Cover image for My mother dying
My mother dying
Johnson, Hillary.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
xiv, 242 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 22 cm
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HQ759 .J63 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The most complex relationship--mother and daughter--is exposed to intense revelation in this tragic, but satisfying work of love and friendship. 40 illustrations, some in color.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

These books take different approaches to exploring that inescapable life event, the death of a loved one. My Mother Dying is a very personal look at the relationship between a journalist and her mother, who died of esophageal cancer. Johnson gave up her career in New York to return to Minneapolis and care for her dying mother, rediscovering a woman she learns she barely knew. Through her mother's art, which illustrates the book, Johnson sees early feminist yearnings and images that indicate her mother may have intuited very early her pending death by cancer. Parting Company offers a wider spectrum of emotions and experiences through 14 first-person accounts by a variety of lay and professional caregivers, including a minister, doctor, paramedic, and funeral home director. Pearson and Stubbs, a writer and a developmental psychologist, each had also cared for a dying parent. The essays are aimed at conveying the experience the authors call "death-in-life," of being a caregiver, witness, and survivor of another person's death. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

When her mother, Ruth, was diagnosed with terminal cancer of the esophagus, Johnson, an author (Osler's Web) and journalist, moved from New York to Minneapolis to be with her, staying until she died four years later. What distinguishes this from other memoirs of caring for a dying parent is Johnson's perceptive rendering of her struggle to reestablish a loving relationship with her charismatic but troubled mother. As a parent, Ruth had been erratic at best, sometimes even destructive to Johnson and her brother. In 1953, when the author was three and her brother six, Ruth abruptly left her husband and took her two children to Paris, placing them on a rustic farm while she joined the literary and artistic circle that included James Baldwin; she also became novelist Frank Yerby's lover. After a year, she and the children returned home; Ruth eventually got a divorce. Although she acknowledges Ruth's flaws (including excessive drinking and smoking), Johnson portrays her in a nonjudgmental manner reminiscent of Mary Karr's depiction of her father in The Liar's Club. When Ruth was 50 and happily remarried, she enrolled in art school and experienced great joy by creating unusual paintings and drawings, some of which are reproduced in this book. Johnson's writing skill is apparent both in her poignant account of how she witnessed her mother's extreme unhappiness through a child's eyes and in several chilling anecdotes detaling the unnecessary suffering inflicted on her mother by incompetent physicians during the last months of her life. B&w and color illustrations. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Even the closest mother-daughter relationships can unravel and reweave themselves many times over a lifetime. Johnson's moving tribute to her mother, Ruth Jones, portrays their tenuous struggle, exacerbated by distance and terminal illness. Jones's creativity and openness were evident to all except her journalist daughter, who chose to leave home for school at age 18, never to return until 20 years later, when her mother was dying of throat cancer. Only then did Johnson, herself suffering from a difficult-to-diagnosis condition (see Johnson's Osler's Web: Inside the Labyrinth of the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Epidemic), and her mother discover the truth about who each woman really was. Remarried for more than 25 years to "the love of her life," Jones had become quite an artist in the intervening years, something Johnson never fully appreciated or comprehended until the end. This is a story of a woman finding fulfillment outside of motherhood and a daughter discovering the strength and spirit of the mother she never really knew. Jones died in August 1993, leaving behind some of her artwork (included here) and a family that drew consolation from her creativity and love of life. Highly recommended for all public libraries.ÄBette-Lee Fox, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One My mother lived in a house by Cedar Lake, a deep, well-fed body of water in Minneapolis, for the last twenty-six years of her life. As a child, I swung from a heavy rope looped around a tree branch and allowed myself to fall into this cold black lake filled with snapping turtles and evil-looking fish I knew to be as large as myself. As an adolescent, I tanned myself on its public beaches in a bikini with pink polka dots, my skin slathered with cocoa butter, my hair drenched with lemon juice. From my place inside a wobbly canoe on this lake, I hit a handsome boy named Jimmy full on the head with the broad side of my wooden paddle as he reached up from the dark water below me and tried to flip my narrow boat. The sound of his skull colliding with the paddle reverberated across the lake, causing a momentary hush, as if I had stopped time. For a middle- class American girl born at the precise middle of the century, growing up in an era when women still wore white gloves and hats on formal outings, I believe I was both witness to and committed more violence than might be usual.     