Illness as More Than Metaphor: Susan Sontag and Myelodysplastic Syndrome

David Rieff in The New York Times:Sontag_pix

My mother, Susan Sontag, lived almost her entire 71 years believing that she was a person who would beat the odds. Even during the last nine months of her life, after she was discovered to have myelodysplastic syndrome, or M.D.S., a particularly virulent blood cancer, she continued to persevere in the belief that she would be the exception. M.D.S. is technically a precursor to acute myeloid leukemia. On average, its survival rates across the generational cohorts are no better than 20 percent, and far worse for a woman in her early 70’s who had had cancer twice before. It wasn’t that she didn’t know that the biological deck was stacked against her; as someone who prided herself on her ability to grasp medical facts, she knew it only too well. In the immediate aftermath of her diagnosis, she went online to learn all she could about M.D.S. and despaired as the fact of its lethality sank in. But that despair was almost the flip side of a lifelong confidence in her ability to defy the odds. “This time, for the first time,” she told me, “I don’t feel special.”

More here.