Yesterday on this american life I heard Julia Sweeney talk about her experiences with cervical cancer. It was very funny and very disturbing, all at the same time. She delivered the monologue in this hyped up, frantic way, laughing nervously throughout, which added a deeper feeling of tragedy to the already dark, gallows humor of the piece. I'd seen Julia Sweeney's amazing movie, "when god said ha!", a number of years ago and I was again struck yesterday, with admiration for the courage and rarity of her voice, or any voice for that matter, in speaking of the surreal aspects of dealing with disease and medicine. Of course Ms. Sweeney's particular experience with cancer is very different from mine with diabetes. And yet there are also broad similarities. She starkly and eloquently, without any sugar coating, spoke to the bizarreness of being placed in the world of medical procedures, protocol and treatment (all with the additional terror of a life threatening disease). It was both comforting and shocking to hear her story expressed so plainly and truthfully, all in the light of day.
I remember when I was first diagnosed, being shocked by the world I had entered. I couldn't exactly pin down when I'd moved from one side of the curtain to the other, but it was very clear that I had crossed into a different world, pretty soon after I was diagnosed. Suddenly there was a new language to learn and a new set of rules. Things that I had never known existed before, were now critical to my survival. "Did this Alice in Wonderland world exist all the time and I just didn't know about it before?", I remember thinking. And of course, the answer was yes. Yes it had, for thousands and thousands of people before me and many thousands after me. It's a strange world we inhabit. Strange and invisible a lot of the time.
And so that's why I'm grateful to Julia Sweeney's "this american life" piece and her movie because though I don't necessarily like seeing what she has to show, I'm so comforted to know that someone else has brought their experience to the light. Through their voice. And for that, I applaud her and am very grateful.
* A note of caution. The "this american life" piece with Julia Sweeney, is very explicit in its subject matter and descriptions of treatment.