Category Archives: Impermanence

Classy Cancer

Screenshot 2017-07-20 09.11.39

There’s a lot going around about how “classy” [sic] President Obama’s tweet about Senator McCain’s cancer diagnosis is. With a heavy heart, I dissent. As much as I love Obama, and although I trust that he speaks in good faith, I find this tweet hurtful and triggering. It traffics in the mythology that “tough” people are less susceptible to cancer and that having attitude is enough to beat it. (So what happens when cancer *does* know “what it’s up against,” and which cases are those?)

President Obama’s statement perpetuates unhelpful habits of mind that insult cancer patients and survivors every day, as when people said to me, when I was diagnosed at age 41, “It’s a rite of passage, like menopause!” Or, as I waited for the results of my biopsy, knowing that 4 of 7 in my family of origin, including my father, had been treated for breast cancer, “I’m sure you’re fine!” (I wasn’t.  And now we are up to 6 out of 7 having been treated for breast cancer. Breast cancer is what my family of origin does best, and we have a good showing with colon, brain, bone, lung, and liver too.)

Cancer is not sentient; it cannot know (or not know) what it is “up against.”  It is a virulent disease, without consciousness. A patient’s attitude and toughness, if they play a role at all, are much less important than other factors, including ACCESS TO HEALTH CARE. So for Obama to invoke this heroic mythology, however well intentioned, is careless.  And, given what the citizenry is confronted with on the very same day regarding health care access, unseemly.

Senator McCain may well appreciate such sentiments, and if so, that may well be helpful to him.  But I am not alone in feeling re-injured when cancer is presented as a video game with good guys facing off against bad—almost a cause for celebration of the battle.

Hearing constantly about battles, with unrealistic predictions of success, and feeling pressure to think my fight against a life-threatening illness will ensure my survival, just makes me tired.  For me, experience cancer is cause for humility, not chutzpah.  And guess what?  I am still here anyway, heroism or not.

—Rosie Untied

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Cancer Goalie

I will survive!   (Until I don’t.)

In a recent A Way With Words segment, Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett considered the words “cancer survivor.”  I know survivorhood well; we have been circling one another for some time.  But our days together are numbered.

Following my initiation into the cancer club, I referred to myself as a “survivor” a couple of times, and it always felt artificial, forced.  I was alive, but sore and scarred, and I couldn’t lift my arms above my head for some time.  The high-octane s-word did not fit: it has a tinge of wishful thinking or hubris, maybe chutzpah—not to mention an unacknowledged disdain for those who perish. Anyone who has had cancer knows she can’t be sure how many days lie ahead.  And we all stop surviving eventually, cancer or no cancer.

Even more, I resisted referring to myself with a noun that described just one facet of my identity.  It was too essentializing.  Instead I described myself as “someone who has experienced cancer,” or “who has been treated for cancer,” or, sometimes, “who has to be aware of the possibility of more cancer in her future.” (Catchy, eh?)  Think of “cripple” becoming “crippled,” then “disabled.”  And later moving on to “differently abled,” or “someone who uses a wheelchair,” or “who has physical limitations.”  If you resist such rewording and fine-tuning, imagine being diagnosed with cancer.  Might your emotional or psychological response be influenced by these terms, which identify the tumor-laden as either losers or winners?

A few months ago, I polled  members of a Facebook group, Flat and Fabulous, about this very term.  The variety of responses synced up pretty closely with those noted in the A Way With Words discussion.  Some were fierce: “Goddammit; I sure am surviving this beast,”  or, “I have been through three cancers, and I am still here.”  Others felt they were not “entitled” to say they were surviving, since the oncological jury was still out.  Still others, in the midst of treatment, were feeling more nauseated and weakened than triumphant.  And, perhaps, irked by the pressure to triumph.

Sometimes I describe myself as “half flat,” which makes a musical pun.  When I do on occasion use a noun, it is “Amazon,” to describe my body shape, not any warrior status.  The word “warrior,” mentioned in the A Way With Words discussion, is another that may feel alternately inspiring or overbearing. (And as I have pointed out elsewhere, “real” women warriors are not always honored for their service.)  If this fighting were more like tai ji fencing, where one learns to yield to impact and redirect it, all the while honoring one’s opponent and seeking balance, I would eagerly take up my sword again.

It’s interesting how words like this can be affirming or off-putting, welcoming or perplexing.  They can honor shared experience or ignore individual stories.  Or, more likely, both.   And the words used to described those of us who have hosted malignancies are part of a wider complement of cancer lingo.  Some find this shared vocabulary meaningful.  There is a Facebook group that calls itself “My Pink Sisters.”  Some women have pink-ribbon tattoos.  Curiously, there are also pink drill bits used for tracking.  (I am not making this up.)  The Susan G. Komen Foundation even colonized the universe recently when they launched a pink space probe into the final frontier.  (I am not making this up either.  The Onion did.  Not surprisingly, some people believed it.  For good reason.)  For my part, thanks to the commodification of breast cancer that proliferates like . . . like a cancer, I often choose to excise the word “breast” from my “status,” not wanting to be tied up in ribbons or to field others’ rose-colored thoughts.  Of course I speak for myself only.  My own preferences notwithstanding, it is important to appreciate  individual experiences, responses, and strategies for—yes, survival.  There is no wrong way to do cancer.

The all-or-nothing sensibility of  survivorhood seems to reflect the black-and-white thinking that seeps through many discussions about cancer.  As Martha mentions, we used to say “victim,” and we have moved on to “survivor.”  Is there nothing in between?  It’s like being forced to think oneself a prisoner or an escape artist, when living after cancer feels more like being a fugitive. Maybe a refugee. Interestingly, the older term “remission,” which Susan Gubar recalls in her  “Don’t call me a cancer survivor,” sounds more realistic. Whether victim, survivor, warrior, or wimp, the word “patient” never gets dropped.  Please remember that when you demand to be reassured by asking, “But you’re fine now, right?  It’s behind you?”—as if cancer is a box to be checked on a to-do list.  A friend recently described me as having “beat” cancer, but that is not how I see it; I still have a hot date with my oncologist every spring.

What about “veteran,” or “alum”?  With the possibility of reenlistment or grad school in the future?

