Natalie Davis Spingarn didn't have an appropriate present for a lot of her new friends with cancer.
So she wrote them a book.
Last night at the George Washington University Club -- Spingarn's own cancer was treated at the GW Medical Center -- the author celebrated hanging in there, but also "Hanging in There," her book, with about 150 friends, new and old, who, for various reasons can be considered to be "hanging in there" as well.
Spingarn's own basic hanging-in stems from her eight-year fight against breast cancer and its metastasis. And, to be sure, many of the honored guests last night -- former Idaho Democratic senator Frank Church, Monsignor Geno C. Baroni and Barbara Boggs Sigmund, among others, met the requirements of the book's subtitle: "Living Well on Borrowed Time."
But many friends of Spingarn and her husband Jerry go back to either the Roosevelt or Kennedy-Johnson eras in Washington, friends like lawyer Joseph L. Rauh, former presidential consumer adviser Esther Peterson, economist Mary Dublin Keyserling, labor writer John Herling, all of whom might, someone suggested, be described as politically "hanging in" at the moment as well.
"Oh no indeed," demurred feminist and still-activist Keyserling, "we're not hanging in at all. We're out fighting."
Spingarn's book, a Baedeker for cancer patients and their families and friends, is considered "upbeat," as was the celebration.
Barbara Boggs Sigmund, latest political entry of the Louisiana-Washington Boggs political dynasty, who recently lost her New Jersey primary bid to be the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, had lost an eye to cancer and campaigned with flamboyantly shaped and colored eyepatches. "Listen," she said last night -- arriving after a day of campaigning for the Democrats in New Jersey -- "being a Boggs, if I'd lost the election first I'd have been devastated. The other way around, it wasn't so bad."
Church, whose bout with cancer was nearly 40 years ago, said, "I remember first I wanted to tell the world about the injustice of it all, but later it gave me the willingness to take the big gambles."
The book has been a "slow starter," a representative of the publisher (Stein & Day) confided, because "talk-show people thought the subject was too much of a downer," but enough word of Spingarn's own humor is trickling out so that network TV exposure begins this week with "Good Morning America" on Friday. "But," said Spingarn, "it's one hype after another. Shakespeare would have stood in bed if he'd had to take calls from anxious people wanting the whereabouts of Hamlet's psychotherapist."