...is one of my favorite 10,000 Maniacs albums….
It is also the first word that came to mind to describe how I feel about the women who have given me the strength, hope, and encouragement since the moment I suspected I would be diagnosed with breast cancer. We can call them cancer survivors, or thrivers, or just pretty amazing people who got breast cancer, treated their cancer, and are now living “cancer-free” on the other side.
As a disclaimer, I try quite consciously to avoid language that could be perceived as culturally insensitive. Thus my ambivalence with the word “tribe.” In fact, due to my background in sociolinguistics, I make great efforts to avoid sexism in language and violence in language (Thank you, Dr. Hardman- true eminence at UF’s Department of Linguistics, for instilling this consciousness in me). I impart this knowledge to my students every semester, so that they may be aware of how the words they choose color what they are trying to say.
This is why I truly dislike the language of cancer when it comes war comparisons. Being called a “warrior”, “fighting a battle”, “winning a battle”, “losing a battle”…. I’ve never felt comfortable with this, even before I ever thought I’d be a cancer patient. When reading others’ thoughts on the subject, it made sense for me to reject this war language. A person who dies from her or his cancer didn’t “fight” any less than a person who is in remission. “Losing a battle” with cancer doesn’t mean cancer “won”. Cancer is an ugly disease, and I understand it is normal to treat it as an enemy because in many ways it is. I like to think of it more as a really inconvenient uninvited guest that I have to just push away with the miracles of modern medicine and never let back in.
Anyway, in my quest to call my “tribe” something less racially charged or culturally insensitive, I went on a search of a word to describe these amazing women who have been my lifeline the last 7 weeks. Some of the finalists included sisterhood, fellowship, or circle. It might seem forced or tacky, but I decided to call these women my kindreds.
I realize this post is getting long and rambly. But as I patiently wait for my surgery (12 more days, but who’s counting?) I wanted to reflect on and show my deep appreciation to my kindreds.
One of the very first women I approached after my abnormal ultrasound is a beautiful mom of one of Austin’s classmates dating all the way back to preschool. I can’t express my gratitude to her enough (you know who you are!) for checking in on me the day of my biopsy and just texting me positive thoughts as I waited and waited for the initial results. You’re a treasure and thank you.
My cousin in Germany is so far away in terms of miles, but so close to my heart. After a couple of Whatsapp exchanges, we talked on the phone for hours about her breast cancer experience, her philosophies, and all the advice she had for me as I embark on this journey. She’s so great for deep reflections and deep laughs! I love her tons and wish we could be in the same room so I can give her a big covid-free hug.
Five women I’ve been in touch with are women who currently work (or previously worked) with me at Palm Beach State. They have each given me hope from different perspectives and they each have stories that span up to being 30 years cancer free! One of these women also happens to be the gorgeous mom of one of my best friends from work (also equally gorgeous), and she was operated on by Dr. Dudak and treated by Dr. Reddy, who recently declared she’s in 99% remission. (YAAAYY!) Thank you to my work kindreds for calling me, texting me, and generally being present as I go through this.
I also have a very warm spot in my heart for a beautiful woman I’ve known for a few years from Oregon. My Portland parents have taken care of her and her little boy during her recent breast cancer treatments. She has checked in on me as well, and we had a chat on the phone about our similar experiences prior to cancer, life in general, and her recovery. I knew her not very well before this, but now I feel we are truly kindred spirits.
There are also a few kindreds whom I have never met in person… we found each other on Instagram or Facebook. Some are currently in the same boat I am: newly diagnosed and starting treatment. Knowing you’re not going through something alone is one of the best gifts the Internet has given us.
Another great gift of the Internet: YouTube. Please enjoy a live version of “Verdi Cries” by a young and beautiful Natalie Merchant:
PS: Happy birthday, mami! I love you, and thank you for being my mom. I appreciate the selfless time, love, and EVERYTHING you have given me since I was born, but it means so much to me now. We are never too old to need our mom, and I consider myself very lucky, at my 44 years of age, that she is there for me, full of youthful energy and love. You are the best!!