Who is all winner?  Or all loser?  Who stays in first place, and for how long?  Grant points out that the term “survivor” can instill superstition.  Understandably.  So, can one be a semi-survivor?  A sometime survivor?  A suffering survivor?  An aspiring survivor?  A post-survivor?  A part-time or temporary worker in the mutation factory?  So-so?  B-list?  Has-been?  Perhaps we are all senior rookies, or fledgling masters.

One can strive to survive, but is one ever “a survivor?”  Survival is a desire, an ambition, a goal.  Attaining that goal is a stroke of good fortune.  Whatever I call myself, I may live to an old age or die ahead of schedule.  Either way, survival is a momentary experience, not a fixed identity.

One of my tumors was said to be invasive, the other more domestic, resting contentedly “in situ.”  I did not see either growth as aberrant or intrusive.  They were  part of my physiology, and likely part of my DNA.  I accepted that they crashed the party, even though I did not invite them to stick around.  But I know my body is transient, and that impermanence is part of every life story.

How about being an “initiate?”  A “traveler?”  A “maven,” or “doyenne?”  Is there such a thing as a “cancer dancer?”  Indeed, could one conceive of  partnering one’s wayward insides rather than battling an alien attacker?  (Perhaps the shapeshifting cells think they are in the right.  “Occupy Rosie!”)  Can one be a cancer yogi, or a cancer bodhisattva?   Can the experience of being dismembered engender a sense of humility and belonging rather than a struggle for dominance and separation?

Clarissa Pinkola Estés refers, not specifically in regard to cancer but more generally, to the “scar clan.”  That seems a way to honor both what has been lost and what remains.

The arch  “vixen” is taken, as is the in-your-face “b**ch.”  (Not to worry.  The b-word horrifies me anyway.)  Maybe I could be a minx.  Or a high priestess.

Victim or survivor?  Bouncer or maître d’?

Cancer mouse, cancer cat?  Cancer shark?  Cancer rat!

Hmm.  While we’re fantasizing, maybe I can be a goalie, nimbly keeping the opponent at bay up until the second overtime period of the fifth game of the finals.

Jonathan Quick, L.A. Kings Photo by Kaz Andrew  Wikimedia Commons Click for original.

Jonathan Quick, L.A. Kings
Photo by Kaz Andrew
Wikimedia Commons
Click for original.








But it’s not all glory: let’s not forget the back story.  26 rounds of wind-up matches, and at last it’s opening night.  Game 1: a virtuosic refusal of the puck—but no, it ricochets off of footwear and gets by!  Missed signals,  32 deflections.  A setback, and then the longest game ever.  We prevail, but it could have gone the other way, couldn’t it?  Not even Gumby-like splits guarantee a win.

I know I am returning to the image of the champion fighting off the intruder, but at least there is a team involved, not just a lone hero hoarding the win. And the goalie’s goal is to fend off any goal.  (I can get with that; it sounds like Beckett.)  He does not seek an endpoint; he plants himself at yours and makes sure you don’t get in.  He’s a protector, not a colonizer: Mama Bear on ice.

Not to mention those extraordinary iliopsoas muscles.  If anything can keep cancer at bay, they can.

(I pause to feel grateful that I have lived long enough beyond cancer to discover hockey.  And to thank Martha and Grant for helping me find my inner goalie.)

A friend once used the term “cancer saint”  to describe the obligation she supposed I felt to be a perfect patient.  She was right, and I have aimed to to sin more ever since.  Another woman, a “breast friend,” asked, “Were you afraid you would flunk cancer?”  Actually, yes, I was.

As much as I resist the demarcation of carcinomatous identities, I have for efficiency’s sake coined (oops, maybe not) the term “cancer queen”: this is how I understand those who strive to ascend through the malignant ranks and reign supreme. To be the star, the “it girl”—to bask in admiration and preside over the club rather than seeking solace in sisterhood.  This is another result of commodification, I think; one has to produce the best-selling cancer characterization in order to ensure . . . survival?  But the celebration of the decked-out diva ensures our indifference to the humbly dressed second alto doing her own surviving in the back row of the chorus, not to mention the third-chair trombonist hiding beneath the stage and waiting patiently until the second act to play her lowly three notes.

Whom does the cancer queen serve?  Does she feed her subjects, or feed off of them?  Is there such a thing as a cancer vampire?  Probably.  After all, there are “real” cancer princesses, of the Disney persuasion. (I am not making this up.)

Let’s hope that the lifespans of Disney-derived mastectomy-scar cartoons prove short and that the women who have been asked to buy, or buy into, the fetish of the carved-up princess will persevere for a while.  And let’s hope that the next generation, already swimming in pink products, will see less cancer and less cancer swag.  Maybe these young ones will be shrewd and cunning, able to harness global warming to scorch rogue cells or reroute military drones to zap warriors’ tumors without being seen.  Maybe these soon-to-be women will be artful dodgers, mischievous tricksters, or fearless mavericks, and they will not have to use the term “cancer” at all.

Yes, I did say we’re all impermanent.

But there are better ways to stop surviving.

—Rosie Untied

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Filed under Buddha, Cancer™, Impermanence, Pink noise, Scrub it P$#k, Unreconstructed

Save The Tattoos!

Many women who experience breast cancer have tattoos after treatment (as well as before).

The women whose pictures appear here have generously agreed to share their tattoos along with some words about their experience.

Links to other resources on mastectomy tattoos can be found at the end of the article.

Patricia Getchell

Chest Tattoo (Anonymous)

Patricia Getchell’s Chest Tattoo

“This tattoo predates surgery by over ten years. I lost part of the design when my breasts were removed.”

Jennifer Rigano Denbo

Jennifer Rigano Denbo

Jennifer Rigano Denbo

Jennifer Rigano Denbo

Jennifer’s Survivor Tattoo







“Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a time to remember that all cancers, including breast, are taking the lives of people you know and love everyday. All cancers need a cure….period.”

—Jennifer Rigano Denbo, “PINKtober- “Don’t be fooled by her cuteness.”

Lorrainne Mazeroll


“We are made strong by what we overcome.”







“My tattoo is one my daughter and I both got, because we are the strongest people we know!”

Pamela Estep Pierce

Pamela Estep Pierce's Angel

Angel Who Lost Her Tear







“I felt it was appropriate to get an angel tattoo on my right shoulder—a permanent “angel watching over me.” I had the tattoo artist add a small teardrop falling from her left eye to signify that I would never be the same. Amazingly, the teardrop disappeared after a few months! I know sometimes the ink fades over time, but I chose to believe this was a sign from God and the angels that I was going to be okay. And I just celebrated my anniversary of five years cancer-free!”
—Pamela Estep Pierce, 2004, from Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Survivor’s Soul.

