Winter lies piled at my door; winter is leaking in through my roof;
winter has stopped my water and is holding it in a frozen grip.
I’d like to leave this all behind, go visit friends who live
on tropical isles. A vacation would be fun. But breast cancer doesn’t
go on vacation, so I’m crafting my collection of information
on preventing and dealing with breast cancer—a collection that
spans twenty-five years—into a book.
It’s hard to write about breast cancer. It’s frightening
to read about it, to listen to women’s stories, and to speak
with oncologists (experts on cancer). Like winter, the facts pile
up at my door, leak in through my dreams, stop my thoughts and hold
them in a frozen grip, a grip of dread, of deep unease.
What feeds my fear of cancer? I keep hearing, and have been hearing
all my life, that the incidence of breast cancer is increasing. That
no one knows what causes it or how to prevent it. That I could have
breast cancer even if I feel incredibly well. That cancer is silent
and deadly and my only hope is to expose my breasts to radiation in
hopes of finding it when small. That I need be prepared to fight viciously—slashing
and burning and poisoning to within an inch of my life—should
cancer ever be found.
I feel myself tightening in fear, clutching my breasts to my chest,
shoulders hunched over. But I know that won’t help. I breathe
out and allow my hands to relax and open. I breathe out with a sigh
and let my head come up and my shoulders fall back. I breathe out
and sigh audibly as my arms relax and my unbound breasts fall into
the warm hollows of my palms.
My right hand, palm open, is under my right breast. And my left hand,
palm open, is under my left breast. This is an ancient gesture. A
gesture of offering and a gesture of power.
I invite the Ancient Ones with this gesture. I open my heart and silently
cry: “I don’t want to die of breast cancer! I don’t
want my sister, my lover, my mother, my daughter, my aunt, my friends
to die of breast cancer.”
The Ancient GrandMothers are humming. Their hands are under their
breasts. Their breasts are cupped in their open palms in an ancient
gesture of power.
“Breast cancer is a paradox, GrandDaughter, for cancer is life
itself: soaring, unstoppable life. Yet cancer seems to threaten life.
Just so, your wild, untamed, unpredictable parts are the living core
of your life but seem to threaten the stability of your life. Cancer
is an invitation to dance with them in wild abandon. A chance to reclaim
and nourish passion and a greedy zest for life. An opportunity to
nurture and tend to the dark, the hidden, the inner child, the shadow.
A reason to bare your breasts, literally and figuratively.
“And breast cancer is a dance of initiation, for no woman who
dances with cancer is ever the same. She has visited the source and
tasted the waters of life and death, savored the sweetness and the
sharpness of her own mortality, and tasted her desire to survive.
“We have no right answers, no rules to follow, no promises of
life eternal. Death is certain for every living thing. But there are
many ways to prevent and reverse cancerous changes in your cells.
We ask that you observe the consequences, to your inner ecology and
to the outer world, of reliance on supplements and drugs made by petrochemical
We ask you to question the ever-growing use of chemicals on farms,
and electricity, whose humming wires sing the cancer song, and uranium,
the mutater, the changer, now invisibly vibrating with greater and
greater intensity from more and more places. “And we insist
that you trust your inner sense of rightness and be willing to act
on your own convictions. Walk with truth and beauty, GrandDaughter.
There are no wrong answers. There are no wrong paths. Each woman is
unique. We are here to support you, no matter what confronts you.
And to remind you that you can leave a trail of wisdom, a trail of
beauty, no matter which path you choose. That is the Wise Woman Way
the world ’round.”
“I thank you, Ancient Ones,” I whisper, my heart beating
more easily in my breast. But surely there is much that is wrong about
breast cancer. It can’t be right that any woman has to hear
the words: “You have breast cancer.” It can’t be
right that breast cancer seems to increase every decade. It can’t
be right to cut into ten women’s breasts to find one or two
cancers. I feel so much rage and frustration about breast cancer.
How could anything about breast cancer not be wrong?
The Wise Woman Way demands that I be willing to see the perfection
in every problem, that I be willing to allow breast cancer to have
its own beauty, its own truth, and its own ways of offering health/wholeness/holiness.
The Wise Woman Way offers me a vision of completeness—with things
just as they are—if I am brave enough to accept the possiblity
that any so-called problem is already absolutely perfect.
How ironic that I feel called to find the rightness of breast cancer
even as I collect ways to prevent and eliminate it. Is it that breast
cancer, like childbirth or menopause, is an initiation where one’s
former self dies, and a new self emerges? Yes. But we’re talking
about an epidemic. Surely what’s right about breast cancer can’t
be limited to personal transformation, no matter how profound for
the individual, no matter how much difference that one person can
make to the whole. What’s right about breast cancer must be
a larger answer, a meta-story, an archetypal resonance, a story that
reveals the power of breast cancer.
During the past three decades women have repeatedly tried to come
together around a focus that leads to cohesiveness rather than divisiveness.
But every effort has seemed to fail. Could it be that what’s
right about breast cancer is that it finally gives us all a focus,
a common enemy?
Breast cancer doesn’t care what color your skin is. Breast cancer
doesn’t care who you love or sleep with. Breast cancer can’t
be prevented by being rich (although money can buy more care and more
free time to take care of yourself). Breast cancer doesn’t care
whether you are single, monogamous, swinging or celibate. Breast cancer
concerns us all, men as well as women, and it will surely concern
more and more of us as we grow older.
Perhaps breast cancer can bring us together, can unite our voices
into a chant that vibrates with respect for women, for our breasts,
and for the Earth’s sweet breast. Perhaps our solitary grief
and our public wailing will stop the poisoning of our bodies and our
planet. Perhaps we will find a song that will ease our way through
chaos and cancer and into the depths of our selves. Perhaps the act
of considering, even for a moment, that cancer can be an ally of wholeness
will help us nurture health/wholeness/holiness inside and out, healing
the Earth as we heal ourselves. This is the Wise Woman Way the world
Susun S. Weed
February 26, 1995
Laughing Rock Farm
Cancer? Breast Health the Wise Woman Way
by Susun S. Weed
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