Wednesday, December 16, 2015

An Article from an Audience Member a Few Years Back

A few years ago, an author tried to sell this story but, shock of shocks, couldn't so she recently allowed me to post it on my blog – which is, of course, followed by mainstream news outlets and Woody Allen fans everywhere. (Not.)

People think I'm brave to deal with cancer. But cancer gives no one a choice. Every cancer sufferer is forced to be brave. 

As the person in question, I'd like to point out that I'm much braver to be the Human Body Project lady for the last 10 years. I mean, read the first paragraph.

I'd also like to connect a couple of dots. How women are supposed to look is a place of projection in a male-dominated culture, it is a way of devaluing the feminine and the necessity of dealing with vulnerability. This is at the heart of every problem we face: power and ego over love and cooperation.

Thanks to Thelma Fayle for sharing this article.

The Human Body Project
by Thelma Fayle

When she slowly steps in front of the audience, without even wearing shoes, Tasha Diamant reveals herself to be a plain-looking, naked woman with a couple of C-section scars and plenty of hair in places where the Prada girls have none. She has small sagging breasts and dimpled thighs and a pear-shaped, sturdy-looking body. 

The 49-year-old visual and performance artist seems slightly nervous in the way one might be before doing a high-dive off a cliff.  She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath and captures a dignified, but still tentative, composure. She explains to the three-dozen audience members of the Fringe Theatre Festival on an island off of the West Coast of Canada – how she came to create the Human Body Project.

“In so many facets of our lives, we forget how vulnerable we humans are,” Diamant says, “and this project reminds me.”  The mother/artist/educator explains that in spite of her discomfort, she is determined to give this unscripted 90-minute presentation at least once a year for the rest of her life. Unscripted, as she is determined to maintain an open heart and a healthy dialogue with the audience in her effort to use her body to create a visceral experience of shared vulnerability.

Before Diamant arrives on stage, a 5 ft tall cardboard cutout, depicting a naked Diamant from her first Human Body Project presentation six years ago, gives the audience a chance to stare at the life-size photo and to climatise themselves before being faced with an excruciatingly bare presence on stage.

The artist welcomes the audience to look closely at her body. She speaks quietly but with strength and walks up and down the center aisle of what was once a church and is now a venue for community presentations. “Please feel free to look at my body,” she coaches. 

Given permission, timid eyes that have been respectfully focused mostly on Diamant’s face, begin to peek below.  Diamant is everywoman – not remotely proportioned to any Barbie doll ideal.

When someone asks a question, she approaches them and warmly shakes hands.  She puts people at ease.  She helps the audience to become comfortable with a plain old, magnificent, aging body.

Her well-documented project shows her foray on stage during her full-bellied pregnancy – an experience that re-affirmed her need to talk about the collective vulnerability that our culture denies and hides in the shadows of life’s many little 21st Century femme fa├žades of hair-dye and implants and face-glitter and push-up bras and tattoos – just to name a few.

The more she talks the more refreshing it is to listen to her. She mourns what she sees as the “amputation of empathy and connectedness in our society”.

She talks about the impact of having children in her life. Motherhood was a powerful catalyst; only unlike many parents who quite naturally become focused on their own children to the exclusion of all else, Diamant was moved to have a larger discussion with the world through her art.

“How do you feel about your body?” an audience member asks.

“I just try not to go to that place of judgment,” she responds. The way she responds with hesitation reveals her tenuousness bordering on insecurity about her body and also her decision to direct herself away from that same insecurity that plagues almost all women who have been trained to self-hate by years of looking at magazine pictures of what women are supposed to look like but never do.

Watching Tasha Diamant’s 90-minute Fringe Festival presentation reminds me of a line in a movie called Kamataki, where a young man asks an old man if the elder thinks the woman in a magazine is beautiful. The wise elder man slowly looks at the picture and then at the young man and says:  ”I don’t know if she is beautiful”.

The Human Body Project offers its audience a chance to answer the same question as they examine a naked, intelligent and articulate 49-year-old woman.

"Is she beautiful?”

Absolutely. And unlike the Emperor who got fooled, this Empress knows she is naked and she wants you to look at her.

Diamant is a genuine, un-altered woman.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Surgery today+vote for HBP documentary

This is a quick note to say today is the day I have hysterectomy surgery to remove the cancerous mass growing inside me (or my self-grown anti-patriarchy sculpture, as I like to call it).

My mantra: my excellent doctors and nurses are the peak of their competence and surgery is going to go sooooo smoothly.

I have a very good feeling about it. (Timing-wise, I think it will happen about 1 pm Victoria time).

Also, I've been working with director Robyn Thomas on a documentary about the Human Body Project. We started pre-cancer and are continuing through this cancer story.

The name of the project is Visceral.

She has entered it into the Storyhive funding site.

To help us out, ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS VOTE! Please consider voting for our project, you can vote online every day until November 9. 

Poster designed by Craig Nicholas.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Stage 4 Cancer: my human body project/the Human Body Project

In my last blog post I was very ill. I had to cancel my show at the Victoria Fringe and put Vulnerability Vigils on hold.