Update, October 2014: “It’s okay with me that she’s old and faded because that means my cancer is old and faded too…both are 15 years old on November 3rd. Yes, 15 years! She meant a lot at the time, but I’m ready to forget her…”

Pamela Estep Pierce's cross, with her daughter's

Mother and daughter cross







“A recent picture of my daughter and I celebrating my 60th birthday and my 15 years cancer free…and our prayer that she always remain without cancer.”

Looby Loo

“My passion with tattoos grew after I had my first one when I was 57! I had left an abusive husband of 38 years and finally had my freedom.”

Looby Loo's Mermaid


“I decided on a mermaid, which would represent my alter-ego who loves water and the sea in particular. Having caught polio as a baby and grown up wearing callipers I have never been elegant on land, but water is my element and it is there that I feel unbound and free!”


Looby Loo's Hummingbird


“My hummingbird is symbolic of rising above personal difficulties and hardship.”


Looby Loo's Nautilus


“The cross-section of the Nautilus on my right hand reminds me that life is meant to be lived in the present. The chambered nautilus moves forward to a larger chamber as it grows, and the previous chamber is closed off, so it can never move back, only forward towards the future. This one was drawn for me by a friend with the sea done in the style of Hokusai’s ‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa.'”


Looby Loo's Peace Heart

Peace Heart

“My rainbow coloured peace heart represents my general philosophy of tolerance, acceptance and general live-and-let-live!”


Looby Loo's Gypsy Lady

Gypsy Lady

“As for my gypsy lady, she is again a representation of my life philosophy, live, love, laugh. She is also special to me because, although you can’t see it in this picture, she is holding a sunflower and this reminds me of my late father, who was the light of my life, and the sunflower reminds me of his sunny personality. There are also bees in this tattoo, and my dear late mum loved bees – this tattoo is very special.”


Looby Loo's Hell's Fairy

Hell’s Fairy

“The Hell’s Fairy on a motorbike is how I like to see myself – a sassy attitude riding a cool bike – even if my ‘motorcycle’ is only a mobility scooter in the real world! The fairy has purple awareness ribbons incorporated in rememberance of my mum who died from pancreatic cancer (the purple ribbons are also associated with domestic violence and anti-gay bullying, two issues also close to my heart). My eldest son came up with the title ‘Hell’s Fairy’ when I got my first scooter…He said I wasn’t hard enough to be a Hell’s Angel, so fairy it had to be!”


Looby Loo's Twist of Fate

Twist of Fate

“Finally my latest tattoo was the line of script running up a scar from my very first surgery at age nine “Blame it on a simple twist of fate”…I have many other scars now, including my mastectomy one, plans are afoot for many more tattoos to cover them too!”

 Barbara White


Newgrange Tri-spiral







“I got my first tattoo at age 41, about ten days before my mastectomy. I had been conceiving of a tattoo for some time.  When I was diagnosed, in the midst of everything, I opted to up the octane and hasten this tattoo—this in spite of having been diagnosed also with Epstein-Barr virus, which resulted in severe fatigue—itself exacerbated by insomnia!  It was important to me to bring something talismanic into surgery, and since I could not wear jewelry or carry objects, it seemed smart to get that ink right away.  Sometimes people ask whether this tattoo is permanent.  I reply, “Only as permanent as I am.”  Indeed, the identification of tattoos as a fad or as “something you will regret later” has no significance to me; if I live long enough to have such a regret, I will be fortunate.

“I have been advised never again to put needles in that arm, because of the risk of lymphedema, so I like that the spiral marks the last days when I could accept a puncture there.  Andrew, the artist, wanted to touch it up afterward, and I had to say no.  That was an important reminder that my life and body, while impermanent, were permanently changed.

“Andrew described the location of the tattoo, on the inner bend of the elbow, as “the ditch”, and he told me it was very sensitive.  (I have since heard that term used by fictional IV drug users on Law and Order.)  Andrew insisted that I was very brave, though I thought he was overselling that a bit.  But I found the sensations interesting, and it helped me prepare for surgery, to have a body modification for which I was awake and could feel my body being punctured  in advance of the one for which I would be unconscious and desensitized.”


Antique Yin-Yang







“My second tattoo came a year or two later.  It is the familiar yin-yang circle, but in an antique version that people often do not recognize.  The image of the yin-yang conjures up change and interdependence.  It reminds me that neither darkness nor light is superior; both are important and valuable.  It reminds me that changes of season, of breath, of energy, of mood, of fortune, and of point of view are all temporary and shifting.  The only constant is change—something like those rays of sunlight that showed up when I took the photo.  They are gone now.

“When I was in the midst of my breast cancer adventure, I was surprised that my doctors were surprised that I opted to forgo reconstruction.  I was also surprised that they were surprised that I planned on inking a tattoo on the site of my surgery.  Neither of these choices is unusual.  There is even an organization called P.INK that matches women who have had breast cancer surgery to tattoo artists.  (And, although some think tattoos are also rare for professors and scholars, I have even found documentation on this other subculture of which I am a member.  It seems one could trace the use of ink through any number of historical threads and cultural developments.)

“To me, there was also a relationship between forgoing reconstruction and welcoming ink.  I did not want to participate in the plastic surgery industry, and the world of tattoo art was much more in line (so to speak) with my values, as well as my aesthetics.  The body modifiers were much more accepting of, well, the body, and its changes, than were doctors who build artificial breasts in the place of those we have had removed.

“I have a third tattoo, on my scar.  I identified some concepts and images and invited an artist friend to make the design.  Andrew inked this one too.  He was very thoughtful, even arranging a time when the studio would be closed and quiet.  When I got on the table, covering my remaining breast and exposing my scar, he asked, “So, is this a cancer-type thing?”—meaning my missing breast.  I said “Yeah.”  He seemed unfazed.  The sensations from the needle were quite strong.

“Although some women choose to share their chest and scar tattoos, I think of this one as private.  I am glad others are more extroverted though.”

Links to Information About Breast Cancer-Related Tattoos
[For informational purposes only; not representing or endorsed by PPATTWBTR.  Comments are from Barbara White.]

Note: the articles these links point to may include graphic images (as well as graphic images).