My mother's name was Ruth. For me, the sound of the word will forever conjure not the rustic, biblical associations, but the singular emotional jolt that is felt upon entering an unusually elegant, stylish room. "Is your mother English?" a friend once inquired when I was a child. My friend had been a passenger on a city bus when my mother stepped aboard and asked the driver the fare. Ruth had a curious ethereal aspect, a manner of elocution, as well as a seemingly heightened sense of her own physical presence, that caught the eye and the ear, especially in Minneapolis, in the 1950s.     She herself wore neither white gloves nor hats; too conventional, too Republican, I imagine. At home, her manner of dress would have been classified as Bohemian in those years. Her wardrobe consisted of jeans and sweatshirts, or perhaps one of my father's sheer cotton shirts, its tails manipulated into a square knot at her navel. She never wore a bra, which embarrassed me when I noticed men staring. She often embarrassed me. Our groceries rung up, we would stand in the Red Owl checkout line, she in Capri pants and a halter top, me in a sundress and bare feet, my head tipped against her body. With what was, in my opinion, undue drama, she would draw her pen and checkbook from her hip pocket and, like a merciless schoolmarm, demand to know, "Hillary, how many humps in Johnson?" When, as usual, I began stammering in shame--after all, everyone else's mother knew how to write their last name--Ruth shrugged her shoulders in defeat for the benefit of the checkout girl, as if to say, "I was hoping for some help. You'll just have to accept the signature as it is." It was Ruth's way of letting the Red Owl staff know on a regular basis that she had married the wrong person.     Dressed up, Ruth was sleek and impressive in silk suits of a spare design, a strand of fat pearls circling her neck, her baby-fine hair inevitably cropped as short as a man's. Sometimes she wore a black sheath, cut high at the neck but leaving her shoulder blades exposed. She had achieved her height of five feet eight inches by the time she was twelve, a trauma that haunted her for most of her life. It's fair to say, in fact, that my mother considered being tall in the same league as affliction with a club foot. During my childhood, she rarely weighed more than a hundred and ten pounds. I believe she tried to diminish what she considered to be her extravagant height by minimizing her body mass, or else she simply lacked an appetite. She was quick to admit that her legs were the only aspect of herself about which she was vain. It was simply that she had the greatest legs in the Western world, she would add in a tone suggesting that honesty was the best policy on this particular matter. Surely, the magnificence of her legs was a fact too important to go unremarked upon out of deference to silly parlor manners. After her legs, straightforwardness was among Ruth's most striking attributes.     My mother dwelt in her house by Cedar Lake without me. When I was nineteen, she moved there with her second husband. My childhood playground was now my mother's idyllic retreat, the place where she would mend the self that had been bruised in a harsh, chilly first marriage, the place where she would become, in the formal, or literal, sense of the word, an artist. Ruth couldn't have known then that such things were about to happen, of course, but she was optimistic and had at least one arching plan. She immediately began supervising the gutting of the house, a project concluded only when the structure was reduced to a shell through which plaster dust traveled unimpeded by walls or ceilings. Then she invited all her friends over to celebrate the place--not for what it was at that moment, but for what it would become under her stewardship. People stood about uneasily, drinking champagne and sampling Melba rounds topped with sour cream and caviar, hoping their next step wouldn't send them crashing through the floor.     In the years that followed my mother's new marriage and her move to Cedar Lake, I was solidly launched on my own life, the highs and lows of which I would impart to Ruth via telephone lines from Berkeley, Washington, D.C., New York, Rome, Jamaica, Los Angeles, wherever I might be, day after day, year after year. I negotiated the steep face of that terrain for twenty years until one summer evening in 1989 when my mother called me and, without meaning to, closed the gap. * * * My mother began collecting art when I was still quite young. When she was in her late twenties, she became friends with a local artist named Carol Pinsky. At a show held by the artist, Ruth gravitated to a painting of a woman in a lipstick-red dress with a low neckline and bouffant sleeves. The subject's skin was painted an exotic pale green. Medusa-like, her hair filled the background; she wore an expression of unflagging self-assurance. "What will you take?" Ruth asked the artist. "What are you offering?" the artist responded. "I'll give you twenty-five dollars a month." "For how long?" the artist asked. "Until I've paid you what it's worth," Ruth said. My mother sent checks on a monthly basis for nearly two years, then stopped. Pinsky called her: Where was the check? "I've paid in full," Ruth responded. "Okay," the artist said.     