Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Hard Luck Hannah

At my last appointment with my oncologist we went through the usual routine: he checked my blood, asked me questions about how I felt, how much I'd recovered from C-Diff and typed all my responses into the computer. He told me because I still had stomach pain he couldn't give me chemo. I mentioned, off-handedly (ha ha!) that I was now getting frozen shoulder on my left side, and he said that I can't let that happen. (Okay shoulder, cut it out.)

At one point, out of the blue, he said sympathetically, "You are a bit of a hard luck Hannah."

My ears perked up at that. "Hard Luck Hannah?" I knew what he meant, but where did that phrase come from? What year was it from? Where had I heard it before? Who was Hannah?

I pictured a 1920s flapper woman with marcelled hair, silently kicking and screaming as a mustachioed bad guy ties her with a thick rope and puts her, helpless, on a black and white railroad track. Or, maybe Hannah was a cartoon character with spiky black hair; a plucky young girl on her own with no family - one who finds it easy to make friends with millionaires. Or, could Hannah be in a song, and who would have sung it? Kurt Cobain? Tony Bennett? Glen Campbell? Maybe Hard Luck Hannah was a swing song by Benny Goodman and recreated by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy?

I completely lost track of the appointment and the doctor, lost in my Hannah reverie. It was all I could do not to pull my iPhone out right there and search for 'Hard Luck Hannah Derivation.'

But wait.

It's probably not good when your oncologist calls you a Hard Luck Hannah, right?

It definitely has different connotations with each specialty. If your Internist calls you a Hard Luck Hannah, he could be referring to anything from your penchant for tripping on the stairwell to your tendency to get colds. When it's your psychiatrist, he might say something like that in sly disbelief, like you are pretending that all these bugs are crawling on your skin. But, when it's your oncologist? I shudder to think what it could mean for the future if Hannah doesn't get off my back.

Frankly, I really hadn't considered myself a hard luck case before. In fact, I thought I'd had it kind of easy and been kind of lucky. Yes, you heard that right, I've considered myself lucky - if you keep that in context.

Sure, as a Stage II I had to have a mastectomy and do six rounds of chemo and a year of herceptin, but I hadn't found the chemo to be that difficult. Yeah, my cancer had metastasized, but only to one organ, and I was lucky enough to be able to get a rare and groundbreaking surgery to try and fix it and maybe get some extra years. True, I got one of the worst cases of C-Diff the infectious disease specialist had ever seen, but hadn't I lived through it and AND kept my colon?

What hard luck?

I suppose some folks think getting cancer in the first place might be hard luck but I just kind of think of it as life.

I haven't been thinking of myself as Hard Luck Hannah and am not so sure about it being my new diagnosis. I can't say I've been thinking of myself as Good Luck Gertie either, but I did think other people in my same situation may not have been as lucky as me.

I guess it's all in your perspective. I think I'll continue to believe I'm on the good side of a bad situation.

Anyway, my searches came up with nothing (except that Hannah seems to be a popular name for dogs) and I still don't know the derivation of the phrase. Not being able to find all the information my ADD head requires IS bad luck. So, if anybody knows for sure where the phrase Hard Luck Hannah come from - please share!


  1. Ha ha ha! My search for "source of the expression 'hard luck hannah'" turned up THIS BLOG as the number one hit. LOL!

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  3. I don't know about "hard luck Hannah", but there is the song "Hard Hearted Hannah"....

    They call her hard hearted Hannah
    The vamp of Savannah G.A.!

  4. Hard luck Hannah you are not!! I really think you'd have to consider yourself to be having bad luck. I don't see that in any part of your blog. He may know Oncology and he may know your case, but he doesn't know you like we do!

  5. My best find is a reference to The Flintstone's comic book. I also found a Ann Lander's answer to a letter from 1962 in which she says that "we all know at least one hard luck hannah..." She goes on in a horrible way to say that "these people... have accidents on purpose." This is the link


    It is not heartening...in fact truly terrible. Is there any way you can change oncologists? What a horrible thing for this one to say to you!!!!

  6. I've tried & tried, but Google has failed me. But when I heard the phrase, I thought it was a mis-stating of the popular old song "Heard-Hearted Hannah, the Vamp of Savannah" - was popular in the 1930's and has it's own Wikipedia entry.

    Ann, I wish I could give you a smile and a hug to thank you for your grace and humour (Canadian, eh?). I had a lumpectomy, lymph node removal, chemo & radiation. The usual. Peanuts compared to some, but major scary. Your laughing in the face of your tribulations is... words fail. Inspirational. Helpful. Hopeful.


  7. Oh my, I think my oncologist is fantastic! I know he just meant I had a run of bad luck. He's got a dry sense of humor I like and also is forward-thinking as far as treatment goes. (He's the guy who mentioned the liver resection). I'd never give him up!

