Tag Archives: Literature

Kicking Off Childhood Cancer Awareness Month by Answering the Question: Why?

The long-anticipated month of September has finally arrived: it’s National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.

President Obama issued a proclamation in honor of this occasion, recognizing that this is the time to “remember all those whose lives were cut short by pediatric cancer, to recognize the loved ones who know too well the pain it causes, and to support every child and every family battling cancer each day.”

Moreover, the proclamation acknowledges the multidimensional approach needed for childhood cancer awareness: “We join with their loved ones and the researchers, health care providers, and advocates who support them as we work toward a tomorrow where all children are able to pursue their full measure of happiness without the burden of cancer.”

As I have become more involved in the cause of childhood cancer, people have asked me why. And I think it’s important for me to be upfront about my background. No, I am not a childhood cancer survivor, nor do I have any close friends or family that have gone through the experience. But I believe that you don’t have to be personally touched by childhood cancer to care.

Volunteering with pediatric oncology patients at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital was all it took to expose me to this different world. For me, getting to know these children and their families and witnessing how cancer permeated their lives made me determined to do something.

While I currently aspire to be a pediatric oncologist and to dedicate my career to these children, I also realize that a lot can change throughout the course of my medical education. Nevertheless, I know that childhood cancer will always be a cause that I hold dear to my heart– I know that I will continue to support these children and their families in whatever capacity that I can.

That’s why I am a firm believer in the Childhood Cancer Awareness Month campaign motto at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital:

boc web page banner image

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Filed under Chronicling Childhood Cancer: Illuminating the Illness Experience through Narrative, Miscellaneous Musings

Excited for The Examined Life conference: Writing, Humanities, and the Art of Medicine

When I attended the WMU Medical Humanities Conference last fall, I heard about an upcoming conference called The Examined Life: Writing, Humanities, and the Art of Medicine. And now, I’m fortunate enough to not only be attending this conference but also be presenting about my childhood cancer narrative research!

The Examined Life conference explores “the links between the science of medicine and the art of writing.” This conference seems to align perfectly with my own dual interests in medicine and literature. I think that participating in this conference will help me to figure out how I can maintain and balance both passions throughout my career, and I’m looking forward to meeting others in these fields with their own insight and experience to share.

At the Examined Life conference just one week from now, I’ll be doing something a bit different. In writing my Honors English thesis over the course of this year, I realized just how crucial my methodology has been in shaping the adolescent cancer narratives that I wanted to analyze. As a result, rather than just presenting about my research, I’ll be leading a discussion forum this time. Specifically, we will be discussing the ethics inherent in my methodology and thoughts that may be sparked from encountering these narratives. I’m curious, nervous, and excited to see what comes out of this discussion. I believe that these conversations will give me a lot to think about as I look towards further developing my honors thesis.

Here’s the abstract for my discussion forum:

Chronicling Childhood Cancer: Illuminating the Illness Experience through Narrative

I’ve never been to Iowa! I’m excited.

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Filed under Chronicling Childhood Cancer: Illuminating the Illness Experience through Narrative, Miscellaneous Musings, Narrative Medicine Research

Week 7: Guest Speaker- Dr. Janet R. Gilsdorf

This week, we had the pleasure of welcoming Dr. Janet R. Gilsdorf to join our class discussion. Dr. Gilsdorf is a pediatric infectious disease doctor at the University of Michigan. She is  a breast cancer survivor. She is a writer, an author of two books: Inside/Outside: A Physician’s Journey with Breast Cancer (Conversations in Medicine and Society) and Ten Days. And she took the time to speak with the students in my class.

Having a guest speaker created a different dynamic for our class discussion, one that I think made some of the concepts we had discussed more real. Conversation ranged from Dr. Gilsdorf’s experiences and role in medicine to her time as a patient to her passion for reading and writing. It was a privilege for us to have the opportunity to speak with her.

Lesson Plan Week 7

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Filed under Grand Rounds

Week 4: A Literal Lock-In- The Body’s Entrapment of the Mind

To mark the halfway point of my mini-course, I gave the students the opportunity to provide feedback. In particular, I was curious about what they were enjoying in the course and what changes they would like to see made in the time we had remaining. Were the readings too long or too short? Did they find class discussions to be productive and thought-provoking? Was the class meeting their hopes and expectations and, if not, were there constructive ways that it could be improved?

I was pleasantly surprised to receive overwhelmingly positive feedback. Students seemed to be content with the structure of the course- the readings were manageable,  blog post assignments straightforward, class discussions  stimulating. Many found the blog posts to be a great way to kickstart our class discussions and to get them thinking about the readings. A number of students expressed their appreciation for the multiple media we explored and particularly enjoyed watching film and video clips in class.

The only concern that was voiced by one or two students was that there was unequal participation in class discussions. As with any discussion class, I’ve observed that some individuals participate more than others, but I have also been content with the fact that each individual contributes to each class session. To some extent, disparity in engagement may be inevitable, but I’m hoping to incorporate even more small group activities and more consciously make  an effort to get everyone talking.