History of Imagery

As breast cancer treatment and the pubic conversations about it have continued, there has been much discussion about women’s appearance and about the appropriateness (or not) of showing post-surgical bodies.  The practice of post-mastectomy tattooing is woven into the struggle over the display of women’s bodies.

When I was a teenager, I would see Deena Metzger’s poster of her tattooed mastectomy scar when I went to the feminist bookstore.  This portrait seemed unusual (in many ways) back then.

Matuschka, “Beauty Out of Damage,” a photo from 1993 that was featured on the cover of the New York Times Magazine, illustrating Susan Ferraro’s article “The Anguished Politics of Breast Cancer.”  The cover image and article inspired much controversy and many letters to the editor.  This response was covered by Mary Schmich in her Chicago Tribune article, “Picture Unleashes A Building Storm.”  Indibrella’s blog post, “Beauty out of Damage,” hosts Matuschka, who writes about her “Tattoectomy.”

In May, 2012, Facebook removed Joanne Jackson’s images of the site of her removed breast.  Huffington Post: Joanne Jackson, Breast Cancer Survivor, Has Mastectomy Pictures Banned From Facebook. 

My response to the above at the time: “Facebook™, is this Shot Obscene?

Later, mastectomy tattoos were found unsightly by Facebook.  Sara Gates, “Facebook Removes Photo Of Breast Cancer Survivor’s Tattoo, Users Fight Back.”  (It is said that they have loosened up since.  Indeed, one sees many mastectomy tattoos on Facebook these days.  More info welcome.)

Soon after, the New York Times made the news again by placing a large picture of a small breast scar (with tattoo above) on the front page, above the fold.  This accompanied (or was accompanied by) Roni Caryn Rabin’s article, In Israel, a Push to Screen for Cancer Gene Leaves Many Conflicted.  See also Jessica Winter’s article in Slate: No, the New York TimesDid Not Sexualize Breast Cancer.

News & Features

Diane Mapes, “Pink ink: Tattoos transform mastectomy scars into beauty.

Katherine Locke, “Women choose body art over reconstruction after cancer battle.”

‘Flat and fabulous’: Topless tattoo selfie inspires cancer survivors.”  An article in Today about Barbie Ritzco, co-founder of Flat & Fabulous.

Examples & Resources

Inked Mag, “Inspiring Mastectomy Tattoos.”

Shareen Pathak, “Want a mastectomy tattoo? There’s an app for that.”

A “breast friend” told me about a link to mastectomy tattoo ideas on Pinterest.

Personal Ink—P.INK: “Our goal is to connect breast cancer survivors with tattoo artists who can provide a form of healing that no one else can.”

Melissa A. Fabello, “4 Rules for Talking to Tattooed People Without Disrespecting Their Boundaries,” from Everyday Feminism.  [I find the tone of this article somewhat counterproductive, but its “rules” are good practices for interacting with anybody: refraining from uninvited touch and intrusive questions, and so on.  It may be of interest to the tattoo-conversation-curious.]

Culture and Scholarship

“Beauty and the Freak,” an interesting episode of CBC’s program Ideas.  It considers numerous kinds of body modification, with an unusually wide view and open attitude.

“Gender Under the Knife”: an article about Mary Bryson and Chase Joynt’s project on breast cancer surgery and gender-reassignment surgery.  Mary Bryson’s photo of her tattoo can also be found here. 

Dwight Garner’s review of Margot Mifflin’s book, Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo.

Not specifically about tattoos, but considering the intersection of breast cancer and appearance is Samantha King’s 2008 book Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthrophy.  The University of Minnesota Press’s “Q & A with Samantha King,” part of the press kit for the book, begins with a discussion of the Matuschka/New York Times controversy.  [“The images through which the disease was made visible were also transformed: Matuschka’s mutilated, though highly ‘stylized,’ chest, the result of an unnecessary mastectomy performed by an overzealous surgeon , replaced by the hypernormal femininity of Linda Evangelista’s modestly covered yet perfectly intact breasts.”  King, Samantha (2008-05-19). Pink Ribbons, Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy (Kindle Locations 67-69). University of Minnesota Press. Kindle Edition.]  The increased attention to mastectomy tattoos is part of a long history of the breast cancer dialogue in the United States.

Inked Academics

Phil Ford, “The Tattoed Academic,”  in the Dial “m” for Musicology blog.

David J. Leonard  about The Inked Academic Body,” in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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Filed under Impermanence, What Color Is Pink?

The Price is Life (And It’s Personal)

On today’s episode of The Price is Life, it’s . . .  Melissa Etheridge!

Screenshot 2014-10-22 11.49.05






It has been ten years since she was treated with cancer—”the [gasp] ‘I might die’ sort of thing.”  And she has a new album out, called This is M.E.!  [Entrance to wild applause and theme music.]

Dr. Mehmet Oz asks Melissa Etheridge about cancer:

M.O.: “I’m going to say this in a very loving way . . . You think too many women are having preventive double mastectomies?”

M.E.: “I think too many women don’t get . . . a . .. ch—I think too many women don’t understand the choice.  I think health . . . is going to be the Number One Issue of our generation.  This is what my doctors told me . .  that the ones that survive are the ones that make a change somewhere in their life: either personally, stressfully [was that “stress relief”?] or diet. So I just think that that needs to get out there in the works.”

M.O.: “You have a very wise set of doctors.”

M.E.: “Yes, I do.  Yes, I do.”

M.O.: “I love this album.  We’re so happy you are making music.”

Earlier, in June, 2013, in a Washington Blade interview purporting to be about music rather than politics, Melissa Etheridge was asked, “As a breast cancer survivor yourself, what did you think of Angelina Jolie’s announcement [about her preventive double mastectomy]?”  Etheridge replied,

“I have to say I feel a little differently. I have that gene mutation too and it’s not something I would believe in for myself. I wouldn’t call it the brave choice. I actually think it’s the most fearful choice you can make when confronting anything with cancer. My belief is that cancer comes from inside you and so much of it has to do with the environment of your body. It’s the stress that will turn that gene on or not. Plenty of people have the gene mutation and everything but it never comes to cancer so I would say to anybody faced with that, that choice is way down the line on the spectrum of what you can do and to really consider the advancements we’ve made in things like nutrition and stress levels. I’ve been cancer free for nine years now and looking back, I completely understand why I got cancer. There was so much acidity in everything. I really encourage people to go a lot longer and further before coming to that conclusion.”

