“Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.” Susan Sontag, ILLNESS AS METAPHOR
1.2 cm = addresses the paradoxical relationship between the smallness of an invasive tumor (1.2 cm) and complexity of its impact on the body and mind. The work speaks to concerns of mortality, the nature of disease and our unease with it, and the body as a medical object and as a vessel of the human spirit.
Background on 1.2cm =
From December 2009 to February 2011, I underwent breast cancer treatments of surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, targeted drug therapy and hormone therapy. Throughout this period of time, I collected all the bandages that were applied to and removed from my body related to the treatments. This practice was not premeditated for artistic purposes but merely an attempt to secure control over circumstances in which I had none. Archived in Ziploc bags with dates and treatment identifying information, I later photographed these “discard” materials on the surface of my bathroom floor.
My bathroom became a significant space for me during treatments. Daily I stood on the stone floor as I confronted myself in the mirror and observed the side effects – most often fascinated by the transformations taking place, sometimes concerned. The collection of discards seemed at home on the stone when it came to documenting them. The surface has the warmth and color of skin and is patterned with veining and pitting, visually mimicking the micro world of cells from which the discard materials came. The sheer number of the discard photographs and the specifics of their labels convey the intensity of cancer treatment and the consequent medicalization of the body while undergoing such treatment. At the same time, the pieces allude to the process of taking care, of carefully managing the body as it navigates a foreign and difficult terrain, even when the care is administered with dispassionate scientific precision.
After completing four months of chemotherapy and during the next two months of radiotherapy, I was compelled for the first and only time to photograph myself. I wanted to acknowledge my fortitude in passing through the most demanding phase of the treatments. I also was physically transformed and no longer recognized myself and was curious as to what the scrutiny of the lens would reveal. Drawn to the soft light of my bedroom window, I sat for the camera – straightforward and unadorned. For me, the self-portraits bear the psychological and emotional complexities of undergoing an experience that brought all former certainties into question. The images were challenging to make and I consider them the heart and soul of the project.
Immediately upon being diagnosed with cancer, I channeled my fear into research about the disease and the particulars of my aberrant cells. I devoured books, ravenously searched the internet and scoured websites of the nation’s major cancer institutes. This proclivity for research is reflected in the catalog of “discard” photographs and in the meticulous medical records I maintained over 14 months of treatments. From these records I have gathered a litany of facts that provide an eye-opening perspective on cancer treatment today. My relatively small 1.2 cm tumor equals such things as: 1.2 billion microscopic cancer cells; $285,748.24 in medical expenses; 95 doses of 10 mg of Prochlorperzine; 5,064 mg of Herceptin, 4,500 centiGray Protons, 139 medical appointments, etc., etc. Among my lab records are magnified ultrasound images of the tumor penetrating the ductal wall of my breast and mushrooming into the breast tissue. The small light box houses a transparency of this image juxtaposed with a list of data that underscores the magnitude of treatment for such a tiny but potentially lethal cluster of cells.
Though humans have lived with cancer for thousands of years, it has become the iconic disease of contemporary society where incidences are increasingly common. Unlike any other illness, cancer stirs deep-seated fear. In spite of astonishing advances in understanding its biology and radically improving its treatment, cancer remains “the emperor of all maladies”, as stated by oncologist, researcher and writer Siddhartha Murkherjee in his brilliant book, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer.
1.2 cm = sheds light on this uneasy relationship and exposes the extraordinary but necessary measures to pass through it.