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The Cancer Journals

4.38  ·  Rating details ·  2,156 ratings  ·  196 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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Nov 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: black-writers
Feels good to be reading Audre again. I read a collection of her essays and poetry in 2018 and ever since then I wanted to read more by Audre because I feel like I can learn so much from her. This year, I decided to pick up The Cancer Journals, which is an essay collection that deals with her struggle with breast cancer.

The book consists of an introduction and three chapters, each featuring passages from her diary.
I am a post-mastectomy woman who believes our feelings need voice in order to
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
Audre Lorde, with the nearness of death palpable and tangible, has written a profoundly insightful anecdote/reflection on her experience with breast cancer as a black, lesbian feminist in The Cancer Journals. Through journal excerpts, seminal speeches, and self-examining essays, Lorde bridges the personal and the political. Having had a mastectomy and a cancer diagnosis, she begins with the dangers of silence; how the sight of death makes us fear not having done or said what we needed or wanted ...more
Roman Clodia
Oct 24, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In her inimitable style, Lorde takes an all-too-common experience of breast cancer and mastectomy and turns it into a raw, open, honest meditation on the cultural pressures that define and confine women's bodies. The imposed silence that stops women talking publicly about breast cancer also serves to render them silenced and separated, both conditions that feed into gendered powerlessness.

While she doesn't judge women who move straight from surgery to prosthesis, Lorde also points out that this
Nabilah Firdaus
Audre Lorde began The Cancer Journals with an admission of regret to her own silences and the question: of what had I ever been afraid? She acknowledged that in transforming silence into language and action, one is meant to be fraught with pain, contempt, judgment, challenge and even death. However, if we look at the alternative, silence is also a form of submission in the face of oppression and the reluctance to speak against injustice does not guarantee your safety and well-being.

The second es
“For months now I have been wanting to write a piece of meaning words on cancer as it affects my life and my consciousness as a woman, a Black lesbian feminist mother lover poet all I am. But even more, or the same, I want to illuminate the implications of breast cancer for me, and the threats to self-revelation that are so quickly aligned against any woman who seeks to explore those answers. Even in the face of our own deaths and dignity, we are not to be allowed to define our needs nor our fee ...more
Jan 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
this was beautifully impeccable
Lily Herman
Jun 28, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It never ceases to amaze me how much of the future Audre Lorde predicted decades ago. Maybe that shows how nothing really changes, or maybe she really is that brilliant; I think it's a combination of both.

The Cancer Journals is yet another reminder from Lorde that every action in our life—including our illnesses and our decisions surrounding what to do about them—is political. For Lorde, that means examining the problematic ways we go about diagnosis, treatment, and recovery, particularly for so
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. ...more
Megan O'Hara
she is consistently constantly painfully right
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
Aug 13, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Audre Lorde—a self-described "Black woman warrior poet" and "Black lesbian feminist"—conveys her vulnerability as much as her strength in The Cancer Journals, and I think the former is regularly overlooked. Severely. I honestly felt a bit angry reading her describe her tears and her fears as I see so many quotes specifically from this book used without any public acknowledgement or regard for the fact she was battling cancer as she produced these now beloved words. The context matters. Her speci ...more
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
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
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,
M. 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 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

The Cancer Journals is one of the books that has successfully breached my reading horizons by introducing me to the collections of Audre Lorde’s work that was first published over forty years ago. Short but dense, Audre had weaved her musings, lyrically, in between journal entries, memoir and commentary about her experiences coping with breast cancer and a radical mastectomy. It was thematically strong, branching out three main ideas that examined perceived health-related stigma surrounding brea
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
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
(how does one rate a book like this?)
Jan 27, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Audre Lorde has a way of writing about her experience that I love; she is both direct and reflective, and her feminist takes on cancer, healing and mortality are as easy to read as they are sharp and clever. Her anger toward the medical community and the pressures of body image sit on the same pages as her tenderness towards herself, navigating the year after her mastectomy.

‘In order to keep me available to myself, and able to concentrate my energies upon the challenges of those worlds through w
Lex Iglesia
Jan 30, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I love Lorde's voice so much; it's sharp, poetic, strong, inspiring. The blend of personal and political is extremely important to me, and Lorde does it so well as she switches from journal entries to later, reflective pages.

One of the ways Lorde gauges women to turn from loss to strength is her opening called "The Transformation of Silence...". She writes:
"For those of us who write, it is necessary to scrutinize not only the truth of what we speak, but the truth of that language by which we spe
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
Adrian Chiem
Nov 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The edition I have is a Penguin Classics with a foreword by Tracy K. Smith (the 22nd Poet Laureate, Pulitzer Prize winner, badass). I don't think I could put it better than her:

"The Cancer Journals is many things. It is a source of comfort and encouragement for those of us living with the specter of breast cancer. It is also an invitation to compassion, fury, reflection, and action for all of us living in a world ravaged by myriad forms of violence, shot through by so many reminders of mortality
Marwa Shafique
Nov 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Audre Lorde is my hero. So, so empowering and insightful. I gather all my courage and strength from her words alone.
Gretchen Rubin
Short, powerful, meditative.
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Audre Lorde was 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 ...more

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“My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences.” 266 likes
“What is there possibly left for us to be afraid of, after we have dealt face to face with death and not embraced it? Once I accept the existence of dying as a life process, who can ever have power over me again?” 52 likes
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