Thanks, Judythe

In two earlier posts I mention the loss of my friend and supervisor, Judythe Wilbur. It has taken some time to grind through the Kubler-Ross stages of grief to arrive at a place that I feel I can articulate more than the requisite memorial piece to describe a woman whose thinking was so like mine it scares me. Her loving obituary, crafted by literary-wise friends with the help of her husband, describes her to the maximum that could possibly be fit into such a proscribed format. The space she left was so much larger, so of the world, I'm compelled to build a word-shrine, as it were, since that was how we met and how we related--through words and writing.

I sat by Judythe for 18 months, crafting articles, descriptions, press releases, reports, many of the communications for our group under her watchful eye. She was always supportive, especially of my personal writing, which I would share with her outside of work. We e-mailed about politics constantly, as news events broke, and I was excited about turning her on to indie on-line news sources. We also shared a love of literature, and I turned her on to my fave Australian writers, which I specialized in during the two years I lived there.

When she was diagnosed with cancer in October of 2005, our bond became even stronger. I lost my best friend, three grandparents, and countless other close friends to cancer, and I was neither put off nor afraid of going through it with her. We e-mailed each other right to the end, when she was no longer able to do so. She loved her work, and I felt that by staying in touch with her I was not only remaining her friend, I was able to link her with what was going on in our team and keep her updated with how we were doing, even though I always assured her that we missed her and wanted her back with us.

As it became apparent that she would not return to the office, I found myself approaching my work thinking "WWJD--What Would Judythe Do?" knowing that her good teaching and style would forever inform my work, and that if I listened, she would be there, telling me to chop those prepositional phrases, cut to the bone, and write for clarity.

Judythe passed away the first week of May, and her passing was the first of an astonishing number of passings in just two months, of parents and relatives and friends in my immediate group. Dazed, I kept thinking, "why so many, why so quickly?" My daughter's boyfriend's father was diagnosed in March, passed away in May--that quickly. The stories kept coming in.

Over the July 4 holiday, I browsed through some feminist blogs, dipping here and there into threads that caught my attention, and found myself grabbed by the throat by an Austin woman who in I Blame the Patriarchy is blogging about, among other things, her experience with the BrCA2 cancer gene and her research and findings. She references Barbara Ehrenreich, who has written an in-depth and also throat-grabbing essay on cancer and cancer treatment in America today entitled Welcome to Cancerland that is a must-read for everyone--male and female. They both speak of what I and many others have suspected since the 70's, that there is a direct correlation between pollution and many forms of cancer--whether there is specific research to back this up or not pales in the face of anecdotal but very real experience.

Living in Australia for two years acquainted me with what UV radiation zapping through "holes" in the ozone layer can do to that miracle organ, the human skin. The incidence of melanoma is one in three in Australia and New Zealand. I was deeply shocked the first time I pulled off my t-shirt to find that I'd gotten a sunburn THROUGH MY CLOTHES. It was a common sight to see people walking around with bits of their face missing, or wearing veils to cover up larger voids. Parents were required to dress their children in neck to elbow to knee bathing costumes made of SPF 60+ fabric topped off with desert rat caps on the beach, or expect the legal consequences of child abuse. School children were not allowed outside for recess without a hat and slathering of sunscreen, and industrial-sized dispensers were de rigeur at exit doors in schools and on construction sites.

I also have a lot to say stemming from what I learned about the realities of breast cancer through working for UT's Breast Cancer Research Project for two years, before it expanded into the Women's Wellness Center, under the direction of Dr. Mary Lou Adams. The horror stories from the patriarchy-dominated thrall over women's bodies and health still make me wake some nights gasping for breath. Thank goodness Dr. Adams and her staff were able to get much needed services to women in Travis County whose circumstances vis a vis their husbands' control over their bodies were more dire than most of us could ever imagine in our wildest dreams.

I recalled Judythe, who respected the anonymity of her two women's bookclubs above all else, musing about how the various chemotherapy protocols for certain cancers were affecting members of her groups. Some had few ill side-effects, while others were devastated. This was when I made my offer to shave my head in solidarity--the offer still goes to you, Molly--I'm only breaking anonymity because you are such a public figure and have already gone public with your experiences as a cancer survivor--I read your article and think everyone should read that as well. It's truly a tiny thing in the face of what these, and all women who undergo treatment, endure. At the Celebration of Judythe's Life, I wanted to go around the room and hug every woman whose hair was in the obvious and various stages of growing out from chemo. Had we not been there for the purpose of honoring Judythe and visiting with her husband, son, and sisters, and that they might possibly have not welcomed such an advance from a total stranger, I would have.

So this word-shrine will be made up of lots of things. Shiny, pretty objects, photos, essays, links, musings, research, diatribes, the political/social/environmental dialectical re: cancer, references, maybe some of her fave tunes, resources, silliness, perhaps comments or stories from anyone who has anything to add about Judythe or any of these subjects--an ongoing, living tribute to Judythe and a constant font of gratitude for the positive effect she had on me personally and everyone she touched.