Ruth met a roguish painter named Tom Sewell, who had a gallery in downtown Minneapolis before he moved to Venice, California, in the mid-Sixties. From him she bought, in another installment deal, a five-foot-by-five-foot canvas of an elaborately decorated hot-air balloon floating slightly off center in a pink sky. Sewell had pasted a rotogravure image of a bosomy Victorian woman into each of the three gondola windows. High in the troposphere, these Victorians seemed to be dreaming of forbidden pleasures.     Ruth's transition from art consumer to artist was gradual--so gradual I barely noticed, even though, as she grew increasingly accomplished, my inability to recognize the transformation could be compared to that particular form of blindness in which peripheral vision remains intact but the sufferer cannot see that which is directly in front of her. It was only after Ruth died that I began piecing it all together--my blindness, her artistry, our failure to connect on this signal matter.     With a fixedness of mind that astonishes me now, I had thought I knew everything that could be known about my mother. Instead, after her death, I was compelled to learn about someone I barely knew, an artist who also happened to be my mother, I was forced to conduct "research" on that portion of Ruth's life I had missed, exactly like an inexperienced reporter who, at the moment she sits down to write, makes the dismaying discovery that merely interviewing the subject hadn't been sufficient. She had thought her reporting technique to be impeccable. Now she discovers the "holes," the great, gaping spaces in the story she was poised to tell--those opaque, unexplored regions of her subject's life that harbor clues and symbols of larger importance even than the linear "facts" so well and dutifully recorded. * * * When I was a little girl living in Minneapolis in what was, by outward appearances, a perfect nuclear family of four, one of my mother's favorite ways to begin a sentence was with the words "When I am rich and beautiful and live in New York . . ." When these events came to pass, she implied, our lives would be better. She never really expected such things to happen; the line was a demonstration of comical grandiosity. Nevertheless, solvency, living in a city of sophisticates instead of a town where the word toast was pronounced with two syllables, were among the most treasured of her fantasies. Her beauty was a given.     By some miracle, twenty years later, her daughter--the me that was some kind of Ruth-Hillary hybrid, my mother's surrogate in the professional world, if you will--was living in New York and oftentimes well-heeled. Although one of my editors once affectionately observed that I looked like a cross between Jean Arthur and the young Clare Boothe Luce, I was hardly one of those raving New York beauties as my mother might have been. I was a smartly attired female with pleasing, symmetrical features, no more, no less. My childhood in Minneapolis was not forgotten, but I could draw no solid connection between it and the life I was leading then. Ruth was the only constant: My knowledge of her, my sense of her, was like a light breeze forever blowing in my direction.     In the summer of 1989, when she was sixty, and some seventeen years after my move to New York, Ruth called me one day and reported uncharacteristically that she had felt strangely ill for some time, that she found herself increasingly disenchanted with her husband of twenty-one years. He had become simply a "great toad" in her beautiful house who did nothing but sleep, eat, and watch television. She was loyal enough to note, however, that when she confronted him with her grim appraisal, her husband--unfazed--had responded, "I was a prince until you kissed me." She told me she felt like spending the night in the Lakeland Motel--a real place but one that for practical purposes existed more in the minds of my mother and stepfather; it was where one or the other threatened to go on the rare occasions when they were mad at each other.     Maybe it was the hint that she might leave her husband, if only temporarily; maybe I was at last on my way to becoming a human being. I spontaneously invited her to come and stay with me for a while. "I will give you a party and introduce you to all my friends," I heard myself saying. "We will spend our afternoons at the Met, and we will spend our mornings at the Whitney. I will buy you a hundred-dollar haircut from my guy on East Fifty-seventh Street. We'll have blinis at the Russian Tea Room and tea at the Stanhope. Will you come?" I knew she was startled--after all my years away, this was her first invitation to visit me--and more than intrigued. "Thank you, darling. Let me think about it a day," she said. By that she meant, I believe, " You think about it."     