The Cancer Journals

by Audre Lorde

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Cancer Journals, by American author and activist Audre Lorde, was published in 1980. It is a memoir of her time spent battling breast cancer. Her struggle with cancer was a catalyst for much of her activism later on in her life.

A work of nonfiction, The Cancer Journals features themes of feminism, lesbian rights, and civil rights. It also details some of Lorde's upbringing during the Great Depression. Lorde is most known for her poetry and activism on black female rights in the United States, and nearly all of her work has to do with the subject.

Lorde's passion for feminism, a key theme to The Cancer Journals, is a major piece of her legacy as a women's rights activist. The book is divided into three parts compiled from entries from her diary as well as essays written during this time. The theme of the first section is the abolition of silence; in this section, Lorde encourages the reader to learn the importance of speaking out on issues important to them. The second section is themed around her day-to-day experience with breast cancer and the need to survive.

Lorde themes the third section of the book around visibility. After having a double mastectomy to treat her cancer, she makes the decision to not wear silicone breast implants. By deciding not to use a prosthesis, Lorde wants to emphasize her new identity as a breast cancer survivor.

Some other themes that run through The Cancer Journals are the experience of a black woman fighting cancer, the experience of a lesbian fighting breast cancer, and women sharing their experiences with one another in solidarity.

As part of the feminist theme to both The Cancer Journals and her life, Lorde fights against the stereotypes society places on women's bodies to appear a certain way. She uses her refusal to use a prosthesis to fight against a "misogynistic view" on women's bodies and identities. One of her goals in writing The Cancer Journals was to fuse her identity as a feminist, a lesbian, and a poet to her newfound identity as a cancer survivor.

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