“Children, I said to her. For the first little while, they not exactly human, you don't find?”
Nalo Hopkinson

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Review: The Cancer Journals By Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde, poet, essayist, and lesbian activist was born on February 18, 1934 and died of breast cancer in 1992.

The Cancer Journals, published in 1980 by Aunt Lute Books, is as relevant today as it was thirty years ago.  It is a candid account of Lorde's feelings and thoughts as she lived through a mastectomy on September 22, 1978 to remove her right breast. She was forty-four years old.

Lorde recounts her struggle to determine the best course of action when she finds out that the tumor in her breast is malignant.  As other women have, she worried if her lover would still find her desirable with one breast and she feared losing control of her body and life.  Overwhelmed by her choices of  mastectomy, radiation, chemotherapy, vitamin therapy, and experiential immunopeutics, Lorde chooses mastectomy because she believes it will give her the best chance to stay alive to work and function effectively.

Although Lorde is surrounded by loving friends at the hospital, she has to go into the operating room alone.  In her words the operating room is full of "disembowed noises that have no context nor relationship to me except they assault me" (Lorde 36).  Lorde knew that the medical community did not view her as a whole person with individual thoughts and needs.  It was not shocking to read of the resistant she encountered to not wanting to wear a prothesis.  Lorde felt angry because she wanted to make her that choice, not have it forced on her.

Included in the journal is the essay "The Transformation Of Silence Into Language And Action" in which Lorde discusses her need and obligation to speak about breast cancer and other very important issues in spite of a fear of reprisal.

What surprised me about her account is how much she physical pain she suffered as her body healed from the surgery and her willingness to be honest about her fear, uncertainty, and silence.  Lorde was definitely before her time when she discussed the possibility that environmental issues may relate to the rapid increase of breast cancer during the past few decades.

I became interested in this journal because unfortunately breast cancer is and has been very common in my immediate family.   Lorde's work is usually read by women, but I think this book would be helpful to men who are watching their wives, mothers, sisters, or daughters etc. suffer with breast cancer.

In spite of the fact the journal was written thirty years ago, Audre Lorde's words and insights continue to be healing and inspirational. 

Ouote from:
Lorde, Audre.  The Cancer Journals.  San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1980.

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