Ruth called me the following day. I could barely hear her. The street outside, Madison Avenue, had collapsed into itself, forming a crater that looked, from my vantage six stories up, like a great toothless grin. Con Edison had been jackhammering around the clock for days. The week before, Ruth had air-expressed me a pair of bright orange ear muffs designed for people who stand on airport tarmacs and direct jet traffic. I carried the phone as far away from the windows as I could--eighteen feet--and leaned into my tiny kitchen. Ruth's voice was measured and sad, as if she was about to say something that would hurt my feelings--and it had always caused her great pain to have to hurt me. She would not be coming, she said. She had just received a diagnosis of esophageal cancer. The outline of this tumor had been overlooked by radiologists for quite some time, possibly two or three years. She allowed as how she was dying and could not be saved. She and her husband planned to spend the evening holding hands and crying, she told me. Did I have a friend--anyone I could stay with that night? she asked. Trying desperately to help me find a way to avoid suffocating in my own stunned despair and terror, she employed a voice she had used when I was very young, the baby-soft voice with the New Orleans lilt, the voice of her own mother: "Darlin', I don't believe a girl should be alone when she realizes she's about to lose her mama."     I felt sick. I was thirty-eight. I had nothing but a dented file cabinet full of magazine clips, a few snapshots of men who had never loved me scattered about the one-bedroom apartment where I had lived entirely alone for twelve years, and now Ruth was dying. A radio station played big-band songs from the 1940s all night; I listened to them as if for the first time and imagined my mother, a beautiful teenager, dancing the lindy, her face a blaze of pleasure. By dawn, I was dizzy and disoriented. I had been crying for hours. It seemed as if my bed, indeed, the world's surface, was slowly sinking, inch by uneven inch, into a stratum of lava. Perhaps we will all be dead soon, I thought with something approaching hope.     I went back then, to Minnie-No-Place. * * * I have been in Minneapolis just three days. I am at the beginning of what will be a stay of seven years, though Ruth will be gone in exactly four. We are in a patient room in Abbott Hospital. An impassive woman in white is forcing the contents of a syringe one and one-half inches in diameter into an ambivalent vein inside Ruth's elbow. Two years earlier, Ruth had undergone surgery for a small white tumor in her mouth and another in a lymph node situated next to her jugular vein. The surgery was considered high risk. The night before that operation, which was scheduled for 7 A.M., my mother called the surgeon at home and let him know he was allowed just one glass of wine with his dinner.     The recent discovery of a large tumor in her esophagus inspired a profound therapeutic nihilism in Ruth's doctors. It was a deadly, inoperable cancer. Since her terrifying call to me, however, a new doctor has emerged to say something can be done. He has proposed courses of radiation and chemotherapy.     Ruth wanted to celebrate my arrival with a picnic on the park- like grounds of the city's racetrack. At their first meeting the day before, however, the new doctor told Ruth she needed to be hospitalized for chemotherapy immediately. Ruth protested: She had planned a picnic! She asked the doctor if she could postpone the treatment for a day. She desperately wanted a reprieve, a sunny day at the races where she could pretend for a few hours that everything was as it should be: I was home, she was not dying. She outlined the party she had planned for her daughter, just returned from New York after a long absence. Her eyes were boring into the doctor over her half-moon reading glasses; her long legs were crossed comfortably, like a man's; her feet were shod in khaki tennis shoes without socks. Outside, in the chrome-and-glass waiting room, taut-skinned cancer sufferers sat silent and alone as if in a chapel. In this little room, flanked by her husband and daughter, Ruth was talking about fried chicken and chocolate cake, as if these happy phrases could ward off certain dire realities.     The doctor looked in my direction, annoyed. He was a famous practitioner, a white-haired patrician man, expensively attired. Listening to my mother, one would think that his plan to prolong her life was a serious inconvenience. His response to her was unequivocal and devoid of sentimentality. "No."     The chemical is the most astonishing color: an iridescent cobalt blue, like a liquid form of the glass. Together, my mother and I have been studying this bolus of poison befitting a horse in frightened silence. I am trying to think of something to say, something to distract us from the fact that she is just then being treated for a disease that will likely end up killing her. Ruth turns her gaze toward me, away from the battleground at her elbow. We remain locked in focus on each other's face, nearly speechless with emotion.     