A few days later, CBS news reported, “In a follow-up statement, released Tuesday to ET Online, Etheridge said, ‘I don’t have any opinion of what she “should have” done. All are free to choose. I only objected to the term “brave” describing it.'”

Some questions that have not been asked:

Why is a discussion about life-threatening illness presented as armchair chit-chat, with theme music reminiscent of  The price is Right? And why mixed with the promotion of an album?

Why is the host’s focus on the “emotions surrounding” the choice to stop chemotherapy rather than on the medical factors (including life-limiting neuropathy) involved?

Why is a lay person asked to offer opinions on the frequency of preventive double mastectomies and of another celebrity’s medical care?  Why is this described in headlines as her “stance”?  Why is Etheridge’s comment described as a “diss” of another woman?

Why is a BRCA2-positive cancer patient not challenged by her physician host when she suggests that food and stress, rather than genetic mutation, nurtured  her “aggressive” tumor?

Why does there need to be a competition between only two possibilities: a “fearful” choice of preventive double mastectomy and a choice to cease chemotherapy and cook brussels sprouts?  (And would you really want to win the Cancer Olympics?  What is the prize?  Isn’t it a little more like poker than fencing?)

How can one identify “personal choice” within a culture that promotes celebrities’ opinions on medical protocols that could risk others’ lives?  When women are set against one another in discussions of their treatment options, encouraged to criticize one another rather than to learn from one another’s experience—or, better yet, from medical expertise?  When “bravery,” rather than medical outcome, is offered as a measure by which to evaluate a decision?  When “emotions,” rather than information, are the focus of difficult choices, such as stopping one form of treatment due to debilitating side effects?  When a lay person repeatedly mentions “stress” as a cause or contributing factor, all the while adding to the confusion surrounding women’s (and others’) health—which itself causes stress?  When a patient, by virtue of her celebrity, is supported in inventing and promulgating medical fictions—as the saying goes, she is entitled to her own opinions, but not to her own facts—in place of medical expertise?  Where she is asked what she “thinks” and “believes,” as if these personal intuitions and fantasies are legitimate?

Why does the response to Etheridge’s comments center around the notion of bravery rather than around her outlandish contentions that she knows why she got cancer, and that “it’s the stress that will turn that gene on or not.”  (How does on turn a gene on and off?)  Why is it that the cultural constructions of cancer (bravery, stress, intuition, celebrity, policing women’s bodies, setting women in opposition) are neither acknowledged nor unpacked? How is it that Etheridge challenges the cultural construction of courage only by questioning its definition—not by questioning its relevance?  How is it that over the course of sixteen months (not to mention the previous nine years), she has not educated herself or been informed by others so that she could speak more intelligently?

Why, when invited to comment on Angelina Jolie’s surgery, does Etheridge presume to measure the courage of the individual rather than to delve into the cultural factors that confine the discussion around cancer and women’s health?  She states that she objects not to Jolie’s choice, but to the notion that it was “brave.”  Why not go a step farther and ask whether the description of women’s dismemberment as courageous might be related to the widely accepted discussion of and penetration of into women’s bodies, something that is evident in every corner of popular culture?

But why would we expect any more of a singer-songwriter in the public eye?  And if we do not expect more of her, why does she continue to speak about this topic on national television?  Why is she invited to do so by programs purporting to inform the public about medical issues?  What is being sold here, bundled with Etheridge’s latest recording?

The title onscreen reads,” How beating cancer made me a healthier, happier person.”  Wow, I am supposed to be healthier and happier after cancer?  That’s . . . stressful.  Or is that a “personal choice” too?  Or is it only the chemotherapy that I get to make a personal choice about, while remaining obliged to celebrate my improved post-cancer quality of life?

M.E. says, “If you are afraid of cancer, of dying, of fear—if this is where you are putting your thoughts and emotions, your life might be guided in that way.  It’s what you focus on.   I have the BRCA2 gene so I’d better be diligent and vigilant about my health, my stress, about my food.  I am not here to criticize anybody’s choices, but I myself would not call that [preventive double mastectomy] a courageous choice to my daughter.”

M.E. expresses a desire “to be healthier” and “to understand how I got this in the first place.”  Following the reassurance of her doctor, who predicts that she will be “fine,” M.E. asks, “I believe I’m going to be fine, so what is this journey all about then?”  

M.E., let’s discuss the potential ramifications of a celebrity accepting an invitation to make blanket statements that may affect others’ “personal choices.”  Say someone who is BRCA2+ views this episode and vows to “make a change somewhere in their life,” opting for brussels sprouts and breasts and eschewing prophylaxis and prosthetics.  What would the “emotions surrounding” your potential influence on this individual’s “personal choice” be like?  Would your feelings differ if the patient died prematurely, leaving behind her loved ones?  Even though you claim to understand why you got cancer?  If your own genetics are less significant than your diet and mental state, do you think digesting those comments could encourage a tumor to grow?  If your medical “stance”  encouraged a BRCA2+ woman to eschew “fear,” and then she died, would that cause you stress?  Would you say it is too difficult to discern what influence your comments might have had?  Or is it possible that her “personal choices” could be “turned on” and off by your input?  If genes can be toggled by stress, why not tumors by your wisdom?

Indeed, what is this journey all about?  Presenting good fortune as individual success?  Capitulating to a culture that circumscribes women’s behavior and then diagnoses that behavior instead of bodily illness?  Promoting fantasies of individual “choice” by trading on an unacknowledged contention that women’s lives are driven by personal choices, unmediated by culture—even as you contribute to that culture, making your own “personal choice” to become complicit in undermining women’s health care and overall well-being?

Or is it about selling your album?  Which is titled This is M.E.

How brave is that, M.E.?

—Barbara White

Note: Although I have not tested positive for any genetic markers of breast cancer, every medical professional I have consulted has expressed a conviction that I bear a predisposing genetic mutation that has yet to be identified.  Despite this informed wisdom, and despite my biological family’s extraordinarily high incidence of breast cancer, at the time of my own diagnosis I opted to undergo a single mastectomy.  I discontinued Tamoxifen after a few months due to life-limiting side effects.  In other words, my “personal choices” have not been unlike Etheridge’s.  For myself, I did not want fear of future illness, no matter how likely, to determine my treatment; however, not all would describe such as course of action as “brave.”  Nor would I use that word myself.

