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The Cancer Journals

4.32  ·  Rating details ·  1,648 ratings  ·  119 reviews
Moving between journal entry, memoir, and exposition, Audre Lorde fuses the personal and political as she reflects on her experience coping with breast cancer and a radical mastectomy. Includes photos and tributes to Lorde written after her death in 1992.

"Grief, terror, courage, the passion for survival and for more than survival, are here in the searchings of a great poet
Paperback, Special Edition, 104 pages
Published September 1st 2006 by Aunt Lute Books (first published 1980)
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Oct 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I just finished reading this book yesterday evening, though I don’t know how interested I am in reading the tributes to Audre Lorde which follow the main text. This is a hard text, and the reason why I say this is because it truly is an unswerving example of practicing what you preach, what you say you believe in, and challenging others on their uncritical assumptions and givens.

Again, I am so interested in the various permutations of enforced silences, how clearly she articulates these silences
Oct 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was interviewing for a summer day camp counselor job in college and just finished reading this book. The interview for the job was terrible; three typical, bubbly camp counselor types asking the worst questions. For example: "What Disney character would you be and why?"

The last (also terrible, but predictable) question they asked: "If you could have dinner with one person, alive or dead, who would it be?" I finally decided on Audre Lorde whose Cancer Journals I had just read in a class.

I lov
Mar 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
I thought this was quite a moving account of Audre’s initial brush with breast cancer. Audre was a black lesbian poet from America who was diagnosed with a malignant form of breast cancer in around 1978 which was the year I was born. The book is about her emotional response to such a, then and now, life changing event. When she knew she had it, it gave her a rage to live. Something I’ve always had also because of my own father’s death when I was 15 from cancer. I appreciate how short our span is ...more
Nov 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: journal-diary
I remember hearing of Audre's death sixteen years ago. I sank to the floor and sobbed, the only time I have ever reacted that way to the death of someone I had never met. This was written fourteen years prior to her death, when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy. As always, I am awed by her strength and the strength she gained from other women. If you have someone in your life facing breast cancer, buy them this book. Audre came to a powerful conclusion when she wrot ...more
Nicholas I. Wiggins
Feb 21, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: fav-from-school
i read this in a Af-Am lit course in college and was floored. I wasn't expecting to be moved by it but was tremendously moved by her journey through cancer and a mastectomy. I believe I even had a better understanding of women after reading this book.
Dec 27, 2008 rated it it was ok
Post-mastectomy reflections and journal entries from the former Poet Laureate. This is gorgeous, unsurprisingly. It's raw and pained and unapologetic about
both. But it also bothered me on a fundamental level, which I finally identified as the same place that will never be able to align itself with traditional feminism. Lorde's story is partly about a woman who refused to settle for prosthesis after her breast was removed, who believes that women don't need to have two breasts to be beautiful, th
Mel Bossa
As I was leaving Open Books, the LGBTQ+ library here in Montreal, this thin little book with Lorde's picture on the cover caught my eye. Something about her radiant smile and then that scary title, The Cancer Journals, seemed a contraction. I checked it out and read it in a matter of a few hours.

I've never read Audre Lorde's poetry ( something I will remedy soon ) but knew she was a black lesbian poet, a warrior in many ways and an outspoken womanist. Yet knowing all that didn't prepare me for
Jun 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This book literally changed my life. I know that sounds a little cliche, but it was incredible to know the thoughts and feelings of one of the most influential queer writers of my time. I wish I was alive for more of her life. I wish I could have mourned her.
This book also changed my ideas on breast cancer. Since 50% of women get breast cancer, there is a good chance that my wife or I will get it. Reading this book makes me fear this disease less, and know that even if the worst happens, I, too,
Marie Ainomugisha
May 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is perhaps the most painfully encouraging book in the chain of Audre Lorde books that I have committed myself to reading.

Audre Lorde lived with such gallant self-possession even as her living years closed in on her; tapping into expansive orbits to deal with a cancerous alien that was devouring her physical realities and disabling her in excruciating ways.

I always imagine Audre Lorde as a warrior with a godly spear commanding us to live beyond fear by living through it and giving us a new
Dec 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: woc-feminism
Audre Lorde was really the one. Audre drops lyrical wisdoms and then follows it with a line about masturbating. Audre wrote a researched book about the cancer industry in which she also calls herself a connoisseur of women's breasts. Audre was really that Black warrior feminist dyke. Audre writes in a parenthetical, "(I have a permanent and inexplicable weakness for women with flowers in their hair.) (41)." Audre taught me that fearlessness is not the precondition for language, speech, and actio ...more
Oct 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I was introduced to the work of Audre Lorde by a professor friend at Pitt who teaches several courses on her work. I studied it as rhetoric, however to read her writing for any purpose is an indescribable experience. Brilliance.

I revisited her work and this particular book when I was also diagnosed with breast cancer and was forced to face the painful decisions this diagnosis brings with it. How does one view a mastectomy? Would it be a life-saving experience or a rape of my body image? And why
Samin Rb
Jan 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"In becoming forcibly and essentially aware of my mortality, and of what I wished and wanted for my life, however short it might be, priorities and omissions became strongly etched in a merciless light and what I most regretted were my silences. Of what had I ever been afraid? To question or to speak as I believed could have meant pain, or death. But we are all hurt in so many different ways, all the time, and pain will either change or end. Death on the other hand, is the final silence. And tha ...more
Apr 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I have found that battling despair does not mean closing my eyes to the enormity of the tasks of effecting change, nor ignoring the strength and the barbarity of the forces aligned against us. It means teaching, surviving and fighting with the most important resource I have, myself, and taking joy in that battle. It means, for me, recognizing the enemy outside, and the enemy within, and knowing that my work is part of a continuum of women’s work, of reclaiming this earth and our power, and knowi ...more
Update: Currently re-reading this because I needed a little more undauntable audre in my life right now. So. much. love.

