Speaking Truth

Three pieces of art for you.

Cancer Sampler

Twisty has an amazing piece of embroidery art up on her blog. For those who don’t know her, Twisty was last year recovering from a debilitating regime of breast cancer treatment when she discovered she was also the carrier of a gene likely to cause her further cancer, in her remaining breast or her ovaries. She then had the remaining breast and her reproductive organs removed. She has throughout allowed her readers an honest glimpse into the experience, including photos such as this. She intensely denounces the pink-ribbon corporate monetisation of sexified cancer campaigns.

Cesarean Art

Cesarean Art is a site by a woman who suffered through unnecessary Cesarean section. The artist depicts with terrible clarity the blood, the chill and the emptiness of spinal anaesthesia, and the helplessness of having doctors cut her baby out of her and take it away.

“Oh No”

Barbara Zeles’ mother died from breast cancer, and she also lost four of her five siblings to bowel cancer around the same time. Her sculptures express both her emotional reaction to hearing of relatives’ and friends’ diagnoses, and her own deep-rooted fear of being eaten by cancer.

All of these pieces of women’s art are horrifying and powerful. They depict the disturbing, hidden moments in a woman’s life when they are helpless in the face of disease and patriarchal medicine. They reveal the reality of inhabiting a body that is manipulated, sliced open, defective. They are not inspirational; there are no doves or butterflies or rainbows or ribbons or goddesses.

Yet this expression is taboo. This sort of perception or experience of surgical birth or of cancer is pathologised. These women are not complying with the “healing” agenda of the self-help culture, they are not spouting motivational-seminar cliches or warrior metaphors or faux-empowered mantras. Being in pain, afraid, angry, and refusing to sanitise her own experience gets a woman labelled “psychotic”, unhealthy, depressed, out of touch with reality.

“You should be thankful and glad that you have a healthy baby”, random people instruct the mother. “Be happy that you’re alive”, the cancer victim is lectured. Documentaries and billboards channel the Slayer-Spirit-Guide: “Cancer is your gift.”

These women are completely in touch with reality. They speak the truth.

Categories: gender & feminism, health, Life, medicine


5 replies

  1. You suffer, you push through, you feel crushed, and yet you keep going. But you dare not complain because that’s just obsessing, unhealthy, possibly a sign of something worse.
    I still struggle against smiling and saying “I’m fine” every time someone asks me how I feel, even when I feel like shit. It’s a habit that’s hard to break. I keep a journal of what I go through because otherwise I lose touch with what I actually feel. I have to externalize it. And if it helps others understand on a deeper level what it’s really like to live with it — good. People need to understand.
    It’s cruel to scold someone for being honest about what they’re going through just because it makes you uncomfortable.

  2. And the constant barrage of “inspirational” messages are grating, too. It is a good thing to have hope. But to suppress all negative feelings because they don’t reconcile with the smile-happy-it’s-a-gift-to-be-alive storyline is unhealthy too.

  3. … not that I’m dealing with freakin’ cancer. But I can empathize on some things, definitely.

  4. Massive, massive “word” to this post, as well as to Amandaw’s comments.

  5. amandaw: exactly, all of what you said. I’ve been working on it, and have just about broken the “I’m fine” habit. I mostly say “Surviving”, or “Enjoying the beautiful day”, or some other more honest response.

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