Women Need Other Women to Survive Spiritually and Mentally

Audre Lorde was a woman of strength. She changed the views on what a black, lesbian, warrior poet could be. One crucial point in Lorde’s life was her diagnosis with breast cancer. When she was diagnosed, she went through a difficult time where she questioned many things about her life and how she lived it. Lorde’s The Cancer Journals describe her journey with pain and suffering. With this journey she lost a breast which, to Lorde, was like losing a part of her soul. Though she lost her breast she gained strength through the women in her life. Though the mastectomy and chemotherapy helped her survive physically, the women in her life gave her the strength to survive spiritually and mentally.

      In our society a breast is seen as a characterizing trait of a woman. For Lorde, one of the hardest parts of her diagnosis was the idea that she would no longer have her breast. She recounts her sadness towards the absence of her breast. She says, “And for the first time deeply and fleetingly a groundswell of sadness rolled up over me and that filled my mouth and eyes almost to drowning. My right breast represented such an area of feeling and pleasure for me, how could I bear never to feel that again?” (43). A breast is one of the things on a woman’s body that makes her uniquely beautiful and when it is gone there is a lack of identity. This shows the importance of what makes a woman who they are. This idea of the breast can connect back to pleasure week. In pleasure week we talked about the importance of the erotic. The idea that the erotic is not just something sexual but something that gives us true feelings of happiness. So, with a breast she feels the comfort of her womanhood and feels connected to herself. She finds pleasure in being able to touch her breast and when it is not there it seems to weaken her. So, for Lorde to come out of this makes her a warrior. It makes her a warrior to be able to live a life after the death of her breast. 

         When Lorde’s mastectomy was over she was recommended by doctors and nurses to get a prosthetic breast. This, to them, is the normal way to deal with the loss of a breast. At this time it was common and even expected of women to get a prosthetic breast. To Lorde, this seemed to reinforce the patriarchal society that objectifies breasts. Lorde says in her journals, “For not even the most skillful prosthesis in the world could undo that reality, or feel the way my breast had felt, and whether I would love my body one-breasted now, or remain forever alien to myself” (44). This beautiful quote conveys Lorde’s belief that having one breast that was real and a part of her body was better than trying to cover up the lost breast with a fake one. Lorde almost seems to talk about her lost breast as a person. She grieves for the lost breast and does not replace it with another because for her, it had a special place in her heart that could not be replaced. She needed that empty place on her chest to remain empty in order to remind herself of the breast she lost. She believed that a prosthetic would be a way of covering up the pain of the loss. With denying the pain of an amputation there would be no strength to build off of. Lorde used this amputation as a way to make her a stronger woman.

Lorde’s journals illustrate how significant women were in healing her mental state after the operation. She decided that she wanted to live her life with the people who were most important to her. In Lorde’s journal she describes how women supported her mental recovery:

But support will always have a special and vividly erotic set of image/meanings for me now, one of which is floating upon a sea within a ring of women like warm bubbles keeping me afloat upon the surface of that sea. I can feel the texture of inviting water just beneath their eyes, and do not fear it. It is the sweet smell of their breath and laughter and voices calling my name that gives me volition, helps me remember I want to turn away from looking down. These images flow quickly, the tangible floods of energy rolling off these women toward me that I converted into power to heal myself (39).

These women kept Lorde afloat and prevented her from drowning in her own sorrows. This signifies that women have the power to lift each other up during their lowest moments. With the image of her being kept afloat by all of the women showed that they kept her from drowning in her own sorrows. This made Lorde a stronger person because it gave her a sense of the power of other women and the impact they have on each other’s lives. 

         Lorde’s The Cancer Journals reflect upon her hard times with breast cancer and the moments where she felt she could not control her body. Lorde states “The acceptance of death as a fact rather than a desire to die, can empower my energies with a forcefulness and vigor not always possible when one eye is out unconsciously for eternity” (26). In this quote it shows the toll that breast cancer had on Lorde mentally. She describes the situation that she is in as one that is not of free will. She does not have the choice on how her body will react to the cancer. This would be mentally draining for anyone. Yet, she survived all of this and became a stronger woman. In Lorde’s “A Litany for Survival” she states “We were never meant to survive.” But, through her journey with breast cancer it transformed those words. Maybe we were never meant to survive alone. Perhaps we were meant to survive if we had the support of other women in our lives to carry us through tough times and keep us afloat.

Works Cited

Lorde, Audre. “A Litany for Survival by Audre Lorde.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, 

Lorde, Audre. The Cancer Journals. 2nd ed., Aunt Lute Books, 1980.

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