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Cancer, As We Know It

Our coverage of the illness is raw, inspiring, scientific, sad, historical, and familial. Have a look.

by
Stephanie Butnick
May 22, 2015
(Shutterstock)

(Shutterstock)

Today on Tablet, we’ve published just one article: a deeply moving essay by Jenny Diski, who considers religion and her own beliefs following a fatal, inoperable diagnosis of pulmonary fibrosis and lung cancer. The author of 10 novels, 2 volumes of essays, and a collection of short stories, Diski has been chronicling her life since the diagnosis for the London Review of Books. Her essay is raw and stark and unbearably human, and certainly worth a read.

Illness—living with it, living around it, surviving it—is a theme explored frequently on our site. To complement Diski’s essay, we’ve rounded up those personal essays, reported stories, and blog posts from our archive:

After Judith Rosenbaum’s mother and grandmother were diagnosed with breast cancer, she underwent genetic testing and discovered she carried BRCA, the genetic mutation disproportionately found in Ashkenazi Jews that can cause breast cancer. After a prophylactic mastectomy, she grapples with the genetic legacy she inherited—and passed on to her daughter.

After her own breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, Israeli entrepreneur Michelle Arbel founded a company to provide a more natural nipple prosthesis for women who have had breast reconstruction following mastectomy.

In her “powerful, poetic” new memoir, playwright Alice Eve Cohen describes how, after being diagnosed with breast cancer, she began receiving so-called visits from her late, distanced mother, who had battled breast cancer during Cohen’s adolescence under a shroud of secrecy.

A monthly support group that brings Israeli and Palestinian breast cancer survivors together in Jerusalem forges bonds that transcend regional conflict—and gave one Israeli survivor a lifesaving network.

The inspiring story of Maya Rigler, a 10-year-old kidney cancer survivor who now has an inoperable tumor on her pancreas, who asked those offering to help her to instead donate money to a pediatric cancer research foundation.

The BRCA gene mutation most commonly found in Ashkenazi Jews is discovered among a population of Roman Catholic Hispanos in Colorado. Vox Tablet talks to writer Jeff Wheelwright about how one specific genetic marker could have made its way from Ancient Babylonia to the contemporary American southwest.

Dr. Benjamin Corn, a doctor at the Tel Aviv Medical Center and frequent Tablet contributor, explains why he started leading a weekly singing group in his oncology department—and the strikingly positive effects it’s had on patients.

Israeli novelist Etgar Keret describes his dad’s decision, following a diagnosis of advanced stage of cancer at the base of his tongue, to undergo surgery to remove his tongue. “I love making decisions when things are at rock bottom,” his dad assures him. “And the situation is such dreck now that I can only come out ahead.”

Journalist Masha Gessen discusses finding out she carried the BRCA gene mutation, and deciding what to do from there—as well as the scientific, philosophical, and emotional implications of genetic testing.

David Schlusselberg, a 27-year-old rabbi, teacher, and aspiring musician, lost his mother to breast cancer when he was nine. He released a song for her during Breast Cancer Awareness month in 2014, called “I Miss Her.”

For two weeks at Camp Simcha in Riverdale, N.Y., each summer, campers aren’t kids with cancer or kids with cerebral palsy. They’re just kids. “Our entire goal is to make sure each minute here at camp is as fun, fulfilling, and medically safe as possible,” the camp’s director explained.

Every night for two years, Rebecca Wolf took part in a telephone prayer group for her daughter’s fifth-grade classmate, who had cancer. Though the girl died after a brief remission, the strangely intimate nightly ritual left Wolf transformed.

Two 2012 memoirs, Memoir of a Debulked Woman and Fierce Joy, offer inspiring models for coping with illness.

After 21-year-old Raffi Lecht was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, he spent a year undergoing aggressive treatment—a year best measured by the sequence of annual Jewish holidays Lecht observed as best he could.

Cancer patients find a new perspective on the present and the future in the Jewish ritual of counting the Omer, the 49 days from the second day of Passover until the day before Shavuot, writes Dr. Benjamin Corn.

Related: Facing Death

Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.

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