're doing the Beethoven 7th. My friend Ethel's mother had all of the Beethoven Symphonies arranged for two pianos. She and her mother, who was from Germany, used to play together. The 2nd movement of that symphony was within my feeble capabilities, and we used to play it together.

In the meantime, there's the Academy Awards coming up. Predictions: "Slumdog Millionaire" for best picture, Sean Penn for "Milk" and Kate Winslet for "The Reade." I did like Anne Hathaway in "Rachel Getting Married", so that may happen. I didn't see "The Dark Knight", so I have no idea what all the buzz about the dead guy is. I did like Viola Davis in "Doubt" even though she was barely there. I'll have to watch the PBS "Oliver Twist", so I'll miss some of the broadcast, but since it goes on for hours, I'll be able to catch up in time for the big ones - best picture and actor/actress.

So, tonight I am going to see a musical version of "Jane Eyre." Can't imagine what tunes Mad Bertha will sing, but it should be interesting. Nothing like a Gothic tale to cheer a person up.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Bloody Lucia

So I went to see "Lucia di Lammermoor" on Saturday in HD over in Akron. The theater was packed, since this is a favorite opera for many of us. One of the draws was Rolando Villazon, who is a terrific tenor, who is also very cute in a fuzzy big-eyed toy animal sort of way. However, Rolando was ill and was replaced by a very fine Polish tenor and the audience both at the Met and in the Akron theater all responded with a disappointed "awwww" when the substitution was announced.

Lucia was sung by the Russian soprano Anna Netrebko who has the perfect bel canto soprano voice but isn't much of an actress. In fact, the tenor who also sang beautifully wasn't much of an actor, so I think it is better to just listen to singers like that on the radio and not watch them, especially in High Def. The opera itself leads to some cognitive dissonance: a Scottish story by Sir Walter Scott, with Italians wearing kilts and emoting in Italian all over the place in a very non-Scots sort of way, not that there isn't the odd Scot who goes mad and stabs her husband on their honeymoon, especially if she has been forced to marry a man she doesn't love by her cruel brother in order to save the family estate. Happens all the time, I'm sure.

One thing that has always puzzled me about this story is that after Lucia offs the groom, she dies. It's necessary to the plot, but you never hear what she dies of. I mean, she has just spent about 20 minutes doing the mad scene, which would tire a person out, being incredibly difficult and requiring a lot of breath control, but I don't think it would kill a person outright. It hasn't killed any sopranos over the years, after all. (She is accompanied, by the way, by a glass harmonica which really adds to the eeriness of the situation.) This is such a really good old fashioned melodrama that the man she really loves, who goes by the old Scottish name of Edgardo, on learning of her death, stabs himself, while singing the most beautiful aria, managing to get through the whole thing before expiring.

I saw this opera years ago when the Metropolitan Uprear used to come to Cleveland in the spring for a week. Roberta Peters was Lucia and was wonderful and sang the mad scene without personally dying. In the production I saw Saturday, they had the dead Lucia come back as a ghost and hang out with Edgardo while he was singing and dying. It was ridiculous, if you want to know the truth.