Chronicles of #TheGirlWithTheCancer: Checking My Cancer Privilege
Stav Meishar, 28 years old, was born and raised in Israel. She is based in New York City where she founded the award-winning organization for creative Jewish education, Dreamcoat Experience. When she’s not shaping the futures of young Jewish minds, she is a stage artist specializing in Circus Arts.
Stav’s biggest project at the moment is a solo performance based on the true story of a Jewish acrobat who survived WWII by hiding and working at a German circus. She was due to spend a year in Australia developing her circus skills and bringing this project to fruition. Four days before her flight, Stav got diagnosed with colon cancer and was forced to stay in NYC and focus on her health. She has decided to chronicle her battle with cancer, one day at a time. This series of articles is a sampling of her cancer journal.
To Stav’s art, check out her kickstarter.
If you’re just joining us, you can read the first two installments of this series here:
Chronicles of #TheGirlWithTheCancer:
Today I had a nude photoshoot. Shortly after my diagnosis I reached out to a photographer friend of mine because I wanted some kind of “before” images, evidence of my body before it got cut up. I wanted nude images that celebrated me, with or without the cancer – playful, powerful, vulnerable.
I have such a strange relationship with my own nakedness. On the one hand, I love being naked and, for the most part, I love my body and think it’s gorgeous just as it is. On the other hand, I’m VERY self-conscious of every flaw, every asymmetry, every disproportion — especially in front of a camera, which sees everything.
Getting naked in front of the camera was challenging. Little voices in my head wouldn’t shut up. Even as the photographer was showing me the thumbnails and I saw my own beauty I couldn’t help but see the flaws, too. Those little voices, they get so loud sometimes.
And I look at my stomach. My smooth, pale, chubby, funny stomach.
It’s far from perfect. I have abs, but they’re hidden underneath all those curves. And where my panties usually sit there’s a little crease and fold.
I look at my stomach, at the exact area where my two cancers have grown, where there might be more cancer yet, where the knife will go in, where I will have scars.
I wanted to love it today more than ever before. I wanted to love it now as it is, scar-less, healthy looking, hiding the secret inside oh-so-well. I wanted to appreciate its relative perfection because I knew that soon it’ll be even less perfect. But I couldn’t.
No matter how hard I tried to see it through different eyes, I couldn’t.
Body issues are such a weird thing. Don’t get me wrong, I love my body. I’m so much better at it now aged 28 than I’ve been at 16 or 19 or even 24. But it takes work, and the work is never-ending. Every day, I chisel at the rock that is my insecurities, and every day I make a little bit of progress.
I asked cancer to help with that work but it just sat there and laughed at me. Knowing that soon my body will be even more imperfect doesn’t make it easier to love its current imperfections. I wish I could tell you cancer can speed that process of acceptance. I wish I could tell you cancer has made me love my stomach more.
Cancer knows that this is one battle it did not create, and therefore cannot help me win.
I’ve been thinking a lot about privilege these days:
I have a cancer that’s very common and has high survival rates. It was caught in one of its earlier stages (it hasn’t spread to further organs). I will probably get to keep most of my colon and most likely won’t need an open surgery (knock on wood). Might not even need chemotherapy. I have health insurance, and a family financially-stable enough to help me if I hadn’t. I’ve another country to call home where I could’ve gotten treatment if I so chose.
I have the support of friends and family and colleagues.
I am (other than the cancer) healthy, fit and able-bodied.
I’m not in pain.
These are all privileges. I recognize them.
I remember sitting in front of the surgeon my doctor referred me to and asking him about costs, because he doesn’t take my insurance.
“Don’t worry”, he said, “It’s not often that I see a 28 years old with this kind of cancer. Let this be my mitzvah for the year.” So I’m privileged to have found a surgeon that generous.
But I can’t help but wonder: What other privileges have I got that might have subconsciously been a part of his decision?
The youth, certainly. He pities me that I’m young and still got handled this shitty hand of cards.
And how about my Jewishness? Is it easier for him to care because I’m one of his people? And what about my gender and physical attractiveness?
Going into the “knight in shining armor” mode is so much easier when there’s a fair maiden in front of you.
What if I were a black man my age? A slightly older fat lady? A transgender person? Would it still have been a “mitzvah” for him to do this surgery pro-bono?
I’d like to think so, but there’s no point dwelling on that. I’m just glad to have my privilege, I’m grateful for it really. Nonetheless I can’t ignore it or put it aside.
And this is where I understand why it’s hard for so many people to recognize their privilege. To accept that yes, they are in fact privileged. Because having privilege doesn’t mean your life is easy. It doesn’t mean that you never need to worry about a thing. It just means you most likely can’t see / feel / experience the hardships your privileges have saved you from.
I could’ve had a more brutal cancer, so colon cancer is a privilege in a way. I could’ve been without insurance, without the support of family, could’ve been in an advanced stage. My body will most likely recover quickly because I’m young and otherwise healthy.
Does that mean my current situation is easy? Worry-free? Any less terrifying? Oh HELL no.
I wish people were able to see that recognizing their own privilege does not mean that their lives are a piece of cake. Accepting one’s privilege only means expanding your horizons to include the experiences of those different, and often less fortunate, than you.
I’m lucky. Even with this cancer, I know that I’m lucky. I still have blessings to count.
I’ve got the “recognizing” part of it all figured out. Now I just gotta work on the “don’t feel guilty about it” part. God help those of us with Jewish guilt…