The Identified Patient

Being a cancer patient is alot like being a sexual object, both roles are disempowering. You are an object and your real identity is forgotten or ignored.

On the other hand, in the context of having a life threatening illness, the act of sex is radical. It is life-afirming, pleasurable, and conteracts the uncomfortable side-effects of cancer treament. It validates my existance as a woman, a non-patient , a person. Sex beats back death; sex is powerful.

From another point of view I am coming to terms with the inevitable loss of sexual power, of no longer being an object of desire, because of age or illness. This maybe the end of my life as a sex object but not the end of my life as a sexual being.

Having cancer is like having someone holding a gun to your head, only the danger is inside of you. This invisible threat is a part of you.

The gun is also a metaphor for the violence being done to my body in the form of treatment. There is no way to know whether the radiation is helping me or harming me. My breast is the target, literally. Most cancer treatments are harsh if not brutal; in order to kill the cancer you have to attack the host, which is me, my own body.

On a deeper level, here I am trying to save my life, trying to kill cancer cells in my body, but for what end? As much as I am anxious to finish my treatment I am afraid of asking myself the inevitable what? Iím not the same person I was. I need to recreate my life.

The cancer, the treatment, and the medical system itself take away your sense of personal identity. Your are jolted out of your comfortable world, and suddenly you become conscious, in a way that you never were before, of the frailties of your body. Your sense of safety is gone; the system has failed.

Illness, like war or natural disaster is, in a sense, a rite of passage for the self. In surviving it you ultimately realize that you are much more than you imagine, much more than your physical body, or your conscious mind, or the life that you lead this time around.


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