    If I thought this post in any way would reflect badly on him, I'd delete it instantly!

    1. I also have a great Oncologist with a somewhat dry sense of humor. It helps!

  8. I agree reading the post I will take it as you are being unlucky with the c-Diff and shoulder issues.

  9. I love reading your blogs. I have been a follower since I got diagnosed with leukemia last July. You Always make me smile. Thank you. Samantha.

  10. You are too funny for words. Just write it off to the fact that oncology professionals can get diarrhea of the mouth (not C diff please - thats too gross to imagine) just like anyone else and we sure dont mean it to bring the images he brought you. You are the bomb, Ann. There is a new one to hunt down but just in case it means you are the bees knee, the coolest of cool and now I must say 'Toodles' :)

  11. LOL @ Deb. :) I see my google fu will need an upgrade.

  12. Ann, my guess is he just meant that you have had so many different issues to deal with, which has made things harder for you. But the term 'Hard Luck Hannah' made me think of the same song Vriana and Linda B have already mentioned. I live in Nashville, and used to go to Opryland and see the musical shows a lot in the summers, before they tore it down put up a huge mall. Sigh. Anyhow, the shows that traced the history of American music were always my favorites. 'Hard-Hearted Hannah' was in one of these shows, always sung by a redhead in a tight red dress who was singing about herself, and how cruel she was to men. One line I remember is that she is so mean, she would 'pour water on a drowning man'. Yikes!This is just Diane Siburt saying hello!

  13. Hi - I just found your blog. It is very inspirational and useful! I think that the doctor wanted to give you chemo and was hoping that the stomach pain would have subsided, and all humans have good days and bad days. He sounds as if he has a very dry sense of humor. Sometimes the humor of doctors comes out a little bit awkwardly, I think.

    You're a great writer ! Thanks for this blog.

  14. You make me laugh! I have no clue about Hard Luck Hannah... I think of you more as an "Annie Get Your Gun" type....

    Love to you my friend... and I love your videos on Breast Cancer Answers, too. I apparently, have "breast cancer wisdom" too..... don't feel so wise, am very critical of my clips, wish I took off my glasses, hate the glare of the light above.... but.... YOU look fabulous!


  15. Hi Ann,

    My husband has a similar perspective about going blind. He was diagnosed at around 35- he's losing his sight. At 46 he is legally blind, but can see using what he has. No cane yet. Some go blind from his disease, retinitis pigmentosa, at 12 or younger. Some have worse diseases. I, on the other hand, am not so positive in my outlook. ;-) Thank you for your take- in many ways you have won the lotto! ;-)

  16. What I wonder is "How do you not let frozen shoulder happen?". Doesn't it just happen whether you like it or not?

    Shortly after my radiation treatments ended I ended up with BOTH shoulders frozen. My radiation oncologist insisted that I MUST do the exercises that require me stretching my arm up over my head. Anyone who has experienced frozen shoulders will guffaw at the notion! When I tried to explain to him that it was impossible to do so, he insisted that I simply MUST. WHaaa??? Of course, I couldn't. Eventually my frozen shoulders thawed and yes, as is typical, I do have more limited range of motion, but at least I can scratch my butt again and get in and out of a jacket.

    From what I know of frozen shoulders, you don't have a whole lot of control over it's coming or going. Am I out to lunch, Taking-Life-As-It-Comes-Ann?

  17. My daughter's name is Hannah. She's generally pretty lucky. In fact, she's sometimes CRAZY lucky! Even taking relativity into account, I don't think she's unlucky at all. Just one Hannah's 24-year experience ... so far. I hope she continues to be so lucky that she doesn't get breast cancer like her usually lucky Mom did. Still, if she does, we'll be able to say she was lucky not to get something worse, right?

  18. The frozen shoulder thing is funny - just this past two weeks, my right shoulder seems to be unfrozen. This is after 16 months and two cortisone shots. And, no my left shoulder is very painful and while I still have most range of motion, I can't turn it outwards.

    I am trying to exercise it though, even if it hurts like a mofo. I don't want those adhesions to take hold if I can stop it! I should call and get a cortisone shot in that shoulder too (that's what my oncologist meant, I'm sure) but I'm going back to work and don't really have time to fit one more doctor into my already filled calendar!

  19. I don't know many people who have been in cancer treatment of any sort without one odd complication or another. You are right it is all about perspective, some days things can get you down, but you certainly have to enjoy the good ones too!

  20. You amaze me with your humor and positive attitude in the face of your cancer journey. I am currently in a battle with stage 3 breast cancer, and my goal is to stay positive and keep my sense of humor no matter what life throws at me. You are a good role model.
    Cancer Warrior


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