Update, November 11, 2014:
See Liz Margolies, L.C.S.W., in Huffington Post Gay Voices,
“Melissa Etheridge Got It All Wrong.”



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Peter B. Bach on “The Breast Cancer Warrior Trap”

Photo by provdoll Via Flickr. Click on photo for original.

Photo by provdoll
Via Flickr.
Click on photo for original.

If Robach kicked cancer’s butt, then what about the 40,000 women this year who will die of breast cancer, just like my wife did? In Robach’s lexicon, they must just not be up to the fisticuffs, to taking the schoolyard bully outside and showing him a thing or two about standing up for oneself. They must be dying for their lack of fortitude.

—Peter B. Bach, “Avoiding the Breast Cancer Warrior Trap.” New York Magazine, August 12, 2014.

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All Rosé Today—Or, Men in P$#k

Photo by Matt, via Flickr Used with permission. Click for original.

Photo by Matt, via Flickr
Used with permission.
Click for original.

In search of a mature red characterized by phenomenal richness and incredible longevity,  I strode through the door, startled by an ocean, not of red, but of rosé.  Every single sales consultant in a pale shirt, clashing loudly with the red color scheme of the store.  At the customer service desk was a huddle of three managers, all apink.  It was too much to digest! In order to continue on my quest, I was obliged to don my sunglasses.

I wondered at the mass paling of the usual uniforms: they’re a bright cherry, with a notable black pepper finish.  Where had they gone?  Did someone mismanage the laundry?  Could they be attempting to “reclaim the rosé?”  I have heard that there is a campaign afoot to rescue the poor blush wine, “derided by winemakers, p***ed on by wine judges, revered by the public.”  And at last, it donned on me: October.

I summoned the courage to approach the ever-helpful Brandon, who once congratulated me on my choice of an economical shiraz for mulling, and I asked whether he might like some customer input.  We had a friendly exchange; I explained that I did not want him to be offended, but that some of us who have experienced breast cancer find the staining of October troubling.  “I know it’s for a good reason, and I know you’ll continue, but the store has no way of knowing some of us have misgivings unless we tell you.”  He was receptive and said he would pass on my comment.  Then we compared notes on the stunning Gigondas.  Bold, explosive, stunningly evocative garrigues flavors careen from the glass, blaring their stamp of origin like a neon sign. These are old-styled, powerful wines of enormous fruit amplitude and irresistible personality.  Plus there is the longevity!  All the more poignant in the face of rose-colored t-shirts.

Heartened by Brandon’s good will—and blushing, for I am shy—I sauntered in search of an intense, ruby rosso ready to be released—after all, life is short, or can be—and found one promising classic aromas of blackberry and raspberry, well integrated with notes of vanilla and tobacco. And more, the structure was guaranteed to be ample, very concentrated and harmonious, supported by a good acidity.  How I would love to see acid and harmony support one another more often!

Making my way to exchange lucre for terroir, I mused to myself, “I sense just a hint of strawberries nestled amongst what could almost be virginal yeast development. I can almost smell the acid. This is following nicely into the very fresh and acid driven palate, again the odd nuance of musk stick and strawberry in amongst all that acidity, with just a tinge of greenness on the back palate.”  I dug in my wallet for a few bills.

Looking around again, I saw that, indeed, the gentlemen (yes, they were all gentlemen, to a one) looked serene and tender in their rose-colored shirts.  To my surprise, I started to wish they’d discard the usual red shirts and wear these all year—or least bring them back for Gentle Men’s Month?

Will the rosé’s subtle finish be persistent?  Or will it perish?

Only time will tell.

—Rosie Untied


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Cancer Vacation

IMG_4138When cancer appears, life stops.  Except it doesn’t.  The mind may move in slow motion, sleepless nights may seem to last for weeks, and plans for holiday trips may be put on hold.  But one still has to pay the bills, shop for groceries, and keep up at work—all while considering options and preparing for treatment and its effects.  It’s kind of like having a second job, or taking night classes.  (And then there are people who already have a second job or have gone back to school . . . or who are caregivers for children, elders, or other family members.)

During the summer of 2007, as I recovered from surgery, I had all sorts of things on my mind, some weighing on me more heavily than fear of mortality, believe it or not.  At one point, a kind, supportive friend said, “You need a vacation.”  Somehow this unsettled me, and another ally later observed that, well, “you don’t really get a vacation from cancer.” She was not denying me the right to a vacation, but rather speaking a truth that life-threatening illness doesn’t really dole out breaks.

Cancer may be more or less present at certain times, but one cannot evade it.   Yesterday I witnessed much heated discussion about what I’ll simply call “October.”  It was overwhelming, and it is important.

Today I worked in my garden and experienced October, instead of “October.”  Every moment in the garden can be read as a metaphor of a cancer journey.  What do we remove, and what do we put in its place?  What do we engage in, and what do we pass by?  When do we speak up about what is given, and when do we create a silence instead?


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Losing Decline


Montauk Daisy, October

I always feel a twinge of disappointment when October arrives.  It’s not because the temperatures begin to fall or because the nights lengthen.  On the contrary, autumn has long been my—well, I would not want to play favorites with the seasons, but if I did have a favorite time of year, autumn would be it.  I love the glow of the sun through the cooler air; I relish the warm colors of the changing leaves; and I enjoy the escape from air conditioning to open windows and hear the crickets as I await (and await, and await) the night’s slumber. I happily anticipate the season’s call for pumpkin oatmeal, apple cobbler, and split-pea soup.

Whether I actually get around to making any of these delights is another story, though they are all long-established culinary rituals that I try to make time for and share with friends.  Later on, winter brings spicy solstice cookies, which require a hammer to smash whole peppercorns, cloves, and star anise.  (This is done lovingly, in the service of alchemy.)  The slow cooker, an inheritance from my mother, comes out to simmer with broths and sauces.  When the days lengthen once more, Pasta Caprese announces spring.  There’s always a lot of Pasta Caprese, straight through summer.  And in August, it’s blueberry pie, the recipe adopted from my mother’s Bible, Fannie Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cookbook.  I’m pretty successful with pie crust, only because when I was a teenager with Crisco in hand, no one told me that rolling out the dough was difficult. Thus I did not know to fret. (No one warned me of the dangers of Crisco either; it was a different time.)  Each autumn I remember a friend proposing that we should meet up “as gin-and-tonic season gives way to Scotch season,” and I now extend the same  invitation to him.  Indeed, I am pleased think of mulled wine and sangria perching at opposite ends of the wheel of the year.  In October, I have lovely reminiscences of taking my tricolor beagle, Shiloh, to the woods; he perked up as the weather cooled, nearly camouflaged by the trees.

