The Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania
Last Modified: May 3, 2002

Rick and Sachi pencil, watercolor 24 x 24 inches 1995

My cancer phobia began when it was discovered my father was stricken with colon cancer. He died on my 21st birthday.

My mother died two years later from a different kind of cancer, and throughout the next 30 years my family and friends were decimated by various cancers. I have a woeful tally of people I loved who are no longer with me.

With the exception of the death of my sister Ruth of pancreatic cancer in 1991, I see and hear about positive, wondrous progressions in medicine today, and I am aware of many lives being healed and extended. My cousin Marty has lived with bladder cancer for years. My nephew Ricky is in remission from testicular cancer. Another cousin, Sylvia, is in remission from lymphoma. So far, so good.

My family, now gone, comes quietly into my studio and stands behind me, seducing me with the poetic weight of countless memories.

There is reassuring optimism, but I am still afraid.

Ruth pencil, watercolor 24 x 24 inches 1995

My Sister

The last time I saw her she was lying in a hospital bed, mumbling incoherent words. Her hands fluttering awkwardly in the air ... Death, the inexorable failure of the body, was imploding her into eternity. Science failed in 1991, and here was the same cancer that killed my father in 1951 and my mother in 1960; science had failed them, too.

What she and I had was the Jewish sense of ancestry, and we talked at 1:00 AM ... We lingered on about our dead. We touched places no one else could fathom: the farm, Ridley Park, Tania, Bobba, Sarah, Yancey. Alton, Tommy the butcher, and Dick Derosa and Johnny, always Johnny. Now at 1:00 AM, I struggle to fall asleep.

The images. The goddamn images.

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