Monthly Archives: June 2012

Emperor of All Maladies–review

The Emperor of All MaladiesThe Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After I got used to the narrator’s voice and intonation (think Nixon-like growl)I found this to be a good listen. The only problem with listening to a book like this is that I had to step back often if I missed something while multi-tasking. There was one chart where I just gave up trying to figure out what was going on and waited until the narrative moved on. Otherwise, it’s easy enough to parse. I was worried that it would be too technical to listen to, but found the prose quite approachable.

I had never really spent much time thinking about cancer. Sure, I have thought about how horrible cancer is, and have had friends and family survive and die from it. It is not, however, a happy topic and I tend to avoid unhappy things in general. It is only that I saw two of my friends on goodreads had it on their list and that it was featured in audible that I decided to give it a go.

The story of cancer is inherently interesting. It is a mystery–how it develops, why it can present so differently in each individual, and how to treat it. Unfortunately, it is clear that the mystery is really nowhere close to being solved. Little pieces of the puzzle are being put together, but it’s not all the same puzzle. Cancer is a generic term for many types of cancer, and the details of which cancer make all the difference.

I wouldn’t say the book is depressing, but it’s not particularly filled with hope. There have been huge strides made in treating some cancers, but there has been almost no progress with others.

I did really like (can you say anything about cancer is enjoyable?) learning about the history of cancer. The history is presented well, and the use of individual patient anecdotes make the book very approachable. Listening to a lot of the technical terms was a little tricky, but I decided I could live without remembering the exact names of individual drugs and genetic terminology.

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To buy this book on Amazon (and, yes, I make an affiliate profit) Click here: The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer


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Father’s Day…oh, boy.

Dad in 1940ish?

I had a very different father than my brothers did. I lucked out being the youngest and having my dad at home all my life, whereas the boys had a single mom for a number of years. It wasn’t fair, but life isn’t.

When I was about seven, I announced,”I want to be a doctor, just like daddy!” Yeah, I was a daddy’s girl, but I wasn’t just currying favor with the old man. I really, genuinely wanted to be just like my dad. He was my personal god, and I believed he was capable of anything. The man saved lives.

Dad, Aunt Lou and Me (age 5)

One of my brothers piped up with, “You can’t be a doctor, you’re a girl. You can only be a nurse.” There are more than a couple of things wrong with that sentence, but the relevant part to my story was the girl thing. My dad was so incensed by this statement that he made it his personal goal to make sure he taught me everything he was teaching the boys and more. By the time I was thirteen I could rebuild a carburetor, use a lathe, band saw, table saw and develop photos in a darkroom. Never mind that I didn’t learn how to vacuum or do laundry until my husband showed me how, but I had some definite ‘traditionally male’ skills well in hand. He taught me to drive, take an EKG and blood pressure…how to paint, how to draw blood, and how to throw a temper tantrum. The Mammen temper is something I inherited from my dad, and I can only guess how things would have progressed had I continued drinking.

He went to almost all my piano and clarinet recitals, and he helped me with science and art projects all the way through school. Neither of my parents made it to watch the marching band or swim meets in high school. He offered to help me with birth control as soon as he thought I was getting serious in a relationship. He pulled me aside when one sketchy older guy came to collect me for a date offering to come get me anywhere, anytime for any reason with no questions asked. I didn’t realize at the time just what a scary situation it is for a parent to watch their sixteen year old walk out of the house with a twenty-one year old man driving a VW bug. (Hey, it was Reno in 1982!)

In spite of all this praise, I recognize Dad wasn’t perfect. He was prone to temper tantrums, always got his way in everything, and he was sort of gullible. In the 1970’s he wore a metal pyramid on his head in the evenings and didn’t miss an episode of “In Search Of.” He stormed out of a restaurant when one of my brothers acted out, leaving my mom alone with three boys to apologize to the waitress and pay the bill. He thought the best way to keep my two oldest brothers from smoking was to take them outside and make them smoke an entire pack of cigarettes. With a 50-50 ratio on that little endeavor, he didn’t try to repeat the lesson with me and my other brother. He used a leather belt to punish them, but never spanked me. He loved doing what he did–to the exclusion of family time. When I was in college, he was in private practice and had an annoying habit of giving his home phone number out to patients. This is in the 80’s before cell phones, so this was my number, too. One patient, in particular, would call in the evenings and I got to the point where I would tell him that I was talking to my friend and if he was dying he should call an ambulance, and if he wasn’t he could wait until office hours–and I got in trouble. There was nothing worse than having my dad look at me, drop his chin so he could look over those dark rimmed glasses and say, “I’m disappointed in you, young lady.”

Last formal photo of my dad. You can see he already has problems holding up his head.

After he died, it took me more than a year to get used to the idea that I couldn’t just pick up the phone and ask him a quick question. Even now, thirteen years after he died, I still think, “Hey DAD, you have got to see this!” I have a small jar of my parents combined ashes on a shelf in my kitchen. It’s a discreet little Chinese porcelain vase that sort of disappears into the wood work, but I know it’s there. Every once in a while, I’ll look up at it and ask him what he thinks about something. (I talk to my mom like that too, sometimes.) I know the answer that comes to me is from my own head, but I hear it in his voice.

The last time I heard him speak was just before his lungs died and he went on a ventilator. We were talking on the phone, and he ended the conversation like we ended every phone conversation with, “I love you.” After that, my mom would hold the phone up so I could yammer away, and he would tap at the speaker with his fingernail. He ended all our conversations with three taps, one for each word. Tap. Tap. Tap. I always knew what it meant.


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Vegan(ish) Chocolate Mousse

The other night, we hosted our (9th?) annual dessert and charades party to benefit Three Cedars Waldorf School. The photo shows the majority of the dishes,but the mousse is not really visible in this picture. I served individual portions in small glasses with miniature spoons. It’s decidedly and deceptively rich.

Lots of people were asking for the recipe, so here it is:
Put avocados in the food processor and process until creamy.
Add for each avocado used:
2-3 Tbsp. fine cocoa powder
1/8 Cup Coconut Milk (optional)
1-3 Tbsp. Liquid Sweetener like Agave Nectar (I used honey the other night)
1/2 tsp vanilla
optional flavorings (orange peel, orange oil, mint, liquors)

Process until smooth. The variable numbers are indicated for two reasons. One is that not all avocados are exactly the same size. The second is that individual tastes vary. Use a spoon (actually a new one for each taste, please) to taste as you add ingredients and make changes until it suits what you want!

I made a fairly dark, dense chocolate mousse using the upper limits on the cocoa powder while keeping it bittersweet to minimize the use of sweeteners. I used honey to accommodate a specific request, but I think agave might actually taste a little better. This makes a lovely ganache filling for cakes as well as a standard spoonable mousse. I’ve even made a vegan, gluten-free cake filled with a vegan whipped cream and this as the frosting that pleased the ENTIRE family. Not an easy task in my house.

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