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The Cancer Journals, Week 2!

black woman reading book

Welcome to the comments and discussion of the Young Adult Cancer Book Club! We are reading The Cancer Journals by Audre Lorde!  Read our participants’ reactions and follow along with us each week as we read through the book! Caution, spoilers below!

Catch up on Week 1!

Week 2: Chapter 2!

By Megan F.:

This section resonated with me on the topics of intimacy, community, identity, and grief – I loved it all. I immediately highlighted part of a journal entry on page 17: “I’m so tired of all this. I want to be the person I used to be, the real me.”

Lorde discusses the push and pull of identity while having cancer – being the person you want to be and the person others expect you to be. She also discusses how those expectations are different based off her own identity. I especially resonated with the section where she talks about separating herself from decisions she had to make about her treatment and treating them as “intellectual problems.” Most of all, I was surprised with how much of her own experience that I could find pieces to relate to, and how much I learned while reading this.

By Amnol D.:

This was a beautifully written work of literature. It was an interesting read as a blood cancer patient and stem cell recipient, whose hair is the only visible aspect of all I’ve been through. There were aspects of Lourde’s story that were relatable and others that were not. The start of Audre’s experience was very relatable – when you want to be the “old” or “real” you (pg 17). And even as we go through treatment “the familiarity with the procedures had not lessened my terror” reminded me of the slight bit of anxiety I felt before a bone marrow biopsy or the pressure to remain still during a lumbar puncture, even after receiving more than a dozen. Audre’s need for “negative silence” reminded me of the days I didn’t want visitors or said no to visitors because I needed a moment to myself and for my thoughts. They weren’t all necessarily negative but the silence of not having groups of people in your hospital room at once was needed on occasion. I loved having friends to visit but some days I just didn’t have the energy. This connects with Audre’s idea that “first you hurt, then you cry.” It took me months before I had my first real cry, when what I’d been through and was still going through was slowly starting to finally hit me and I couldn’t help feeling the frustration of having to go through the side effects of treatment.

There were two other quotes that I really liked and thought could be relatable to non cancer patients as well. “The world will not stop if I make a mistake” (pg 40). This is something I felt deep as a perfectionist and have learned throughout this journey. Additionally “the fear we may feel to empower” us is something that anyone might see as inspiration.

By Anonymous:

The book The Cancer Journals by Audre Lorde is written with poignant emotion. Her heartfelt reckoning with her cancer journey is relatable to the human condition, as well as my own experiences with cancer. The heartbreaking realities of her condition and mindset were eloquently explained, shedding light on the lived experience of a cancer patient. The writing felt intimate, and honest. I was moved, over and over again by her sincere interpretations of her illness. I would recommend this book to all those who wish to understand chronic illness, hope and strength. The power of her words made me go back and reread, as I tried to let her wisdom soak in. It is a beautifully inspiring book in every way.

By Charlene C.: 

As I’m reading this chapter it’s bring up a lot of my own story with cancer. I, too, am a person of color with a cancer diagnosis. I remember how alone I felt in the beginning and how I wanted someone that looked like me to talk to and share experiences with. It was very isolating to look around and see nobody that looks like you.

As I was reading this chapter it brought me back to the beginning of my journey. I remember the fear and uncertainty that I felt. The millions of conversations that I had with myself about treatment options and the possible outcomes. Think about death for the first time in my life. I find this book well written and it is an easy read.

By Mel B.: 

Some of the journal entries were very relatable going through surgery and treatment. I had breast cancer but did not have a mastectomy so I really couldn’t relate to that.

When I was diagnosed I could totally relate to the 4th paragraph on page 17, “I’m so tired of all of this. I want to be the person I used to be, the real me. I feel sometimes it’s all a dream and surely I’m about to wake up now.” I said this exactly so many times in the beginning all I could think of was this can’t be real.

She spoke about being a black lesbian feminist which I can not relate to. I’m sure it was difficult to deal with this disease in the 70’s with all the racial disparities and inequalities. I’m sure she faced this along her journey. She spoke about feeling alone. I, too, could relate to that. I was diagnosed when I was 33 and none of my friends had ever been through anything like it. I relied mostly on older women and my friends’ moms because they went through it but not at the age I did. So, sometimes I could relate to them but often times not.

Thank god for my family and friends. You quickly find out who your true friends are when you go through something like this. When you think you have the best friends in the world and they are no where to be found when you are going through a situation like this, it’s tough. Time definitely heals. One of my friends once told me “God gives the toughest battles to his strongest soldiers”. My entire experience has definitely made me a much stronger person today.

By Kate B.:

Audre Lorde’s cancer journal entries themselves really resonate with me. So many of her feelings are familiar friends from my experience of this disease: the disbelief, the anger, the grief, as well as feeling “tender in the wrong places.” I am not a breast cancer survivor but Lorde’s fear that she may be “losing her breast in vain…. though it was a price I was willing to pay for life”- was a feeling I struggled to reconcile. Rectal cancer required me to have a life-altering surgery that gave me a permanent colostomy. It was a surgery to prove a negative, and though the pathology showed no evidence of disease following chemo, radiation, and that surgery – I found myself a year later with a metastatic recurrence that is considered chronic.

While like Lorde, I’m “forever reminded of my loss” (of a rectum, in my case) and that I had, and may likely always have, cancer, I also live with a new body part that I hoped would be my lifeline and a get-out-of-cancer card, although it turned out not-exactly to be. I’m struck by how the feelings I’ve experienced are similar though my journey is quite different from Lorde’s. She had one biopsy that doesn’t find cancer, and somehow feels moderately prepared or prescient when her second biopsy shows malignancy. It’s hard for me to imagine having such radical surgery within days of diagnosis. It took me weeks, at least, to figure out a treatment plan… I had a year to contemplate and come to terms with the ostomy surgery.

Finally, I’m super inspired and energized by how Lorde tackles topics of pain and mortality. She claims the “warrior-hood” of fighting cancer and that our pain gives us strength. I love the line: “once we accept the actual existence of our dying, who can ever have power over us again?” Before The Cancer Journals, I hadn’t read any cancer-lit, as it felt too close to home. I’m glad this was the first book I ventured to. It was full of wisdom and inspiration that makes me feel courageous in a new way.

Join in next Monday for the comments and discussion on chapter 3! Then join us on Monday, June 28th to discuss the book with us over Zoom at 7 pm ET/ 4 pm PT! (If you’re signed up here to receive updates about the ‘book club’ then you’ll be sent the Zoom link automatically!)

We will talk about a few chapters each Monday until the book is done. If Monday happens to be a holiday, then the post will publish on Tuesday. Once we finish the book, we’ll use one more Monday to talk about general feelings from the book and anything else you’d like to discuss. We’ll also have a video chat book club discussion at the end! Join in, in the comments every week! Also, there will probably be spoilers so read along with us! Excited about the young adult cancer book club? Have any suggestions for future reads? Let us know!