(16-01-01) Feminism & Cancer

“It is not my intention to judge the woman who has chosen the path of prosthesis, of silence and invisibility, the woman who wishes to be the ‘same as before’…. Each of us struggles daily with the pressures of conformity and the loneliness of difference from which those choices seem to offer escape. I only know that those choices do not work for me….”

~ Audre Lorde, The Cancer Journals © 1980
Ironically, in her clearly stated non-judgmental stance, I stand in judgement before myself, ashamed by my decision to have reconstructive surgery. Why did it not even cross my mind to wear my battle on my chest, showing the world, “Yes, I removed them. They were going to kill me, so I annihilated them … and now that they are gone, my warrior body stands here triumphantly in front of you, missing a piece but still stronger, regardless”? When my breast surgeon passed along her recommendation for a reconstructive surgeon, I never even considered the possibility of NOT calling, NOT adding that doctor to my list of doctors I see from week to week, NOT adding more surgeries, stress, and battle on to an already traumatized body. I accepted the referral without question, and as I sat there in Dr. Walsh’s fancy Scottsdale office, I talked with her about implants as though they were my only option. Why wouldn’t I want implants, right? Why would I want to advertise to the world, “I’m a breast cancer survivor who had to sacrifice during battle in order to win a war”? I didn’t, though. I leafed through pamphlets, and I tossed different types of implants around in my hands, never making the connection between this gesture and the Hot Potato game I used to play as a child. I sat in that office, complacently listening to Dr. Walsh boast about how far silicone implants have come since the 1990’s. I never even took one moment to embrace the suffering that so many womyn (cancer survivors or otherwise) went through getting silicone implants in an effort to conform to society’s standards of beauty, only to later get sick (and, in some cases, DIE) once those implants started leaking out into other areas of the body. I didn’t think about them. I left my feminism at home that day and instead sat before yet another doctor, nodding my head in agreement about how memory gel silicone implants are such an advancement compared to what was available 20 years ago, and I perked up when I heard the question, “So, would you want to go smaller, stay the same, or go larger?” I get to CHOOSE my size – for free? How awesome is this?”


Audre, you were so much stronger. On top of that, you refused to judge womyn like me … but that doesn’t mean we don’t deserve to be judged – or at least recognized for not being as strong as you in our feminist perspective. In my head, I place 36-year-old Tarah next to 20-year-old Tarah, and I realize that growing older does NOT always mean getting wiser. If someone had told 20YOT that, in 15 years, she’d be getting Botox injected into her chest to decrease the post-mastectomy muscle spasms and breast implants to go up a cup size, 20YOT would have laughed out loud in contempt. She would have gone off on a rant about how the medical model of illness feeds poison into womyn’s bodies for profit, and how sexist and heteronormative mores have destroyed an individual’s opportunity to grow up and just be themselves, without restrictions, without fear of their differences.

People keep telling me how strong I am for going through this. In this moment, I am not so sure I agree.

Author: breastcancerat35

I was diagnosed with Stage 3C Invasive Breast Cancer in October/November, 2015. This blog is my way to process my experience and allow my loved ones to have ongoing updates about my journey.

One thought on “(16-01-01) Feminism & Cancer”

  1. I don’t necessarily agree with your blog post, by the way. That Audre was stronger for not. A scar does not have to be visible to the world to mark you warrior.

    You’ll wear it, and it will change you, and it will change the way you move through this world – and whether anyone knows you had breast cancer or chose the double mastectomy or chose reconstruction or chose to make them whatever size you did. Your relationship with the world around you will be different because of this – even if they never know any of that.

    I’d also question the idea that reconstruction/prosthetic is equivalent to ‘silence and invisibility’ or the marker, necessarily, of ‘ the woman who wishes to be the ‘same as before’’. As if being the same as before is even an option. Is reconstruction necessarily conformity (not something i’ve never considered you as being overly concerned with) or succumbing to the loneliness of difference? Can you not be visible and proud and as loud (or as quiet) as you want to be – whether or not you’ve had reconstructive surgery?

    And your body, your choice – that’s as feminist, and as strong, as it gets. Not a single choice in this journey makes a damn thing easier, and even from the outside, i’m still pretty sure that’s the truth. And i’m not saying this to invalidate or argue you out of your response or your feelings – just to be clear. But to my mind, though none of this is what you would have chosen, now that you are here you choose your path. You choose your scar. You choose your survival.

    Maybe you are getting wiser – it’s just that wiser doesn’t look the way you – or Audre – may have anticipated.

    Two quotes come to mind:

    “You never need to apologize
    for how you chose to survive.”
    ― Clementine von Radics

    “On the girl’s brown legs there were many small white scars. I was thinking, Do those scars cover the whole of you, like the stars and the moons on your dress? I thought that would be pretty too, and I ask you right here please to agree with me that a scar is never ugly. That is what the scar makers want us to think. But you and I, we must make an agreement to defy them. We must see all scars as beauty. Okay? This will be our secret. Because take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means, I survived.”
    ― Chris Cleave, Little Bee


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