Every woman in my family has had breast or ovarian cancer

Every woman in my family has had breast or ovarian cancer

Every woman in my family has had breast or ovarian cancer. 
They cut pounds of flesh off to stop their body from killing themselves, 
Cut it away with their own hands, 
So they could stand a little longer. 

Doctor said cutting would leave scars. 
Doctor said scars are ugly, 
Doctor said woman better dead than ugly. 

My ancestors said no. 
They said fuck your flesh forms and the idea of female being the same as a foster care system for broken men and babies we birthed by ourselves. 
It isn’t our job to look like the fantasy you created. 

Doctor said woman listen. 
Women ate him. 

My great grandmother lived to 92. 
She forgot my name, 
Called me by my mothers, 
Then forgot that one too. 
But she never forgot to tell the male nurse to fuck off, 
Never forgot where her callouses came from, 
She made candy, 
With her bare hands. 
When she held me I felt sweet too, 

Look at my cuticles. 
Can’t you see the women who have come before me. 
Can you see their tears of sorrow in this soft skin. 
I wonder if it comes down to it, 
Will I be able to cut it away for survival like they did. 

My grandmother gets drunk off of 2 Natty Lites in her concrete backyard on a sticky summer Saturday evening. 
As a Philly Italian, Natty Lite is an insult to crushed grapes in our fists that we sip from because  we can’t afford glasses. 
She divorced her Philly Italian, my grandfather, 42 years ago, 
She drinks the Natty Lite as a final fuck you. 

Finally old enough to sip them with her she spills secrets: 
I’d rather be alone than broken. 
I’d rather be alone than on my knees for a man who would never pray at my alter, 
I’d rather be alone than be a wife. 
To a man who doesn’t deserve to be called a husband. 

I hear the ghosts of my ancestors in every one of my footsteps. 
I think of the women that suffer sweat and strive so I could be here. 
Telling my mother and her mother, 
That maybe I’m not a girl. 
Maybe I’m somewhere in between. 
And they look down at their flat chests and wombless wombs. 
Cut away by their own hands so they stand a little longer. 
They know that losing these things didn’t make them any less woman. 
Understand that me having them doesn’t make me any more so. 

They grant me new names like, 
And grandchild , 
And able to go to college, 
When the ones before me couldn’t because father only had enough funds for one. 
Fuck the other five sisters. 
My grandmother was number two. 
She could almost taste the pages of the books she never read.

The women in my family ate cancer for breakfast and, 
Ate the men who didn’t love them and, 
I know I said I have soft skin but the women in my family taught me how to take a punch, 
To spit blood then keep smiling, 
To have sweet hands who can still strangle, 
To take no shit from a man who’s half the person I am right now let alone the person I’m about to be, 
The doctor said I was ugly. 
So I ate him. 

(Photo Credit: Hands Up United / Robert Alexander / Getty)

About Emmah Evangelista

Emmah Evangelista is a feminist activist, poet, stand-up comedian, based in the United States.