I posted before about the inspirational imperative, the the endless pressure to be “inspirational” as the response to stress, distress and setbacks. This passage from Anne Boyer’s New Yorker essay “What Cancer Takes Away” therefore resonated:
People with breast cancer are supposed to be ourselves as we were before, but also better and stronger and at the same time heart-wrenchingly worse. We are supposed to keep our unhappiness to ourselves but donate our courage to everyone. We are supposed to, as anyone can see in the YouTube videos, dance toward our mastectomies, or, as in “Sex and the City,” stand up with Samantha in the ballroom and throw off our wigs while a crowd of banqueting women and men roars with approval. We are supposed to, as Dana does in “The L Word,” pick ourselves up out of dreary self-pity and look stylish on the streets in our colorful hats. If we die later, as Dana does, we are supposed to know that our friends will participate in a fund-raising athletic event and take a minute, before moving on to other episodes, to remember that we once lived.
We are supposed to be legible as patients while navigating hospitals and getting treatment, and illegible as our actual, sick selves while going to work and taking care of others. Our actual selves must now wear the false heroics of disease: every patient a celebrity survivor, smiling before the surgery and smiling after it, too. We are supposed to be feisty, sexy, snarky women, or girls, or ladies, or whatever. Also, as the T-shirts for sale on Amazon suggest, we are always supposed to be able to tell cancer that “you messed with the wrong bitch!” In my case, however, cancer messed with the right bitch.