PumpkinsThere is the abundance of the harvest, coupled with the knowledge that it will not last forever: I’d better get to the farmers’ market these next few weeks, before it closes for the year.  The corn, already, is gone, but there are apples for my cobbler.  There are asters in my garden, and the myrtle I planted months ago has begun to fill in.  I’ve always been cheered and calmed by the waning of the sun, for it cannot but bring acknowledgment that all is impermanent.  This reminds me to cherish what I am given while I am able.  Spring, with its promiscuous, bursting blossoms—well, it is beautiful, to be sure, but it always seems a bit manic, overdone, urging me to forget how brief the life span of those bright colors will be.

Why, then, does my secretly favorite season—okay, I might as well admit it—bring such feelings of disappointment?  Is it because I remember three anniversaries in a row?  My mother died in 1995, two days before my fourth wedding anniversary, as my then-mate and I were on our way to a luxurious—I was a proverbially starving graduate student—weekend in Philly, occasioned by a once-in-a-lifetime Brancusi exhibit.  As I passed by the museum for the funeral home, my family members expressed sympathy that I would henceforth experience these two anniversaries in tandem.  Then, five years and two days later, my father died, on the wedding anniversary.  And a few years later, at the same time of year, my spouse and I began living apart, though we continued, for a time, to visit; the dog had died a few months before that, so our walks lacked Shiloh’s baying at squirrels and struggling to evade his leash.

No, the confluence of all these losses fails to dampen my enthusiasm for the shifting colors, sounds, and sensations, though for years it felled me.  Instead, the advent of autumn feels reassuring.  It underscores the way joys and treasures visit for a time, only to elude my grasp in the end.  Long ago I learned to accept, even welcome, these reminders of transience, and I feel more soothed than deflated at the turning of the wheel of the year, at the inexorable movement toward the longest night of the winter solstice and back around again.

What dismays me in October is not the departure of summer or the reminders of other sorts of leave-takings.  It is, rather, the overbearing presence of the color p$#k.  Just as autumn begins to make herself felt,—and heard, in the crunching of leaves and the blasting of marching bands at football games—Breast Cancer Awareness Month enters the stage, draping and drowning this sweet and tender time of year in garish p$#k ribbons.  They festoon ham sandwiches, manila file folders, candies, hair-care supplies.  It seems an ill-mannered intrusion: just as things are winding down and entering the quiet, my surroundings get painted brightly and incongruously with an aggressively cheery hue.  P$#k obstructs my autumn.

5AutumnWindGirlFall can offer a gentle invitation to surrender, to sink, to reflect, just as choosing to stay with any loss may cultivate serenity.  Pema Chödron, ever constant in her wisdom about inconstancy, says of the desire to evade discomfort and run elsewhere:Because we escape, we keep missing being right here, being right on the dot. We keep missing the moment we’re in. Yet if we can experience the moment we’re in, we discover that it is unique, precious, and completely fresh. It never happens twice.”  In a post titled “The Importance of Sadness,” Susan Piver asks questions that reflect gracefully on our autumn leaves: “What if I told you that the way to change the world was not to be bold, resolute, brilliant, or even compassionate? What if I told you that the way to change the world was to be sad?”  She muses that denying sadness may cause despair and blocks one’s own compassion.  Parker Palmer wrote last week about “The Complementary Natures of Beauty and Melancholy“: the way that gratitude may arise—or, one might say, might descend—at this time of year.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month, though, encourages one, at least in part, to turn away from difficulty and loss.  Such resistance and dodging is more unsettling than grounding, and I cannot but question a call for “awareness” of a grueling illness that saturates itself with p#$k.  The ribbons promise to lift my spirits in the face of a deadly disease, a disease that entails great suffering, that reminds me daily, through the cycle of the year, of the cycle of life, of my impermanence.  It seems, well, ghoulish to stain this time of year with lurid p$#k trinkets.  So I turn away less from the illness than from the rose-colored glasses offered by Breast Cancer Awareness.  I guess that’s another form of resisting the moment—or is it?  What does it mean to resist resistance?

I want to ease into the quiet, to enter a hard-won peace in the shadows, not to be disturbed by simplistic statements, as empty as the branches of the trees will soon be, about awareness.  Awareness: of all but decay and decline.

So, bring on the pesky p$#k pumpkin. October is here.

I’ll take mine straight, though.  Orange works just fine for me.

—Posted by Rosie Untied

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Barbara Brown Taylor on Darkness

I have just listened to Mary Hynes’s interview with Barbara Brown Taylor, “Let There Be Dark,” on  CBC radio’s fine program Tapestry.  Highly recommended.  She talks about the pressure she felt as a preacher to be unfailingly sunny and describes her own religious practice as “lunar,” as distinguished from the “solar” tendencies of many communities.  This syncs up with my feelings about pink, about the efforts to dress up a painful experience with brightness. Any encounter with a kindred spirit who does not demand constant cheeriness makes me—cheery.  I’m still not pink though.

This is an excerpt from Barbara Brown Taylor’s “In Praise of Darkness,” in Time Magazine.  (It is an excerpt from her book “Learning to Walk in the Dark.”)

 . . . a kind of spirituality that deals with darkness by denying its existence or at least depriving it of any meaningful attention. I call it “full solar spirituality,” since it focuses on staying in the light of God around the clock, both absorbing and reflecting the sunny side of faith. You can usually recognize a full solar church by its emphasis on the benefits of faith, which include a sure sense of God’s presence, certainty of belief, divine guidance in all things, and reliable answers to prayer. Members strive to be positive in attitude, firm in conviction, helpful in relationship, and unwavering in faith. This sounds like heaven on earth. Who would not like to dwell in God’s light 24/7?

If you have ever belonged to such a community, however, you may have discovered that the trouble starts when darkness falls on your life, which can happen in any number of unsurprising ways: you lose your job, your marriage falls apart, your child acts out in some attention-getting way, you pray hard for something that does not happen, you begin to doubt some of the things you have been taught about what the Bible says. The first time you speak of these things in a full solar church, you can usually get a hearing. Continue to speak of them and you may be reminded that God will not let you be tested beyond your strength. All that is required of you is to have faith. If you still do not get the message, sooner or later it will be made explicit for you: the darkness is your own fault, because you do not have enough faith.

