Posted by: jeanne | November 4, 2009

angry about breast cancer

i just read an article in the week magazine, a digest of news reports.  it was an article by barbara ehrenreich, who did such a good job telling about the horrible minimum wage lives many people have to suffer (i’m an artist, i don’t even make minimum wage.  but i’m doing what i want, so i’m okay).

she got breast cancer, and so she wrote about that.  but what she wrote about was her experience of anger.  i know that anger.

anger at having cancer, anger at the unfeeling, profit-based medical industry, anger at the stone-age treatment options which are worse than the disease, anger at the way we’re all supposed to be so light hearted and positive about having cancer.

i tried to explain this to my friend renee once.  renee has breast cancer, and writes about it on her blog.  she read something i once said about how cancer is the best thing that happened to me, and took me to task for it.

how could breast cancer be positive?  how can i derive comfort from having cancer?  how can i act like it’s my best friend?

what i mean by ‘best thing that ever happened,’ is the same as when i say that having my baby girl was the best thing i ever did.  what i really mean is that it’s the hardest and most rewarding job WHEN IT TURNS OUT RIGHT.  at the moment, my baby girl is being 21 with a vengeance, and i regret thinking i did a good job.  when i get my cancer back and have to really concentrate on dying now, i’m going to regret welcoming it as a friend.

but at the moment, having cancer is living with a death sentence, and it sure motivates me.  it’s a huge challenge, and because i have to be on my toes to cope with it, it makes everything sharper and eliminates the timewasting i used to look forward to (tv?  when i could be working or reading or even sleeping?  watching someone else’s fictitious tiny commercial-driven life?  fuck that)

it’s a motivator the same way being dropped into a war zone with only the armor on your back to aid you.  nothing motivates like death.

but barbara is right.  all the slick commercialism about breast cancer only reveals what a huge market someone, many someones, are manipulating cold-bloodedly.  pink this and that.  simpering be happy messages.  infantalising grown women so that they submit to questionable medical practices that are the bread and butter of hospitals and clinics.  we’re just a bunch of sheep, painted pink.

anger is appropriate.  but they sure don’t want to hear it.  when barbara wrote her article, she got a bunch of comments lambasting her for being so negative.  comments portraying the commenter as superior and barbara as an ungrateful child.

when i got cancer i imagined a whole series of art.  paintings screaming about the unfairness, the cattle-at-slaughter chemo pens, the bare naked woman at the mercy of white-coated aliens.  but i never made these paintings because i was told right away that i needed to have a good attitude.  and they seemed too angry.

but years later i’m still fuming about it, so first i wrote about cancer (my novel splat), and finally i painted the paintings i’d been thinking about.  and i’ve got more to paint.

of course, there are very few (meaning none) places to show angry breast cancer paintings, so they sit in my studio.

but i’m still angry about it.  and now that i’ve read her article, i think there should be an increasing outcry against breast cancer treatment.

bra35 bra34

a mother and daughter discuss breast cancer.  this is a two sided painting.  on the front is my daughter, life size, wearing my mastectomy bra and a fabric skirt.  on the back is a self portrait of me in the same pose, with a mirror for my face, and wrist restraints instead of bracelets.  the bra is open from this side, and you can see the prosthesis on the left, tied in with pink ribbons.  i have a cesarean scar, and my remaining breast is saggy.  this was all done so that the viewer (you) could walk up to the back of the painting, look at herself in the mirror, fit her breast into the bra and her hands in the restraints, and experience having breast cancer (as much as you can looking at paintings).

crouch2 crouch3

the arrogance of doctors.  this painting is another self portrait.  you can see my mastectomy scar on the right.  i’m crouching in an empty white room, and the stupid self serving platitudes that are all doctors have to give are raining down on my naked body.


  1. Jeanne powerful words and powerful paintings. I think I understand what you were saying about living sharper. On that I see what you mean. I don’t but I understand that you do.

    Now I seriously do not understand how those paintings cannot be shown somewhere. Especially the mother daughere one. It is so fucking powerful it is unreal.

    It has to be seen. It has to.

    Love Renee xoxo

  2. Nice paintings. I agree with you. We should not be anxious. Cancer should not stop us from living our lives to the fullest.

  3. Nice article, great looking weblog, added it to my favorites.

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