My heart is pounding wildly. Ruth appears to me like a felled tree, like something awesome that has been wickedly brought low. I am, in that instant, cognizant of the fact that I will not be leaving. For what seems like the first time in my life, there is nothing to decide. * * * Ruth is lying on her back on the bottom of the ocean, the only life in a vast expanse of black. A machine hovers directly above her like a battleship preparing to drop anchor. A dull mechanical purr fills the cavernous space, but in her head, the books of the Old Testament are racing along, coming out in a frantic whisper too low to be heard: "Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job"--all the way to Malachi, at which point she starts over. She had demonstrated a superior facility for memorization in her one-room Lutheran grade school in Englewood, Colorado. At last, she has discovered a use for this formerly useless information.     Two pieces of surgical tape applied in a St. Andrew's cross mark the place, approximately three inches below the base of her throat, where the radiation is to be directed. A technician watching her from outside a window in the wall focuses the beam at the center of the X and presses a red button. The machine makes a funny humming noise for a few seconds, then stops. Ruth has been zapped; she won't need to be zapped again for a few days.     She is an outpatient now. She left the hospital after three days, less than forty-five minutes after a nurse mentioned she could continue to receive her chemotherapy at home if she kept a small computerized pump full of the liquid cobalt near her. She was dizzy and weak, but she stood in a wobbly fashion and began to dress the minute she heard. She was upset. Why hadn't anyone told her until now? She could sling the pump over her shoulder like a small handbag, or attach it with VeIcro to a belt at her waist; the line would run directly into a vein.     When a nurse arrived at her house a few days later bearing the little pump and the chilled cassettes of poison, Ruth was polite but distant. She was dressed up, attired in a long white denim skirt, neatly belted, and a white turtleneck; she wore mascara and lipstick. She arrayed herself in a languorous pose on the black lacquered daybed she had recently slip-covered in mattress ticking. There were cut flowers--lilacs, daisies, peonies, lilies--in vases all over the room. She focused her attention on her daughter, asking her questions, drawing her out, pretending the nurse wasn't there. It was a facility she had.     The nurse left with hurt feelings. She took pride in her work and she wasn't used to cancer patients exhibiting the cavalier lack of interest this one had just demonstrated, or of being made to feel invisible.     Without really thinking about it, Ruth nearly slammed the door on her when she left, resuming her conversation with her daughter as if an anonymous UPS man had just departed the premises. Ruth regarded the nurse as one of them --a tormentor; she had not been welcome at this party. * * * While she was still hospitalized, I spent an afternoon in my mother's art studio, a cheerful whitewashed room in the basement she shared with the laundry machines. I had been home less than a week. Her printmaking press sat silent and imposing at one end of the room. Ruth used it to make art, of course, but I associated it with something else: an artifact one might find in an old-time newspaper office. Absurdly, I imagined a few hundred copies of a small- town paper, rich with ingenuously composed local news and gossip, being generated from its gray steel frame each day.     One wall of the studio was lined with shelves, their surfaces packed with squat tins of powdered paint and handsomely shaped jars of ink. I also saw palette knives seasoned with patinas of rich colors; my mother's fingerprints were embossed on the wooden handles in interesting hues. Paintbrushes of every size and in every condition, brand new and worn to nubs, stood upright in jars like bouquets of dried flowers. In the center of the space, free-standing shelving units topped with Plexiglas surfaces stood like small monuments.     With a presumptuousness that sickens me now, I thought I might tidy up the place while she was gone. I thought that might please her.     I swept and washed the floor; I straightened stacks of heavy white lithography paper in the shelving units; using a razor, I scraped all the dried paint off the Plexiglas. I actually tossed some random-seeming scraps of paper away. I desperately want to believe there was nothing on those scraps--that they were blank but I cannot recall precisely, and I find that the harder I struggle to remember, the more confused and uncertain I become.     