Lesson Plan Week 4

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Grand Rounds Week 1: Introduction, Syllabus, and Welcome to Blogging

One week ago was the first day of my Honors 135 course, Grand Rounds: Exploring the Literary Symptoms of Illness through Narrative. It was exciting to start and to meet all my students, and I’m really looking forward to an interesting and enlightening semester.

I’ve been struggling to decide exactly how I would like to showcase my course and my thoughts about teaching on this blog. For the time being, I’ve decided to focus on my own instruction materials. I might discuss new ideas that arise in class, but to honor the sanctity of our classroom discussion, I might withhold these thoughts until the end of the semester and reflect on the course as a whole at that time.

And so, here are the openly licensed materials from our first day of class:

Honors 135 Syllabus

Lesson Plan Week 1

How to Create WordPress Blog

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Reflecting and Reframing: Becoming a .com site

The past month has been a flurry of wrapping up the semester and delving into the medical school application process, but I’ve also felt as though I was suspended within a strange state of liminality. I’ve been trying to define my research in the immediate future, but I’ve also been looking beyond that to try to figure out what I hope to accomplish with my passion for illness narratives and how far I can take it through my career in medicine.

I’ve come to realize that ultimately, my primary goal is to become a practicing clinical physician: currently, I hope to be a pediatric oncologist, but I recognize and accept the fact that all that may change in medical school. At the same time, the deeper I delve into the intersection of literature and medicine, the more aware I become of the illness narratives that surround our culture, the more I realize that this semester-long independent study barely scraped the surface. Although I sampled the genres of illness narrative theory, short story, novel, autobiography, memoir, poetry, art, dance, film, and more, there is just so much more for me to explore.

My interest in illness narratives is three-fold: learn, research, teach.

  1. LEARN: Studying illness narratives has helped me to better understand the experience of illness, and I believe that this exploration is vital to making me a better physician.
  2. RESEARCH: Making sense of existing illness narratives and conducting research to promote the generation of new ones has helped me to understand literature, to understand medicine, and to understand their intertwinement.
  3. TEACH: Exposure to illness narratives has entirely changed my understanding of medicine, and I believe that this awareness and perspective is crucial for prospective doctors, so I hope to share my knowledge about this field with others and to promote the general education of illness narratives.

Through all this, it’s become clear to me that no matter where I go for medical school, I am entirely keen on continuing to study illness narratives. And I’ve realized that I can share the process of learning, researching, and teaching in this field with others through the wonderful world-wide web. And so, my blog has abandoned the ‘.word press.’ in favor of simply ‘.com.’

My blog has always been for me, a somewhat personal space where I can reflect naturally, and I hope to preserve my original intent with an added twist. I never wanted to publicize my blog because I was writing only for me, but as I’ve watched people from around the world stumble across it, I’ve realized that there might be other illness narrative enthusiasts who just haven’t quite found the field yet. By turning my blog into a website (I still can’t believe the domain name was even available!), I hope that I can create a centralized space based on the familiarity that I’ve gained with the field.

Six months later, my journey is just beginning. And I’m excited to see how this narrative unfolds.

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Filed under Miscellaneous Musings

Accepting the Limits of Language

While Arthur Frank’s The Wounded Storyteller explored the potency of illness narratives, Kathlyn Conway’s Illness and the Limits of Expression exposes the shortcomings inherent in many of these works. Conway outlines the paradoxical nature of illness narratives: “Literature offers the possibility of representing the shattering experience of illness, but it proves woefully inadequate for depicting the nature of physical pain and the dissolution of the self” (16).

Language as a form of expression, as a means of communicating physical or mental stress, falls short of its demands. Conway denounces the most popular form of illness narratives: the triumph narrative. This form of expression finds fault in its glorification of the illness experience. Often, these are written at the conclusion of an illness experience and reflect on past experiences rather than chronicling illness through its progression. This narrative form aligns with the cultural American belief that “anything is possible,” which makes it of great appeal to the general public (6). These stories are of overcoming illness and disability, of rising above the challenges that they present, and ultimately emerging from this learning experience with enduring strength.

Despite the temptation of reconstructing past illness as triumph narratives, Conway advocates for the importance of non-triumph narratives. She claims that a triumph narrative “enables individuals and the culture to ignore the needs of the ill and disabled,” when instead, illness narratives should illuminate the vulnerabilities of these conditions and the resulting implications (24). Illness narratives present an opportunity to strip illness down to its roots, to boldly expose it for what it is. These narratives track the evolution of the illness in conjunction with the evolution of the self.

Conway exposes the paradoxical nature of illness natures. Literature empowers those who experience illness, but it simultaneously belittles that very experience. While language allows individuals to dissociate the self from the body and to express physical pain through mental thought, narratives also enable the reclamation of the body through an intimate and honest engagement with illness.

Discussion Questions:

1. In what ways are illness narratives paradoxical? What does this paradox reflect about illness? (55)

2. Why does Conway choose to address illness and disability together? How does this affect her argument and her definition of these terms? (14)

3. What is the right way to react or interpret illness narratives? Or rather, is there a right way? (19)

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