I’m a patient advocate and co-researcher on a 5-year study at City of Hope that is designed to study and support lung cancer survivors. There’s not that much writing out there on long term lung cancer survivorship because until recently, it wasn’t as much of a thing. So, I have been thinking about this a lot—professionally — which is why Chadwick Boesman’s death hit me so hard. Another part was that for me and many others, he was the cinematic embodiment of the Black everyman and superhero in fictional and real spheres. Jackie Robinson, Thurgood Marshall, James Brown, and Black Panther died all on the same day during a pandemic amid protests. And he was a 2000 Howard grad, so for many in my community, we knew somebody who either knew him or someone who did. To quote Florida Evans, “Damn. Damn. Damn.”
The day before Boseman’s death, I presented the first of the work to family and some colleagues, and I’ll send my first public-facing publication on it out soon to be followed by many more public and academic papers. I’m working on this with my brilliant niece Emma who is a senior at the Winsor School in Boston, MA, and in the YES for Cure Program at Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center. My physician parents are helping us with all of it, so it’s amazing to have this work be such a family project with the privilege of such expert in-house medical researchers and clinicians.
In my Black culture, we got a concept of “your business.” So, when it comes to things like people’s health, we know it’s best to mind yours. So, it ain’t for us to know why Chadwick Boseman didn’t share his illness with the world. At the same time, we got a concept of doing next level interventions to look out for each other (in physical and virtual space), so it straight up makes this navigation tough. We have to both respect people’s privacy and fiercely take care of each other.
There are massive lists of pros and cons of sharing a major diagnosis and intervening with friends and family who you think or suspect are ill. I’ll try to delineate that as part of my work for the study and for y’all on here from time to time as well. The key issue is to tailor those lists to your own personal cultures, beliefs and feelings, and I encourage you to get professional support with your overall choices and how much to share and how much to intervene with different people. It’s too much to navigate on your own.
My #1 reason for sharing is to keep doing what I do best—educating people, especially Black people, on how to navigate through this world in a way that centers identity, dignity, wonder, and inquiry, with an emphasis on the quality of the experience. It helps me make meaning if I can write about it to help others.
My #2 reason for sharing was so that people wouldn’t be gobsmacked if I got really sick or passed away suddenly. I decided that on a gurney one day when I had a pulmonary embolism, and then I saw one of my ER nurses from that night about six months later in the grocery store, and she admitted that even she had been wondering how I was doing.
My #1 reason I should have maybe not shared the information was because of loss of future publication and employment – particularly administrative opportunities.
My #2 reason I should have maybe not shared this information is the unfortunate ways that being Black, a woman, and a cancer survivor get conflated to invoke in people a narrative of weakness, particularly in academia. To this, I like to rebuke my normative restorative justice and healing approaches to life and throw full-on shade. I write more in the mornings while I’m waiting for my daily chemotherapy to process through my body than some shady academics who see Black bodies and minds as weak will write in their entire lifetime. Facts. Periodt.