The Cancer Journals

One imagines that Audre Lorde, the self-described Black lesbian feminist poet, who died of cancer in 1992, would have been gratified that her 1980 book, The Cancer Journals, has been reissued 40 years later. Making its republication bittersweet is the fact that the issues she was sounding the alarm about--the harm done to women by businesses built on body-shaming, and the insufficiently explored link between environmental decay and cancer--are still in dire need of attention.

The Cancer Journals--three prose pieces scattered with Lorde's journal entries--recounts her experience with breast cancer when she was in her mid-40s and living with her partner in Brooklyn, N.Y. After some deliberation following her diagnosis, Lorde went ahead with a mastectomy, but she was always clear that, despite pressure from the medical community, she would not wear a prosthesis: "I refuse to hide my body simply because it might make a woman-phobic world more comfortable."

Lorde enjoins readers to temper their fear, as she did during her cancer battle, and harness their rage for the greater good; "When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision," she writes, "then it becomes less important whether or not I am unafraid." Lorde didn't live to see Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, the mainstreamed environmental movement, or the embrace of the term "intersectionality," which she seemed to anticipate with her multi-hyphenate identity, but it's tempting to conclude that her words--in The Cancer Journals and elsewhere--summoned them into being. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

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