I read a news article today about a gallery exhibition of photos all depicting young women baring their scars from cancer operations. Some had had their breasts removed, some had had complete reconstructive surgery, a few had had only partial reconstruction. One young woman had had her face operated on to try and save her life, but sadly she’d passed away a few days before the show took place.
The article called this show ‘grisly’ and ‘disturbingly beautiful’; it talked about the ‘gritty rawness of their ordeal’ but if you think about it, for these women it was showing the world they’d had the guts to stand up to the disease and tell it to surrender. That to some is what’s important; to stick two fingers up to the illness and say “stuff you, I won” – even if the win is sometimes only temporary.
I have not personally suffered from cancer, but twenty three other members of my family have. Including my paternal grandparents, two aunts, an uncle, my father and numerous cousins; only three of them have so far survived. I am now watching my father in law succumb to the disease; at ninety years old he has had a good life thus far, and so is fairly resigned to whatever comes next.
Indeed my family as a whole, particularly on my father’s side, treat this disease as just another thing we have to watch for. We don’t whisper the name as so many people do, or give it many different names like “the big C” and such; to us it's no Lord Voldemort. We joke that if you name a form of cancer we can probably find someone in our tribe that’s had it – though bowel and lung cancer do seem to be the most prevalent to anyone who was wondering.
However, these young women have not had a long life to look back on; they’ve not had time to adjust to their own mortality as my father in law has. Nor, I suspect, many family members who have suffered or are suffering from the same illness and so can tell them what to expect. In fact sometimes the 'cure' is worse than the disease - chemotherapy is no cake walk; as anyone who's had the treatment will tell you.
Radiotherapy is less vomit inducing but still no picnic; and the ramifications of both can be felt for a long time after. It takes a stout heart to walk through these minefields with only their resolve to keep them going. Families offer support; but it's the sufferer alone that can call the shots, and only they know how much they can take and what they're really suffering.
No one can truly say “I understand” to a cancer sufferer unless they too have been there; surviving cancer is still a major win for people today. With all our progress in the field of disease cures and surgeries, it is still one we have yet to claim dominion over. So this disease is still something that strikes fear into the heart of anyone on hearing the words “I’m sorry, but you have cancer.”
So for me, these women are survivors in a war that few win. Anyone who has suffered from cancer is courageous in my book; but these young women particularly so. It takes the sort of fearlessness I doubt I will ever have, that’s rare to find in anyone; to show the world your body after the ravages of cancer have marked it and say “this is me; take me or leave me - but I am a survivor.”
So when I looked at the pictures I didn’t see anything ‘grisly’ or ‘disturbingly beautiful’. I just saw courage, tenacity and a strength of will I envy. I saw only heroes.
This is Simi, thanks for reading.........