The job took an entire afternoon, much longer than I had expected. Every time I turned around, it seemed, I came upon something fascinating that stopped me in my tracks. I distinctly recall several large, fully executed and strikingly beautiful pieces of art, richly painted with strong lines and colors. I remember feeling impressed by the artist's powerful graphic sense. Those paintings held me temporarily spellbound. I sighted, as well, a number of ink sketches enhanced by watercolors. I examined them closely; finding them highly unusual and imaginative.     I was frankly puzzled. I wondered who among Ruth's artist friends had created these stirring pieces, and why Ruth hadn't framed them or displayed them in some manner; why she had simply left them, unappreciated, in this disorganized fashion in her studio. I made a mental note to ask Ruth whose work she was storing down there, and why, but the immediacy of her deadly medical problems quickly overtook me, and I forgot. * * * My mother's search for formal training in art began with drawing classes offered here and there in Minneapolis and St. Paul. In the summer of 1974, when she was forty-five, she took a basic painting class at Macalaster College. She learned how to stretch canvases over frames and studied techniques for applying pigment to canvas. She painted abstracts and still lifes and drew sketches of nudes. "Mostly, she did lots of funny little people," recalled a woman Ruth befriended in the class. "That was her territory. She also had very witty titles for her pieces." The instructor, artist Jerry Rudquist, remembered Ruth's appearance in his classroom that summer vividly. He recalled feeling that Ruth exhibited a certain polite tolerance for the basics he sought to impart to all beginning artists--"the methodical stuff"--but he also sensed that "she clearly had a fund of ideas that she wanted to do. She was impatient to get on with it .... She had a great sense of wit," he continued, somewhat ruefully, "and I'm not sure I allowed that.... I didn't bring that up--that one could take on subjects as a source of wit."     When the class ended, Ruth had a party at her house for the students and her teacher, a pattern she would repeat again and again as she took more courses and met more artists. Her parties, at bottom, were an expression of her exuberance, her optimism; little in life gave her more pleasure.     The following summer, when she was forty-six, Ruth sent me a letter. She announced she had enrolled in a drawing class offered at a local public school. "Now that I know what I want to draw, it couldn't be all bad to find out how to draw it, right?" she posited. She expressed her view that art could be "accessible" without being "banal or trite." Unlike her painting professor of the year before, she wrote, whose work was "complex and very serious and, if one is to believe the titles, exposes the human condition, explores its complexities, and offeres solutions--all in mysterious allegory," she wished only to amuse.     My mother's art was indeed amusing, but, as I was to learn, first impressions were often deceiving. Immediately after her death, I found seven of her etched copper and zinc plates in her garage, stacked haphazardly against a wall behind some old boards. They were covered with dust. The design on one of these plates appeared to depict a busy menagerie, most likely rats or mice. A few years later, I was afforded the opportunity to witness a wholly unexpected image emerge when a master printmaker from Pratt cleaned the plate and made a print for me. Initially, we did indeed see a curious conclave of rats and mice. But as we continued to study the work, we realized it was Holocaust imagery--large, evil white rats--Nazi rats--herding a stream of innocent, multitextured mice along their way toward an ominous end: rail cars to Austria or Poland--or big rat ovens where innocent mice were broiled on spits. The work was executed years before the emergence of Maus , the dark rendition of the Nazi Holocaust in a cartoon serial populated by rodents.     Since then, I have often wondered when studying certain pieces among my mother's art whether she intuited the precise nature of her own death and expressed it through her imagery, even though nearly all of her art was created some years before her cancer diagnosis. Perhaps not surprisingly, as I have studied this print, it has been transformed in my mind into an entirely different kind of metaphor, arising from the years I spent with my mother clumsily attempting to help her through what became a nightmare maze of' cancer medicine. The print no longer strikes me as a Holocaust image. Instead, the rats are doctors, the mice are cancer patients. These trusting, unknowing little creatures are being herded along their way toward multitudinous horrors from which they are unlikely to emerge.     Cancer was certainly on Ruth's mind. An ink-and-watercolor drawing my mother executed in 1979, almost a decade before the first instance of her cancer appeared, portrayed a serenely self-satisfied woman who perhaps fancies herself an aristocrat, what with her long, elegant nose and her proud posture. She is seated on a park bench, snoozing. All is well, her expression seems to imply. On closer examination, however, one notices that a strap of the woman's dress has fallen, leaving a naked breast exposed to the world. My mother called this piece Cat Scan .