It turns out I have Stage 4 gynecological cancer. This is not a great cancer to have. Prognosis is 30-50% alive in 5 years. I do plan to be in this number, however.

I have a large cancerous mass growing in what doctors assume is my ovary, but they're actually not certain. This kind of cancer is an "invisible cancer," one that escapes detection until the person is ill. Mine was found because my GP ordered an ultrasound after I showed up so sick in her office.

I was in hospital from August 27 until September 25. My first couple of weeks were traumatic. I was extremely ill with fluids accumulating in my chest and abdomen and I had a parasite on top of this. I dealt with extreme, unceasing nausea. I was so ill, I couldn't stand to be touched except handholding. I was so ill, I could see it in the terrified looks on my family's and friends' faces. I was so ill, I said to my husband: "I can't even miss you guys."

My situation was one they call "complicated," without protocols. I could see my very competent, very kind doctor wrestling with how to handle me medically. I am extremely grateful to him and to all the incredibly dedicated caregivers in Women's Health at Victoria General Hospital. I have such faith now in this doctor, who will be part of my surgical team to get my mass removed, because I feel he made really difficult but the best decisions while caring for me during this time.

After "getting stabilized," I was transferred to Royal Jubilee's oncology floor to begin treatments for the cancer. It took two more weeks for me to be well enough to leave hospital. Again, the care I received was, on the whole, stellar. 

I am beyond grateful to our health care system.

It's difficult to recall details. I have been on a "dose-dense" chemotherapy program. I definitely have the side effect of "chemo brain," e.g., very fuzzy-headed, slower reaction time, can't get jokes! And, because of drugs and discomfort, I have also been very sleep-deprived.

I needed people to wipe my bum. I had two blood transfusions (thank you thank you blood donors). I have had about 15 thoracenteses/paracenteses. These are scary. Fluid that would kill me accumulates in my chest and abdomen. It was the fluid accumulating (and the blessed but sickening parasite) that alerted me to the cancer. To get rid of the fluid is pretty intense. I am "stabbed" and a straw is inserted into the space in my body where the fluid is. Then a a line to a bag is attached and I drain. The last two times this happened (it continues since I've been out of hospital) more than 2 litres of fluid came out each time. Ew!!

I shaved my head to pre-empt chemo shedding.
These last two times came from my chest, which is a more dangerous place to poke (lungs and all nearby!) but the radiology doctors have been as kind and competent as almost everyone I've encountered in the health care system. Only once in these times the straw must have twisted and didn't drain. A repoke was required.

These poke'n'drains are one of the most difficult things for me. But they have also saved my life several times over. I have one scheduled (thoracentesis=chest) tomorrow. Ugh.

I also struggle with bloodwork pokes (usually only once a week now but at least once a day in hospital) and my IV being put in for chemotherapy (once a week). I really struggle with pokes. For the thoracentesis or paracentesis, I use pain and anxiety drugs. For blood and IV, I have gotten pretty good at knowing what works and giving instructions but it's still a source of pain and anxiety.

My chemotherapy side effects include neuropathy (numbness and discomfort in hands and feet), the fuzzy brain, joint aches, and severe energy dips.

At this point I can't drive; I can't prepare for a class I was going to teach so had to let it go; I can't really do much around the house; I'm only able to read in brief bursts; I can sometimes take short walks. I need a lot of quiet, solitude and rest. I am VERY LUCKY that I have the support that I am able to do this.

This is the first time I've been on the computer since I got ill. I have been sharing on Twitter (@HumanBodyProj) and Facebook (on my personal and Human Body Project page). But I felt unable, until today, to go beyond short posts and my iPhone.

I am also VERY LUCKY that I do not experience nausea. In fact, I have an excellent appetite and any of you supporters out there who want to donate food, I encourage you to do so!! Anything! Variety is a gift!

Hmm. This ended up being a post about the more physical details.

Spiritually, I have been deeply blessed by this cancer. I've written about his in my posts on Twitter and Facebook. Adrian Chamberlain wrote a piece about me in the Victoria Times Colonist. 

Loneliness and depression is something that was such a deep and painful part of my pre-cancer life. Doing the Human Body Project in the way I was holding that super-serious piece has been a burden and also separated me. Somehow through this transformative cancer I have been able to receive love in ways I was unable to before. 

The Human Body Project is this!! Cancer is part of my human body project/the Human Body Project. 

The Human Body Project has always been about two main things:
1) me working with my disconnection... from self, community, love...
2) how my process intersects with "the culture" or, maybe a better word is "the community"

How has this particular part of HBP process intersected with "the culture"/"the community"? It's brought out an outpouring of love from everyone around me. Just an outpouring. That love, yes, it's "inspired" by my process. But it's not "zero-sum," i.e., the love is not just "for" me but envelops, feeds, gives to all who feel it.

I'm not sure what the Human Body Project as performance and activism will look like when I'm better, but I'm definitely going to have more fun. Part of what I've let go is my need to hold such seriousness alone.

Love, Tasha

ps Some kind people have put together a fundraising effort for my family and I: