'Cancer Bitch' and the afterlife

January 11, 2011

Produced by Eight Forty-Eight

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Author S.L. Wisenberg.

Chicago writer S.L. Wisenberg chose the pseudonym "Cancer Bitch" when she decided to blog about her battle with breast cancer. The bitch is back with reflections on another aspect of health – preparing for the afterlife. Wisenberg is the author of "The Adventures of Cancer Bitch," a book based on her blog.


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Happy New Year to everyone. May this be a year of joy and health—meaning good health. Everyone has some kind of health, I guess, as long as you’re alive.  Which leads me to a couple of pieces that I’ve gotten in the mail and have been thinking about. First, a fundraising  letter from the Authors Guild.  The Guild wants me to remember it in my will. There are enticements. The letter informs me that “There are some estate and income tax benefits, too, not to mention invitations to special events and special seating.” And, there’s one last encouragement: “The great thing about this is, you don’t have to pay until after you die.”

I suppose the special seating is for before I die, not after, but you never know, since I’ll be paying when I’m gone. Maybe The Guild intends for me to be a very active corpse. 
 
But I won’t be a corpse. I’m donating my organs, and the largest organ is skin, so I plan to be parceled out. If there are no uses for my bones, I may hang together as a skeleton. In that case, I will need very special seating. 
 
Second piece in the mail: brochure from Rush University Medical Center, telling me that even if I do crossword puzzles or play chess in order to keep my brain sharp, I could still be screwed—and worse—in the end. A report in the journal Neurology indicates that if you have lesions from dementia, you can delay symptoms by stimulating your brain, but eventually, once you develop dementia, you’re going to go downhill fast.  Robert Wilson, the Rush neuropsychologist who authored the study, said: “[T]he benefit of delaying the initial signs of cognitive decline may come at a cost. On the other hand,” he said, “by compressing the course of dementia, mental activities could reduce the overall amount of time that a person may suffer from the condition. And that’s a good thing.”
 
In other words, you can’t outrun your dementia forever. But by the time it socks you, you’ll be older and more decrepit, and closer to death.
 
If, like me, you’re always worried about your brain, about seeing the word you need just up the road but not being able to reach it, about using the wrong word that sounds like the right one, about being disorganized and forgetful and always looking for the depot where your trains of thought went, and wondering what part of this is chemo brain and what is middle-age and what is menopause (brought on by chemo with enhanced symptoms thanks to Tamoxifen)—here’s the Mimi-Mental State Exam used to get a handle on a person’s cognitive decline. 
 
  1. What is today’s date?
  2. What is the year?
  3. What day of the week is today?
  4. What season is it?
  5. What is the name of this clinic?
  6. What floor are we on?
  7. What city are we in?
  8. What county are we in?
  9. What state are we in?
  10. Who is the president of the U.S.?
  11. Who was the president before him?
  12. Who was the president before him?
  13. Who was the first president of the U.S.?
  14. Name another president.
 
Ask the subject to begin with 100 and count backwards by seven. Stop after five subtractions. Score the correct subtractions. 
 
It was a relief to see that you don’t have to count all the way backwards by sevens from 100 to 2, just to 65. 100, 93, 86, 79, 72, 65…
 
Music Button: Freddie Hubbard, "Skydive", from the CD On the Real Side, (Times Square records)