Between the Covers: 2006
How a Calvert County Oncologist Found His Counterbalance to Cancer:
Cancer Is Like The Wind
Cancer is like the wind; no one knows where it comes from and no one knows where it’s goin’.
Anonymous cancer patient
Reviewed by Sonia Linebaugh
With Cancer is Like the Wind, oncologist Bruce Silver of Calvert County, has written a new kind of book, attending not only to the nature of cancer but also to the nature of cancer patients and the solace of nature. It’s a book that won’t scare you. Nor will it give false hope.
If you’re living with cancer, this book has much to recommend it. Case histories, medical information and terminology, are powerfully therapeutically countered by the author’s wilderness forays and nature photographs, an even hundred of them. Nature is portrayed as resourceful in creative and destructive ways in both the wilderness and in people.
Bruce Silver didn’t know he would grow up to be a doctor, but others saw the potential in him. During his medical studies at Johns Hopkins, Silver didn’t know he would become a cancer specialist, but that’s where he was led by the doctor-professors he admired at the National Institutes of Health.
Going into private practice as an oncologist, Silver thought he was in the business of saving patients. “I was shell-shocked and saddened when one of my first patients told me that cancer is like the wind,” he reports. “The idea stayed and became the seed idea of my book.” Silver started paying attention to what other patients said, eventually writing notes of their words. In 15 years, he had enough for a book.
He didn’t want to write an overly optimistic “Pollyanna book” or a strictly clinical book.
“Suffering is intrinsic to the treatment of cancer,” says Silver. “Besides telling the facts about cancer and its treatment, I wanted to create something of beauty so that people who can’t get out into the wilderness at the base of a waterfall could get a feel for ways to distract themselves from their woes.”
The wilderness has been a source of therapy and balance for Silver as well. So, too, has writing.
“I like the process of writing,” he says, “whether it’s a technical essay for a colleague or a reply to an email. I like to make the words crisp and communicate clearly. The years while I was writing the book were an extremely important opportunity for relaxation and introspection. It was a way to recharge my batteries for the chaotic world of clinical practice where everything is hurry, hurry, and life and death decisions are inevitably made on incomplete information.”
Finding solace and inspiration in forays to take photos in Shenandoah Park, Silver determined to show his patients and their caregivers that suffering can be counterbalanced. His balance was nature; theirs might be something else.
As Silver the doctor moved back and forth between cancer clinic and natural wilderness, so too cancer moves like the wind between two worlds. Of a close encounter with a black bear, camera in hand, the author writes, “My heart was pounding; the sound of my breathing was embarrassingly apparent.”
A day and a page later, he’s in the cancer clinic where “Harry, a 47-year-old geologist … presented with iron deficiency anemia and gastrointestinal bleeding.”
Harry’s case, relapse by relapse, ends with death three pages and 18 years after the diagnosis of colon cancer.
Silver first practiced oncology in 1982, starting weekly drives to Calvert Memorial Hospital for a one-day clinic in 1991. One day became two, until by 1998 Silver had moved to Calvert County, where he still lives.
In Dr. Silver’s clinic we learn that Jewell, a 30-year-old dancing instructor, is diagnosed with a tumor in the heart. In the mountains, a caterpillar emerges from hiding. “The air was warm and sultry now; high thin clouds diffused the sunlight.” Jewell wants to know, Will I ever dance again? The answer is no, then yes, then “something in her temperament had evolved … she had become, in fact, more giving than needy.” At age 35 she was “free of recurrence, working, and dancing part-time.”
Silver finds that he can withstand the buffeting as his patients find ways to triumph over their diseases.
“It takes work,” says Silver. “I observe that there is no relationship between a constructive attitude while coping with cancer with education level or socio-economic class. Some patients manage to hold onto their heads, have a plan and carry on with their lives. Others don’t.
In 2001, Silver’s cancer work took a new direction. Though he says that writing the book had no influence on his decision, he moved from treating patients to researching drugs for cancer patients.
The epilogue of Cancer is Like the Wind reflects the doctor’s new occupation. Once again, he is optimistic about saving patients.
