When I was diagnosed with cancer, I read. I read articles and books and blogs. I printed results and statistics and I filed them in a binder with color coded tabs. My friend Ariana started joking that when I googled young adult cancer all the links were purple. You know what that means, right? That I’d read everything. All the links. Purple. Very early on, I knew there was something really obvious, really glaring, and really wonky going on. I knew that young adults were missing from the scholarly conversation, and I knew our perspective was important and would shift the conversation. I knew I would write about young adult cancer.
As my treatment wore on, I grew to hate cancer. I swore I’d never write academically on cancer. I despised writing on cancer. And then the treatment wore me down even more, and I started googling. I started reading again. All the links were purple, again. Except this time, I was thinking about young adult cancer as a scholarly project, I was wondering about the digital objects of young adult cancer, I was gathering resources for a literature review, I was starting to think myself as a young adult cancer scholar. I had questions, big ones, about the mobilization of cancer knowledge, digital literacy, and generationality. I had big things to say, unwieldy opinions and a lot of disagreements with the existent cancer scholarship.
Tonight, though, I know I can’t pursue this line of research. Even though it builds kind of perfectly on my work in digital literacies, even though I am acutely aware of the lack of scholarship on young people and cancer, even though my whole heart is in this project, I can’t do it. I need to step away. I need to not allow cancer’s tentacles to reach into my academic life. I need to continue being the scholar I always would have been: one concerned with youth, transnational organizing, global movements, digital literacies, video production. It may be that someday, that scholar became invested in cancer, and it may be that someday, I will do a cancer project. But for now, I have to be real about the risks.
The cancer project is too risky. I’m a junior scholar. I’m on the job market. I don’t want to be misunderstood or misread, and I want to move forward as an academic with my best foot forward. I would go ahead and say, with total certainty, that the foot I want to step forward into academia with is not the same foot that turned swollen and red and covered in hives from the chemo. And yet, if I do the cancer project, I bring with me that swollen, hive-ridden chemo foot. I bring with me the fake boob and the ache in my ribs from my hormone therapy. When I walk into the cancer agency, I transform into someone else entirely- a patient. When I walk into academia, I don’t want to be a patient and I certainly don’t want to be treated like one. And sure, we all do academic work that is informed by our own intersectional identities, but people are weird around cancer. I don’t need to risk any weirdness.
Besides, my entire life isn’t academe. I’m multi-dimensional. I will continue to be involved in the young adult cancer community, and I won’t worry about how that involvement makes me more or less credible as a scholar. I will continue to make art and music videos and things, and I will share them because it’s important to me without worrying if someone will find my digital objects and confuse them with my scholarship. And so. It’s sad to move away from a project that I think the world needs so badly. It’s sad to realize I can’t have it all, and I can’t do it all, I can’t be it all. But other things are waiting.
So it’s time to re-organize. Rethink. Reimagine. Or maybe, just get a little closer to who I was before I knew I had cancer, maybe just get a little more of that girl back, maybe find a few more of the threads that were torn from the way I was sewing my life together, maybe arrange the patchwork so it looks like I think it might have, without the cancer catastrophe. And maybe that’s what healing is, after all.