The Undying: Pain, vulnerability, mortality, medicine, art, time, dreams, data, exhaustion, cancer, and care

Anne Boyer is one of my favorite living poets and I’ve been looking forward to this examination of her experience with breast cancer. She skillfully weaves in tidbits from John Donne’s 1624 sickbed work, Bertolt Brecht, Aelius Aristides, Virginia Woolf (along with her mother Julia Stephen’s sickness treatise), Fanny Burney’s description of her 1811 mastectomy without anesthesia, Kathy Acker’s choice not to pursue chemo, Audre Lorde’s breast cancer, and of course Sontag. But mostly the draw is her clear-eyed description of the tortures of medicine, killing yourself with chemo in order to live, chopping off parts of your body but not being offered the ability to stay the night to recover, the burden of doing it as a single woman having to rely on the kindness of friends.

Everyone understands as a matter of fact that unless you are currently entered into this world’s customary romantic partnership, or unless you have lived long enough to raise devoted grown children, or unless you are young enough to still be in the care of your parents, you are, on the occasion of aggressive cancer in the conditions of aggressive profit, rarely considered worth enough to keep alive.