I can't remember a time when breast cancer didn't cast a shadow over my life. For more than three decades it has been a constant, unwanted and unwelcome companion. When I was 14, my mother passed away from breast cancer. She was 39 years old. Prior to that, the disease took her older sister at the age of 42. I'm not sure why I was shocked when I was diagnosed in 2002, in my thirties.
I desperately tried to HIDE my story. After my stroke, I hated the attention I received. I was lucky to have had a successful recovery but I did not understand why it was such a big deal, why newspapers wanted to write about it and why every single person I saw would make it the focus of a conversation.
As I suspect is the case with many other people across the country, I am closely watching the Jian Ghomeshi trial. There were times yesterday when I found myself holding my breath, wishing that this very public trial might be a pivotal moment in our society -- one in which we can finally begin to openly and honestly address the prevalence of sexual violence in our communities.
I always thought that if I were faced with impossibly adverse circumstances that I would be a fighter right up until the bloody death. I would go out raging against the enemy until I was victorious or until I couldn't possibly fight another second. Last year I found out that who I thought I would be was exactly the person I was. I fought the enemy and I was victorious.
The women Mordvinov allegedly assaulted made multiple complaints at the departmental level, at UBC's Equity Inclusion Office, to Associate Vice-President of Equity and Inclusion Sara-Jane Finlay, the UBC ombudsperson and Student Conduct and Safety Services. There were likely more. Every office failed these women.
What would I like to see the #BeenRapedNeverReported campaign become? Before any meaningful change can occur, we need to work towards pulling back the layers of stigma. If we are unable to talk openly, how can we expect survivors of sexual violence to come forward with their own experiences with trauma?
Early in this year's breast cancer madness, a friend posted a photo with a caption on my Facebook page. It depicted a slim woman, nude except for panties, arms raised, flying her (matching) black bra overhead. The caption: "Support breast cancer. Set the tatas free. Oct. 13 no bra day." I don't love it and here is why.
My experiences of childhood sexual abuse -- of incest -- had stolen many aspects of my life but most importantly, my identity as a Tamil woman. After I moved out, I was shunned not only from my immediate family members, but my uncles, aunts, cousins, distant relatives, family friends -- my Tamil community. It didn't matter to my 19-year-old self why you weren't there for me. The fact of the matter was that you weren't. I felt hurt and abandoned.
I'm not embarrassed to say that R.A. Dickey made me cry. About half way through our hour-long conversation, after talking about his favourite books and writers, and the difficult task of writing a memoir, I raised the fact that I was also sexual assault survivor-my disclosure a way of relaying to him that I understood the courage necessary in telling his story. He then thoughtfully interrupted me, genuinely expressing how sorry he was for what had happened in my past. When things get especially hard, I now hear his voice in my head: "I'm so sorry that happened to you, Stacey May."
Two years before I entered high school, I was the victim of a violent rape that took place a mere few kilometres from the football locker room I was now standing in. From the moment of that assault, I chose to disappear, fractured into different people -- the person I was afraid to let you see, the person I wanted you to see, and the young man who struggled with that internal turmoil every day for the next 30 years. I've heard that living as a survivor of rape is like living with a secret tumor. It metastasizes in the dark hollows of shame, and it continues to destabilize and corrupt every bond and every relationship in a survivor's life.
Amidst the carnage of a failed marriage, as your days become consumed with prying the broken shards of glass from the wounds of a shattered life, it is hard to conceive that anyone will ever be worth the risk of going through all of this again. But a life without love is incomplete -- Love is always worth it.
The hard reality is that we are now a family of four -- not five. We know that our lives will never be the same, but we have found meaningful ways to remember our old life with our son. And that does provide comfort, even peace on the harder days. The pain is never far from the surface. We get on: one step forward and two backwards.