Excerpt from The Cancer Journals by Audre Lorde
This is an excerpt from the book The Cancer Journals by Audre Lorde.
And my friends, who flooded me with love and concern and appreciation and relief gave me so much energy that for those first 48 hours I really felt as if I was done with death and pain, and even loss, and that I had for some unknown reason been very very lucky. I was filled with a surety that everything was going to be all right, in just those indeterminate phrases. But it was downhill from there.
On the morning of the third day, the pain returned home bringing all of its kinfolk. Not that any single one of them was overwhelming, but just that all in concert, or even in small repertory groups, they were excruciating. There were constant ones and intermittent ones. There were short sharp and long dull and various combinations of the same ones. The muscles in my back and right should began to screech as if they’d been pulled apart and now were coming back to life slowly and against their will. My chest wall was beginning to ache and burn and stab by turns. My breast which was no longer there would hurt as if it were being squeezed in a vice. That was perhaps the worst pain of all, because it would come with a full complement of horror that I was to be forever reminded of my loss by suffering in a part of me which was no longer there. I suddenly seemed to get weaker rather than stronger. The euphoria and numbing effects of the anesthesia were beginning to subside.
My brain felt like grey mush—I hadn’t had to think much for the past two days. Just about the time that I started to feel the true quality of the uphill climb before me—of adjustment to a new body, a new time span, a possible early death—the pains hit. The pain grew steadily worse and I grew more and more furious because nobody had every talked about the physical pain. I had thought the emotional and psychological pain would be the worst, but it was the physical pain that seemed to be doing me in, or so I wrote at the time.
Feeling was returning to the traumatized area at the same time as I was gradually coming out of physical and emotional shock. my voices, those assorted pieces of myself that guided me between the operations were settling back into their melded quieter places, and a more and more conscious part of me was struggling for ascendancy, and not at all liking what she was finding/feeling.
In a way, therefore, the physical pain was power, for it kept that conscious part of me away from the full flavour of my fear and loss, consuming me, or rather wearing me down for the next two weeks. That two week period of time seems like an age to me now, because so many different changes passed through me. Actually the course of my psychic and physical convalescence moved quite quickly.
I do not know why. I do know that there was a tremendous amount of love and support flowing into me from the women around me, and it felt like being bathed in a continuous tide of positive energies, even when sometimes I wanted a bit of negative silence to complement the pain inside of me.
But support will always have a special and vividly erotic set of image/meanings for me now, one of which is floating upon a sea within a ring of women like warm bubbles keeping me afloat upon the surface of that sea. I can feel the texture of inviting water just beneath their eyes, and do not fear it. It is the sweet smell of their breath and laughter and voices calling my name that gives me volition, helps me remember I want to turn away from looking down. These images flow quickly, the tangible floods of energy rolling off these women towards me that I converted into power to heal myself.
There is so much false spirituality around us these days, calling itself goddess-worship or “the way.” It is false because too cheaply bought and little understood, but most of all because it does not lend, but rather saps, that energy we need to do our work. So when an example of the real power of healing love comes along such as this one, it is difficult to use the same words to talk about it because so many of our best and most erotic words have been so cheapened.
Perhaps I can say this all more simply; I say the love of women healed me.
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The Cancer Journals – Summary
Here is the book summary from Goodreads:
Moving between journal entry, memoir, and exposition, Audre Lorde fuses the personal and political as she reflects on her experience coping with breast cancer and a radical mastectomy.
First published over forty years ago, The Cancer Journals is a startling, powerful account of Audre Lorde’s experience with breast cancer and mastectomy. Long before narratives explored the silences around illness and women’s pain, Lorde questioned the rules of conformity for women’s body images and supported the need to confront physical loss not hidden by prosthesis. Living as a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Lorde heals and re-envisions herself on her own terms and offers her voice, grief, resistance, and courage to those dealing with their own diagnosis. Poetic and profoundly feminist, Lorde’s testament gives visibility and strength to women with cancer to define themselves, and to transform their silence into language and action.
Copyright © 1980 by Audre Lorde.
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