I had many different reactions to Barbara Ehrenreich’s Welcome to Cancerland, and am happy that I waited until after class to have the benefit of the discussion and other points of view to consider on reactions to her piece as well. In fact, I’ve sort of been avoiding writing the blog all day in general, because thinking and writing about serious illness taps into a pain I usually keep more on a subconscious/denial level. My dad is ill as well, not with cancer, but with rheumatoid arthritis, which we read about for Monday in Rip Tide. I believe that my feelings towards some parts of the Ehrenreich piece come from his experience in the course of disabling illness, so bear with me as I go through a couple thoughts.
I think, primarily, that it is absolutely abhorrent that women, other breast cancer “survivors”, nonetheless, would vilify Ehrenreich the way that they did when she tried to express anger at her disease on a support blog. While my first reaction (to the article as a whole, not the blog reactions she received) was wondering what is so wrong with focusing on hope and being optimistic, I agree with what Kim said in class that the main issue pointed to here is the “lack of space” for anger. Those fighting cancer have every right to be angry, to cry, to scream, to ask “why me?”, “why anyone?”
However, I still think that focusing the mainstream breast cancer movement on hope has value. In my own experience with my father’s illness, this proves true. When first diagnosed with RA, he was told he may lose his ability to walk or to use his hands. He found he would experience pain every day, for the rest of his life. He would no longer be able to run and exercise daily like he has all his life. That he would likely have to endure numerous surgeries, that there were rare, but horrible complications of the disease that he may experience, some of which were mentioned in Avery’s article. Most horribly of all, that there was no cure, and that it would shorten his life, though to what degree they could only speculate. My family has dealt with this with a weird mix of hope and denial, and since I generally do not talk about it, I’m finding it to be healthy, but also scary to talk about it here and in class. I have a strange irrational feeling that talking about it makes it more real, makes it more likely that something bad will happen, or that he will get worse. Totally irrational I know. Irrational enough that I just called my mom at home and asked her if I could talk about it. Would it make it worse, to acknowledge it more? My mother is the totally rational opposite of me, and sort of amused with me I think just goes, “Yeah, why would you not?” But I digress, haha. So, we were angry too. He was angry most of all. He was depressed, upset, and not as much himself for a while after the diagnosis. It was during this time that he got worse. At one point though, he decided he wasn’t going to let this take over how he lived his life. He researched therapies, refused the chemo-based treatments the doctors wanted to give him, got a holistic-doctor, and basically, got hopeful. It was during this time that he went from being unable to walk without a cane, to walking just as before, with little pain as long as he keeps on OTC painkillers. His RA has actually moved backwards in progression, and though it will never go away completely, he is thus far in incredibly good health for someone with RA. We have talked much this quarter about the connection between the mind and the body, and the state of the mind affects the state of the body beyond anything, and hope is something beautiful for the mind to hold on to, the positive feelings from which, I believe, absolutely have the power to heal the body.