There are no six degrees of separation here.
Because I don’t want to share too much information and post any identifying info, I won’t tell you who inspired this letter, or how I found out what she was going through. Let’s just say that I’ve had quite a bit of interaction with her for months now, and neither one of us knew that we shared more than the brief “hello” we often exchanged in passing.
There is no separation.
Today I found out that this lively young lady has stage IV cancer in her reproductive system. Immediately, I wrote down every resource I could think of for her on a Post It note and gave her a few books I happened to have on me. As we talked, I couldn’t help but to ask her if the doctors thought a hysterectomy would help her. Tears welled up in her eyes, and I felt my own eyes filling with tears as well.
“I hate the doctors when they tell me that, like it’s just so simple!” she said angrily. “I’m in my twenties! It’s not fair! How can they think it’s okay to take away everything that makes me a woman?”
She stood up straighter, as if she was strengthening her resolve. I stood next to her, a united front silently admiring her bravery and thinking that if I knew I was Stage IV, my ovaries would have quickly become “no-varies.”
We stood together silently for a few minutes, reveling in our two separate universes that had suddenly collided into a beautiful, tragic, supernova of sisterhood. I didn’t share with her what I would do if I was her, because I didn’t want her to think I was passing judgement, and more importantly–I’m not her. But I did tell her that I support whatever decision she chooses, and I am here for her.
She told me that she never talks about this with anyone, she thanked me and she left- hopefully to go home and let the hope I’d tried to instill in her grow and become plentiful. I too, headed home. On the way home, while waiting for the train, I was suddenly stricken with the urge to write. I haven’t put a pen to paper the old fashioned way to write a piece in ages. The pen danced across the paper; it was almost seductive. Here are the words that poured out from my heart to the paper:
If I could give you my womb, my womb I would give. Sadly, I cannot give you my womb, but I can offer you what my womb gives- life. Birth. Rebirth. Dearest, please take these words from one woman to another- one cancHER survivHER to another. We as women have often been defined and assigned value as a womb-man. We’ve been denied rights because of our wombs.
We’ve been blamed for seducing Adam and bringing down Eden, forever damning mankind. We’ve been told that p*ssy is power, yet we’ve been sold as sex slaves, abused, raped, and imprisoned by a society that doesn’t value women for what we are and what we do. Instead we are valued because of what we have.
We pay higher health insurance premiums because we are women. I quote Nancy Pelosi when I say that now is the time when being a woman no longer means being a preexisting health condition. Preexisting health condition or not, as women, we have been standing up for ourselves and others, and we continue to stand strong. We are healers, teachers, mothers, and givers of life. We raise not children, but entire villages. We have run entire countries behind the scenes, while letting “the man” take credit for it, and simultaneously running our homes.
We are women, and like Maya Angelou said, we are phenomenal: still we rise! It’s in the sway of our hips. It’s in the confident strides we’ve made for our sisters and the world. It’s in the way we love and how hard we love. We love so hard, but sometimes we forget to love ourselves. When that happens, we stop listening to our “women’s intuition” and start listening to society. Society, who has, at points in time, decided that we were second class citizens, and that we need to stay barefoot and pregnant, slaving over a hot stove.
Sister, I know it can be scary, and the decision to have (or not to have) a hysterectomy is a personal one. You will be loved regardless. But don’t let them label you. You are not a woman simply because you have ovaries and a uterus. That just means you are a female, and possibly fertile. You are deeper than the walls of your vagina.
What makes you a woman is the way you love. What makes you a woman is the way you love your kids. What makes you a woman is the way you love your (wo)man. What makes you a woman is how you breathe life into everything you come into contact with, with the breath of fresh air that you are. What makes you a woman is that you can create and design a life and future like no other. What makes you a woman is that you are a nurturer, a defender and a lover of life. Make the best decision for you.
Nurture, defend, protect and love your own life- whatever that decision means for you.
That, my beautiful friend, is what makes you a woman. Nothing can change that.
Editor: Jennifer Cusano
April Ricchuito, D.D., MSW was once the type of girl whose idea of “soul searching” was shoe shopping. Today, she is a writer and integrative practitioner who brings a unique voice to the field of health and wellness by combining traditional evidence-based techniques with ancient practices such as yoga and newer findings in contemplative sciences. Be sure to check out Verbal Vandalism to keep up with April’s regular written works and featured contributions or follow her on Twitter.