The Cancer Journals

by Audre Lorde

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Here are some quotations from the cancer journals:

I am a post mastectomy woman who believes our feelings need voice in order to be recognized, respected, and of use.

This quote, from the very beginning of the journal, sets out Lorde's purpose. By writing about her own experiences with breast cancer, she makes her feelings real. She hopes to make her feelings of "use" to other women facing cancer, of course, but also she hopes her feelings can be useful in critiquing the attitude towards women's health and sexuality in the US, or, as Lorde puts it, "the tragedy of amputation, the travesty of prosthesis, and the function of cancer in a profit economy." For Lorde, articulating her feelings is an explicitly political act, one that contributes to "the strength of women loving, and the power and rewards of self conscious living."

Later in the diary, she reverts to the idea of the community of women again:

I am defined as other in every group I am a part of. The outsider, both strength and weakness. Yet without community there is certainly no liberation, no future, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between me and my oppression.

Lorde's status as outsider is connected to her gender and sexual orientation, but more importantly to her pain. For Lorde the challenge is to remain in community even when turning inward to deal with her cancer seems the only choice. She knows that it is in connecting with others that her cancer can somehow be turned from an oppressor into a means for "liberation."

Finally, Lorde considers the relationship of the feminine to fear:

As women we were raised to fear. If I cannot banish fear completely, I can learn to count with it less. For then fear becomes not a tyrant against which I waste my energy fighting, but a companion, not particularly desirable, yet one whose knowledge can be useful.

Here she returns to the idea of usefulness, and connects her ability to exist with fear, she can evaluate and articulate her experience with cancer and make common cause with other women. The "knowledge" of fear is useful not only in facing cancer, but other forms of oppression as well.

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