The curse of the cure PDF Print E-mail
Friday, 17 February 2012 16:25
A piece
reluctantly written
A piece reluctantly written

Joshua SteinJoshua SteinIt’s been many months since Yom Kippur and will be many more until the next, but the compulsion to confess, if not to atone, for I have done nothing wrong, is overwhelming.

When friends came to our home to celebrate my 50th birthday, I wondered if there would ever again be a similar party. Something was wrong with my mysterious innards, but I didn’t yet know what.  After all, I’d never heard of PSA, a series of letters that soon would be the measure of my existence.

In brief, doctors at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute said that the cancer in my prostate had probably spread beyond the organ itself. They couldn’t see it, but with a PSA reading of over 40, statistically they were sure it had. Removing the prostate would therefore do no good.  They suggested initial hormonal therapy to be followed up by radiation and then continued hormonal therapy. I agreed. That was 18 years ago.

The side effects of monthly (then quarterly) injections of Lupron and thrice-daily ingestion of Flutamide capsules were minimal, and for the first 16 years, the PSA was safely within the acceptable range.

But two years ago, it soared, and new medicines were tried and they didn’t work. So, I agreed to go on a trial of a new drug, which also didn’t work and then into hardcore chemotherapy, which ultimately failed. Now I’m on another trial, which seems to be working.  (The disease had spread to my bones, from my skull to my toes.  Six weeks after I began taking the new drug, the tumors had apparently vanished.)

This new medicine, Cabozantinib (XL 184) has its side effects including fatigue, so that I can barely get through my daily activities without a nap that leaves me upon awakening feeling groggy beyond any capacity to work. Which brings me to deadlines. The university where I teach expects me to show up in class and perform wonders. Of course, I do. The editor of this newspaper patiently awaits each new column and is kind enough to give me some leeway.

But not only does fatigue plague me, I’m mentally not as acute as I used to be. Ideas don’t come as quickly and sometimes not at all.  In the classroom, I can fall back on 40 years of experience. But I’ve only been writing as a columnist for six years. Not having an idea is an occupational hazard for the columnist. Until recently it was easily resolved by poring over newspapers, in my case The New York Times, occasionally The Providence Journal, the Forward or JTA daily summaries of events.

But now I find I have neither the energy to read anything beyond what I’ve assigned to my students nor what in the old country was called sitzfleisch (the capacity to sit still long enough to complete the task at hand). In the years that I’ve been writing, I’ve tried to mix current events with historical and literary precedents and perspectives to give readers a greater understanding of the present and the past, always with a Jewish theme in the forefront.

I’ve tried to infuse some columns with my love of science and my devotion to the idea that it’s labor, be it physical or mental, that creates value – an old-fashioned idea, I now admit, but I’m an old-fashioned guy. I have expressed my love for Israel and opposition to those who would purposely or inadvertently destroy it. I have tried to write about interesting things in an interesting way, twisting a sentence here, defying grammar there, contorting words so as not to split an infinitive for the pleasure it gave me and might give the reader. You, as the reader, may decide how successful I was or was not.

The deadline for this piece has passed.  The ability to write on cue has also.

And so, haverim (friends), readers of this Voice & Herald column since February 2006, I thank you for your attention and bid you l’shalom.  If the editor will allow the occasional guest column, I may come up with an idea. But I can’t do it on demand anymore.

Thank you, Mary Korr, for asking me to write this column; thank you, Nancy Kirsch, for allowing me to continue; and to you, my readers, whether you’ve loved or loathed what took my fancy over the past six years, I thank you for your attention. If you are interested in seeing the complete opus, it’s contained in my blog,

Josh Stein is a professor of history at Roger Williams University. Contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Editor’s note: The Voice & Herald welcomes Stein’s columns at any time.


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