But what if despite taking care of it, your body still becomes sick?  Because some things are simply beyond your sphere of control?  Like cancer.  Today, a colleague succumbed to breast cancer (there were two others before her who did).  I wrote about her briefly here — December of last year, I think.  The last time I saw her, early this year, she was as cheerful as she had always been.  People who don’t know that she’s fighting the disease wouldn’t suspect because of that disposition.  Nothing about her says she was sick or in pain.  I admire her. Very much.  I’ve always wanted to ask – but didn’t – where she gets her strength and cheerfulness from.  I imagine that her illness is a scary place to be.  I have a very low pain threshold and I wouldn’t know what to do, myself.

When news got around that the celebrity and body-perfect Angelina Jolie had preventive mastectomy, I understand why. She was honest when she said she was thinking of her young children, that she wanted to be there with them.  Equally admirable is her partner, Brad Pitt, who willingly (that’s the report, at least) gave up the image of ‘body perfect’ in the woman.  This colleague was young – 30s I think; who dies at 30-something? – and with one or two young child(ren) I think.  The illness had been a double-edged sword for her, it affected her and her loved ones.  Grave illness – especially cancer because there’s no exact explanation of it yet – does that, it puts the patient and everyone else at the edge of a precipice.  But because of her disposition toward her illness, no one jumped down or fell off it.  Her disposition became like the rainbow that connected her and her loved ones to life’s true treasures.


Cancer threw me through the window of my disassociation into the center of my body’s crisis…

Suddenly the cancer in me was the cancer that is everywhere. The cancer of cruelty, the cancer of greed, the cancer that gets inside people who live downstream from chemical plants, the cancer inside the lungs of coal miners. The cancer from the stress of not achieving enough, the cancer of buried trauma. The cancer that lives in caged chickens and oil-drenched fish. The cancer of carelessness. The cancer in fast-paced must-make-it-have-it-smoke-it-own-it formaldehydeasbestospesticideshairdyecigarettescellphonesnow. My body was no longer an abstraction. There were men cutting into it and tubes coming out of it and bags and catheters draining it and needles bruising it and making it bleed. I was blood and poop and pee and puss. I was burning and nauseous and feverish and weak. I was of the body, in the body. I was body. Body. Body. Body. Cancer, a disease of pathologically dividing cells, burned away the walls of my separateness and landed me in my body…

Cancer was an alchemist, an agent of change. Don’t get me wrong. I am no apologist for cancer. I am fully aware of the agony of this disease. I appreciate every medical advance that has enabled me to be alive right now. I wake up every day and run my hand over my torso-length scar and am in awe that I had doctors and surgeons who were able to remove the disease from my body…

In The Body Of The World:  A Memoir by Eve Ensler


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