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World Cancer Day: 5 writers who never gave up on life

Cancer is a word that is a word that takes a toll on your mind, every time, even when we use it in a sentence (guilty!). Imagine the aches of agony, painful submission of the body to total numbness and a long-lasting trauma to the patient’s mind, if one survives, and to her/his near and ear ones. Ironically, the post-traumatic stress faced after recovery survives as cancer, hindering the basic ability to even have a clearer mind. Whilst certain bodies give up eventually after months of chemotherapy and extensive use of medicines, there are survivors who fight it with clenched fists and till the last follicle of hair falls.


That said, the worse we can do is show our humanly inhuman approach towards the patients while they are battling their nerves out. Oh yes! Starting from reputed hospitals, to government schemes to shaming and misbehaviour from the ones, often thought to be the closest and imagined to be compassionate enough. Well, guess what? They certainly aren’t.

The world has now reached its own stage of awareness about the life-threatening disease and medical advancements speak of reaching the pinnacle of modern advancements in treating cancer. But it seems quite far from that. Only the metropolitan cities have their fair share of knowledge, whereas the villages and smaller towns have a long way to go in terms of healthcare and awareness.


Mocking and taunting the asymmetric body during ongoing chemotherapy for one, body-shaming and cursing the victim for “spreading” cancer, for two…… and the list goes on. Whereas emerging and leading healthcare hospitals simply choose to avoid treatment or, best, consider the patient to be “unworthy” based on caste, class, creed and even sex. The burning pyres of these evil practices are everlasting. But change has to be made. The call for awareness and equality has to be heard by the established authorities.


This year, the theme of World Cancer Day is “Close the Care Gap” which aims to launch a 3-year campaign for growth revolving around impact and global awareness of the disease. The major aim of this campaign is to acknowledge the inequality in the cost of cancer treatment schemes all across the world, to have an open mind about cancer and not just base it on loosely built facts and assumptions, to raise a voice against the discrimination of cancer treatment based on caste, class, sex, race, age disability, etc., and to make the impact loud and clear to the leaders, so as to make a change, for its better late than never.


Speaking of voices for a change, on this day of courage, battle and power, let us take a moment to know about eminent writers who have battled cancer:


Audre Lorde: A popular writing figure, self-described her as a “black, lesbian, mother, poet, writer”, to reach out as an individual, Audre’s works typically highlighted atrocities of racism, classism, homophobia and sexism. Through several well-renowned poetry collections like “From a Land Where Other People Live” and “Black Unicorn”, she’s highlighted epitomes of injustice that have been practised through years. Audre wrote “The Cancer Journals” highlighting mastectomy and residing as a cancer victim when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in the year 1978. She fought the body image issues by not wearing a breast shaper after her surgery was conducted.


Susan Cummings: Cummings is another writer that comes to my mind. Susan was battling cancer for a span of twenty years. When she was first diagnosed with the disease, it brought her writing capabilities to limbo and even during her mastectomy she had become completely paralyzed as a writer. Yet, after months from her recovery, her fight for survival provided the ink for her pen to write again. The book ‘Adventures of One Breasted Woman” speaks volumes about how relationships take a turn with a cancer patient and how the indefinite and almost incapable body is still breathing and beautiful.


Max Ritvo: An American poet, often likened to Keats and compared with the works of Emily Dickinson, Max Ritvo was a posthumous poet who begin writing at age of four. For his chapbook AEONS, he was awarded the Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship. Ritvo had battled and battled hard when he was diagnosed with bone cancer at the age of 16. Eventually, he died from that disease but his works still continue to live and carry his legacy.


Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: Aleksandr was a Russian poet, philosopher and a critique of communism. The Nobel Laureate and famous author of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and The Gulag Archipelago embraced the idea of battling cancer and how it shapes the victim and the others around. He symbolized his own cancer treatment with the atrocities of the USSR government. The writer dies after facing severe heart failure.


Lucille Clifton: Lucille was one of the famous poets who had described the onslaught of cancer and how the disease treats the human body. Her most famous poems were about her husband Fred who was battling out the disease. Through enormous wit and humour, she carved her treatment of cancer with the shell of nature. Though the disease got the better of her at the age of 73, Lucille’s poems still live on to date and have inspired one and many.

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