I have the original version of this book, not the new edition with the tributes, so I'm writing this here so that I have it later:

"I grew up by the Mississippi River. Hell, for most of my life I've lived within 70 miles of that river. Not next to her, mind you -- I've never lived in a river town. But by her. Not close enough to know her intimately: her daily changes, her season
Apr 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book is such an incredible gift. Lorde describes her mastectomy and its aftermath, interweaving her diary entries from the time with reflective writing about the experience, and analytic examinations of the ways that medical care is structured around particular ideas of how "healing" works. Lorde is particularly scathing writing about the pressure to wear a prosthesis, unmasking the pretense of it being for the benefit of the woman whose breast has been removed and exposing it as a palliati ...more
Shirleen R
to write later -
I can't underestimate how widely Audre Lorde's sharp, feminist insights on repressive regard towards cancer discourse , pain, mortality, and implications of post-mastectomy options* revolutionized U.S. culture. Her cancer journals were published almost 40 years ago. I had to kick myself that what I take for granted now -- of course, women may show their scarred chests in public without shame --was taboo, in the 1970s.

Other quick insight to develop into a review essay -- My favor
Mar 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
Lorde's Cancer Journals are at once profound, powerful, and wrought with despair. It's clear that Lorde was moved to anger by the medical industry, in its concentration on cures and cosmetics. This short collection of essays and journal reflections points to the heart of cancer anxieties, particularly from a resonant Black Lesbian Warrior, whose work has inspired generations of activists to undergo a critical change in biomedicine. Though less image-resilient than Zami, The Cancer Journals are a ...more
Dec 14, 2012 rated it liked it
"And, of course, I am afraid - you can hear it in my voice - because the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation and that always seems fraught with danger. But my daughter said, 'Tell them about how you're never really a whole person if you remain silent, because there's always that one little piece inside of you that wants to be spoken out, and if you keep ignoring it, it gets madder and madder and hotter and hotter and if you don't speak it out one day i ...more
Blair Ngundze
Jun 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I read this book during a friends battle with cancer, he would read passages to me and say that Lorde would tell me everything he couldn't find the vocabulary to articulate. This book is an honest account by one of my hero's about her battle with breast cancer and it features passages from her own journal. I loved it and this book was my introduction to the ineffable Mama Audre Lorde (she really is like my mother so, allow). This book will grow you and teach you and hold you and when you get to ...more
Nov 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I just finished this book for the freshman seminar course as a teaching assistant. I thought the first half of this book was a bit slow with her journal entries, but I absolutely loved the second part. I love reading such a powerful book from a feminist perspective. It was great!

One of my favorite passages is on the bottom of page 21. I won't type the entire paragraph out, but the message is powerful. The last line ends with "And all the other endless ways in which we rob ourselves of ourselves
Sarah Evan
I am using this as a piece for my master's paper because lorde's voice is actually one of few who in detail speaks of her exeprience not only with cancer, but the medical establishment, her breasts, her love of and community of women, and her mood. a 76 page fountain of deep exploration into these important topics for a patient's life that I am using as an illness narrative and applying it to narrative therapy for problems related to health issues.
Eric Susak
Mar 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Although Lorde speaks specifically in terms of a women's experiences with cancer (and fighting against societal perceptions of women), I found that this book can provide supportive and empowering insight for anyone dealing with disease and physical malady. Lorde entwines her intelligent critique of the American medical establishment with beautiful prose about strength and self-realization.
(how does one rate a book like this?)
Jul 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Raw, truthful, and eloquently written. Her words speak of things taboo in society, the world of breast cancer/mastectomies, and perceptions of women/femininity.
Mar 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Literally, read this and weep
feeling a little less afraid of the world
Tina Jaeger
May 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
This one hit a bit too close to home for me personally. An interesting perspective on the topic of femininity and breast cancer.
Denise Florendo
Dec 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016, memoir
"I don't feel like being strong, but do i have a choice?"

I've had very few brief and fleeting encounters with breast cancer. Stories shared by relatives, friends, friends of friends, acquaintances, strangers, the media, other people and other mediums. Those stories come in different varieties, laced with tears and joy, success and failure.

One that i remembered was the post mastectomy of my first grade tutor. She let me see her amputated breast. I don't exactly remember what it looked like, i ju
Naomi Foyle
Jan 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I read this book as I underwent chemotherapy for breast cancer myself, and found it an invigorating, bracing and sobering experience. Lorde, like my late mother (who died of colon cancer in 1992) had a mastectomy but refused chemotherapy; I respect everyone's right to choose their own treatment, but as someone who was helped far more than harmed by chemo I can't help but wonder if, even though far more arduous in the nineties, it might have helped them both survive. But cancer is a personal jour ...more
Re-reading The Cancer Journals in the last few days, after many years, there's this: "Off and on, I kept thinking. I have cancer. I'm a black lesbian feminist poet, how am I going to do this now? Where are the models for what I'm supposed to be in this situation? But there were none. This is it, Audre. You're on your own."

And this: "Any short-circuiting of this quest for self-definition and power, however well-meaning and under whatever guise, must be seen as damaging, for it keeps the post-mas
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Audre Lorde is a revolutionary Black feminist. Lorde's poetry was published very regularly during the 1960s — in Langston Hughes' 1962 New Negro Poets, USA; in several foreign anthologies; and in black literary magazines. During this time, she was politically active in civil rights, anti-war, and feminist movements. Her first volume of poetry, The First Cities (1968), was published by the Poet's P ...more

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