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When Life-Saving Turns Life-Threatening

On cancer, medication, side effects, depression, and risk.
By Barbara White. Reblogged from

The wound and the eye are one and the same. From the psyche’s viewpoint, pathology and insight are not opposites—as if we hurt because we have no insight and when we gain insight we shall no longer hurt.
—James Hillman, Re-Visioning Psychology, 1975.

First, a recollection:

About seven years ago, I began taking an anti-cancer medication, Tamoxifen, after months of fretting about whether or not to do so. I had learned that in a very small percentage of patients, it could kindle or worsen depression. Although it was very rare for that to happen,—my surgeon had never seen a single case, my oncologist maybe one or two—I was indeed one of the “small percentage” to be felled. It took me some time to identify what was happening, but it really hit me that January when I caught a bad cold and had to stop my vigorous daily exercise routine. That habit was likely what had been keeping me afloat, and the sudden need to forgo it was devastating. After a period of perilous despair, during which I felt increasingly disinterested in the next week, day, and hour, I realized that the medication I was taking in the hope of staving off a life-threatening illness was itself life-threatening. For me. (Those last two words are crucial.) Fortunately, my doctors understood this and supported my choice to discontinue the medication. Any doubts I had ever had about the chemical aspect of mood were dispelled that January. There are so many debates and opinions in the offing about whether medication is necessary, helpful, virtuous, and so on. Having had such a severe depressive episode instigated by medication—the inverse of the usual—proved once and for all to my bodymind that chemistry can drive mood. I was not as in charge as I would have liked to think. I could not just repair my mental state with talk, toughness, or the right course of action. Sometimes there is no best course of action available. Sometimes one engages in revivifying exercise and finds it helps. And sometimes one gets a cold and realizes that the bank of endorphins has been used up for the time being. Sometimes Whole Foods runs out of fish oil.

think what you are

Next, a reflection:

It’s easy to think we know what depression is and to think we have wisdom about what is best for another who has experienced despair and anguish. But we know little. As many point out, the casual of the use of the d-word,—“Maleficent isn’t playing any more?! I am so depressed!”—hinders understanding. The mysterious and “yin” nature of the disease does too. Its darkness is powerful and seductive. It’s resistant to illumination. Even those who spend their lives experiencing mood challenges, and treating them, acknowledge the limits of their understanding. Some say that those who die of suicide are selfish, or that they failed to ask for help. Some say that pharmaceutical companies are agents of the State, that their medications are designed to break down the body’s natural chemicals, and that they will inevitably lead to a cure worse than the disease. (Tell that to someone who’s planning to take her life this week. A decline down the road might not be a bad alternative.) That one may eschew the word “suffering” and choose spiritual practice over medication, as long as one meditates in the “right way.” These are all things I have read this week, and I have been especially disheartened to hear some who identify themselves as spiritual practitioners reveal such self-satisfaction, such a lack of humility and compassion. I remember when I was diagnosed with and treated for cancer, dealing with (some) others’ responses was infinitely more difficult than accepting my own morbidity and eventual mortality. I’ve felt similarly pained by much of what I have read this week.

I cannot help but think that the persistent misunderstanding of depression and other mental health conditions relates closely to the fear of decline and death that is so evident in US culture. There are so many claims about superfoods and antioxidants and kale. (Oh, right, kale has been dethroned; is that right? Oops!) However, such apparently “positive” possibilities to engineer über-health inevitably reveal a dark side: all too often, such a desire to be well conspires with a similarly American rush to judge others and to express opinions that arise less from knowledge than from unconsidered attitudes—and, I suspect, from fears. Why else would one police another’s kale consumption? I see this in the discussion about cancer as well: the notion that one can outrun it in one way or another, that it can be cured. I have yet to hear anyone besides me ask in response, “And then what? No death? A better one? Worse?”

I find it hard to imagine that such a “police state of mind” is good for anyone’s mental or physical health. Yet there continues to be a cultural emphasis on the transaction: do this, and you’ll get this. Thing is, there is not always a thing to do, and if there is, it is sometimes comes with a heavy tax. Risk more cancer? Or risk suicide with a drug designed to fend it off? Fortunately, I had a reasonable alternative available. But not everyone does.

Considering how common illness is, how tremendous the spiritual change that it brings, how astonishing, when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, what wastes and deserts of the soul a slight attack of influenza brings to light . . . it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love, battle, and jealousy among the prime themes of literature.
—Virginia Woolf, On Being Ill (1926)

An invitation:

For those who have not had the “opportunity” to experience depression personally, or to look into its eyes in some other way, might you consider acknowledging your unknown knowns? Might you be able to tolerate the not knowing, as in Keats’s notion of negative capability? Might you emulate my doctors, who understood that their vast experience did not grant them omniscience, and who were able to accept that, even though it was statistically improbable, a life-saving medication could cause life-threatening side effects? Had they not, I might not be here to be wondering about this.

Here is the invitation, should you choose to accept it: For every opinion you express about depression, or other mental-health issue, read one article or essay about it. Or better yet, talk to someone who has lived with mental-health challenges, and instead of nursing your own opinion about how they should handle it, ask them about their experience, choices, and outcomes. It might be good for your own mental health too.

There’s No Map, But—

Below are some links that regarding mental health, depression, and well-being. They do not all agree with one another or with what I write above. I don’t always agree with myself either.

These two posts from The Belle Jar are especially informative:

When Getting Better Is No Longer An Option

Life as a Mountain Hike (Guest Post)

HuffPo Canada Living has had some good articles this week:

Arti Patel, Robin Williams’ Death Reminds Us Of The Impact Of Words Like ‘Sadness’ And ‘Depressed'”

Shannon Fisher, “Suicide Isn’t A Product Of Not Trying”

Spiritual Practitioners Discuss Depression

Lodro Rinzler, Meditation Isn’t Enough: A Buddhist Perspective on Suicide

Krista Tippett discusses her experience of depression (among many other things) on The One You Feed” (podcast)

“If you know someone who’s depressed, please resolve never to ask them why. Depression isn’t a straightforward response to a bad situation; depression just is, like the weather.

Try to understand the blackness, lethargy, hopelessness, and loneliness they’re going through. Be there for them when they come through the other side. It’s hard to be a friend to someone who’s depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.”

Stephen Fry

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