My mother has oft accused me of being too black and white. It’s true, I like an answer. I like information. I like decisions that make sense and that feel right. I especially like being right, and I don’t like to waffle. I like being right even when there’s grey areas, but I like having enough grey areas stacked on top of each other such that they look black and therefore, a decision can be right or wrong, good or bad, simple or complex. I like clarity, control, and information. I want all the information, and I want it now, and I want to be in control of my decisions, and sometimes I like to be in control of other peoples’ decisions, too. When I was a girl they called me bossy. I am a first born child, and I like it that way.
When I had cancer, my life was littered with decisions. Life in general involves a lot of decisions. What to eat for breakfast, whether to go to that party that offers networking possibilities but will probably be totally boring, which picture to post on your Skype account. But suddenly, the kinds of decisions I was making were about life and death, hair loss and fertility, futures that no longer seemed so stable So I printed out articles and colour coded them. I talked to all the young adult cancer patients. I found support groups and I attended information sessions and I read everything I could get my hands on. I asked everyone I knew what their opinion was, and categorized peoples’ ideas. I poured over statistics, I studied patterns, I brought highlighted articles to appointments. And yet, sometimes it helped none. Mostly, nothing was black and white and instead of gathering all the information from any source ever, I had to turn inward and decide for myself. By myself.
I think the biggest decision I’ve ever made was to have a mastectomy. It was perhaps also the decision that, more than any other decision, could only be made by me. And with my mastectomy, I realized all the opinions in the world, all the statistics and recommendations and book chapters didn’t matter. Most of the people whose opinion I was seeking out had no way to think in any kind of embodied way about my decision. You can’t imagine yourself in a body you’ve never been in, nor can you imagine a decision you might have to make if you’ve never had to make it. It’s just not possible. And with the mastectomy, that became crystal clear. For perhaps the first time, I had to get really clear on what I thought, on what I wanted. For the first time, as I spent hours discussing the pros and cons with my cancer-friends on the verge of the same decision, I realized there is no right answer. No book with a map. Nothing to get wrong. No right way to fill in the bubbles or argue the theory. No test. For each of us, there was a different answer. Our cancers, even when they are all in our breasts or all the same stage are all really different, as are our bodies, our oncologists, and our futures. I could listen. I could hear in each story a different truth, a different decision, a different need. I could listen, but I knew I couldn’t compare. I knew I couldn’t follow. I knew I had to decide.
The whole no right answers proposition is unnerving to me. Certainly, I have never been good at following rules or instructions or even recipes, but I like to know what they are, so then I can rationalize my un-following. I like to know theories, and I like to know what people did before, and I like to follow my heart, especially when it’s backed up with data. But sometimes its hard to know, when things are uncertain and cloudy and new, and sometimes its hard to know when things are certain and clear and ancient, too, what to do, how to feel, when to decide. And so it goes at present, with the music video.
You see, we’ve made a music video. We want to fundraise money to make a real music video, for the song Breast Cancer Pink. And in our fund raising video, my bald head, my broken tits, my totally cancer-y body is featured right front and centre. It’s vulnerable. I’ve asked people- will this ruin my academic career? I’ve asked people- will this make people think weird things? I’ve asked people- will this make others say stupid shit? I’ve asked people- is this stupid? I’ve researched- tending to blogs, reading others public experiences, consulting the experts. But in the end, I’ve only got my gut. I wish my gut was better at explaining, but my gut says, in black and white, do it. Post the video. You can’t be a closeted former cancer patient. There’s no use in hiding. So I suppose the body guides us in black and white sometimes. I think we need sometimes to get out of the brain, stop research, stop talking, stop gathering. We need to enbrain our bodies, and listen to our guts and our hearts and the feeling in our throats. And I love this video. I want to post it. I want to make the music video. So keep an eye out.
Besides, my mother who thinks I think in shades too black and too white approves of the public posting of the video. So there. But gosh, do I wish there was a right answer, so that if anyone were to say anything, I could say…. “But I got the right answer. Can’t you see?”
But that is life I suppose. Life and decisions and black and white and grey, and not knowing and trying and guessing and gathering all the information, colour coding it with post-its and producing a bibliography in APA style… before realizing it matters naught. All that matters, at the end of the day, is the feeling in my gut, and whether or not I can stand on my own two feet and look myself in the eye and know, this is right and it is right for me, for now. Oh life.