“There’s no one magic bullet,” he says, “but there have been tremendous strides. In 1960, there was no recovery from Hodgkin’s disease. With drug treatment, the recovery rate is now 85 to 90 percent. I’m proud of my work. I want people to know that this is the other hard work in the cancer field: bringing new and effective drugs to the cancer front.”
As for another book, Silver claims he is not a writer but accepts the description “a doctor who writes.” He’s doing research on his next idea and beginning to think about an update for the current book. We won’t have to wait 15 years.
Find Cancer is Like the Wind by Dr. Bruce Silver at www.amazon.com.
Sonia Linebaugh, author of the book At the Feet of Mother Meera: The Lessons of Silence, is a former associate editor at Bay Weekly.
This Enemy Town
Murder at the Naval Academy makes good reading.
Reviewed by Dick Wilson
I like living in Bay Country; I don’t need anywhere else. That’s one reason why I took an immediate liking to This Enemy Town (Avon Books; 255 pages). This book, its action centered in Annapolis, engulfs the reader in Bay culture with frequent and accurate references to places, streets, scenery and geographical features with which all us Bay Country folks (all of us on the Western Shore, anyway) are familiar. You walk the narrow streets of Annapolis, you drive around the much-curs’d Washington beltway and you navigate the congested maze that is Northern Virginia. Along the way you learn a lot about the Pentagon, the Naval Academy and a few other things. Talley writes about our environs with the same expressions we would use if we were gifted writers. Consider the following quote, voiced by the lead character:
“Why anyone chooses to live in the northern Virginia suburbs, paying grossly inflated prices for the privilege, is completely beyond me.”
The same thought I’ve had, many times. As Marylanders, we completely understand and sympathize with the sentiment. Talley is a writer who knows.
Our story begins at the United States Naval Academy, where faculty and midshipmen are busy staging the play Sweeney Todd. Rehearsals are progressing well and Hannah Ives, wife of an Academy professor, is asked by a friend to assist with the play. Hannah reluctantly agrees to pitch in by helping with props; soon she’s enmeshed in the theater micro-world of the Naval Academy. Sweeney Todd, being a play about a murderous barber, is a precursor for the central event of This Enemy Town.
Talley writes with an assured voice. Through the experiences of Hannah, who is soon established as a self-sufficient woman in a man’s world, the reader is introduced to all the characters who will figure in the story. The writer uses language efficiently and frugally; she has an engaging way of including facts and esoterica while revealing her characters through unfolding dialogue and action. No space is wasted on unnecessary back story, and it all fits into a tightly-woven fabric that enfolds the cultures of Annapolis and the USNA. Talley writes of the Academy in a way that suggests she has more than a little familiarity with the institution; indeed she is an academy wife, married to director of musical activities John Barry Talley. She knows what she’s writing about as she smoothly inserts bits of Academy lore into the dialogue.
But the story encompasses much more than the Naval Academy, history and local culture. Hannah meets Dorothy, wife of an admiral, at a party and finds that they have a couple of things in common: namely, cancer and chemotherapy. Hannah has completed her chemo, and Dorothy is still in it. They become close friends, and it is for Dorothy that Hannah agrees to help with the Sweeney Todd production. Subplots come into play as it turns out that Dorothy’s son Kevin is part of the Sweeney Todd cast, and Kevin is sweet on Emily, who is a protégé of Hannah’s.
A villainess enters in the person of Lt. Jennifer Goodall, USN, who at one time had almost destroyed Hannah’s marriage. When Lt. Goodall is found dead, suspicion falls, naturally, on our Hannah, who is arrested and charged with the crime. Hannah gets out on bail and hurls herself into the task of clearing her name.
Now the plot thickens, as they say, and a number of surprises await the reader. The tempo never falters, and the sense of authenticity makes this an exciting read. If I have a quibble, it’s with a couple of far-fetched coincidences; but on balance that’s a minor point. There are few real mistakes in this tightly written novel. The only one I found, and this is indeed a quibble, was the use of the word banzai in a place where bonsai was obviously intended. But that’s something a proofreader should have caught and corrected.
I enjoyed this book as will most Bay Weekly readers. Obviously, the local slant will make it attractive to Annapolitans and other Southern Marylanders, but outsiders too (even Virginians) will enjoy this as a well-written, engrossing story. Talley is a prolific writer who has won several awards. She knows her craft.