It happens like this. The doctor walks towards me. His face is ashen. He says we have found something. It does not look good.
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I gave this speech on Tuesday, October 26 at The Women's Conference in Long Beach, CA.

It happens like thisThe doctor walks towards meHis face is ashenHe says we have found somethingIt does not look goodThere is a trap door in the seat of the waiting roomAnd I am fallingAnd as I fall I hearThe echo of him saying Cat scanAs big as a mangoWe can't be sureThis falling goes on for daysEven though I appear to be walkingAnd giving speeches and riding on airplanesI am fallingAs the new doctor at the new hospital says it says CANCERAs I wait to hear where it's coming fromAnd where it's goneAs I get pricked and probed and puncturedI am fallingAs they first say it is not in my liverAnd then later they can't be sureFallingUntil they drug me and wheel me offFor nine hoursAnd when I wake upI am in a new countryNothing is familiarBecause the possibility of not dying Is goneBecause I am now living in the land of the sick Turns out my being a vegetarian-sober-nonsmoker-activist has not protected me at all

The surgeon tells me he has done 1,000 operations and he has never seen anything like itThen he uses the word fistulaAnd uterus

First thing I think of course is CongoI knew from the first time I went to Panzi hospital in Bukavu I stood in the place that felt like an open barnIn the place where 200 women sat on benchesTheir wounded headsTheir canesTheir sweatThe strong smell of pee and shit from their fistulaeFrom the holes their rapist pierced into their bodies, tearing them apartI knew from that first momentWhen I looked into their facesAnd saw the crimes of this century burning in their eyes500,000 raped women500,000 vaginas violated500,000 bodies massacred500,000 wombs destroyedI had no way to protect myselfFrom the hugeness of the atrocityFrom the insanity of this disgraceIt rolled over me like a tsunami of pain and took me Took me took meI have never come backAnd I never willAnd I knew those women now owned meHave meThere is no other place I could ever beNo other fight that is not this fightIt's in your uterusThe tumor of rapeThat is wild across the worldThe tumor of rapeThat exchanges women's bodies for the price of a cell phoneOr gold or diamondsOr anything that can be extracted and stolen from their land The tumor of rape that began growing in me when I was only five and now has matured into something the size of a mangoThat's what the doctor saidWhich of course is the fruit of the CongoThe most delicious in the world The women of Congo are in my bodyFirst gift I realize -- I am not aloneI have imagined what it feels like to lose your uterus or your ovariesAnd inside the emptiness of my missing wombThere is spaceThere is a hungerTo just be stillCancer stopped meFrom runningStriving Trying to prove my worthIt stopped me From apologizing for the truth

It made me stay in one placeFor 6 monthsIt brought me back my sisterIt allowed me to commune with my friendsIt forced me to take in loveAnd be cared for, which made me humanIt took away the privilege of the wellAnd made me a patient It taught me a new kind of painAnd now I see even more clearly the sick, the poor, the raped and the oppressed and I know we are familyAnd the majorityAnd that what divides us is illusionCreated by our refusal to feelMaintained and manipulated by those in powerAnd I know I almost died and that it was only a couple of inchesAnd a few months that kept me hereAnd I now live with death as my companionAnd sometimes she scares me and sometimesshe comforts meBut mainly she inspires me to be braverAnd I no longer have any desire to be invincibleBecause it isn't possibleOr accurateI am vulnerable and porousAnd outraged and crazy-happy and aliveAnd I know what care isAnd what it isn'tHow someone can stick you with a needleAnd never see youOr they can stick you and take the time so it doesn't hurtAnd I fell in love with nursesAnd I know that everything is ass-backwardsThat we idolize people who steal our money and own everything, rather than those who get paid very little To serve

And I know that chemo can be a metaphor As well as a physical treatment And that the poison is not meant for meBut the cancerThe perpetratorsThe rapistsAnd it's okay to imagine them dead, mutilated and destroyedBecause we need an outlet for our rageI know that after I was battered for years by my father and raped by him I held his badness, as if it were my ownAnd that the surgery finally removed it And the chemo burned it offAnd I know that no one will ever againConvince me I am badNor will I tolerate being underminedAnd undoneI know that the abscess that grew around my woundAfter the operationThe 16 ounces of pussBecame the contaminated Gulf of MexicoAnd the catheters they shoved into me without proper medication made me scream the way the earth cries out from the drilling

I know that everything is connectedAnd the scar that runs the length of my torso is the markings of an earthquakeAnd I am there with the 3 million Who are living in the streets of Port au PrinceAnd the fire that burns in me on day 3 through 6 of treatment is the fire that is burning the forests of so much of the world

Cancer made it clearThat time is short

And we must decide If we devote ourselves to wrestling power inside the crumbling walls of patriarchy or If we are ready and brave enough to build the new world And after searching for so many years to figure out what we are doing hereI finally get that we are being aliveAlive AliveAnd there must be time to lingerAnd time to enjoyAnd time to rememberAnd time for nothingAnd everything is preciousThe Indian sari curtains glittering in late summer sunThe man petting his ugly dog in the parkThe morning fogThe coconut popsicle And I know that avoiding suffering is impossible

Stop defending against what is being doneStop pretending you don't see the ragged man with his arm outstretchedOr hearing the cries of the earth being slaughteredOr rationalizing the immoral war being fought in your nameOr finding ways to let famous rapists off the hookStop spending 900 billion dollars on unjust wars While 30 million Americans are unemployedOr justifying one genocide by anotherOr burying your own story because you think you can't bear how much it hurts

Dying is the only way of being born

My cancer is blessedly gone nowMy hair is growing backI have a scarA warrior track that runs downMy 57-year-old bodyEach time I look at it I am reminded that I was opened up in order to remove the darknessI was laid bare in order to be free of the painI surrendered in order to find my power Each time I see my scarI am reminded that I was luckyThat I had insuranceThat I could afford the most extraordinary and loving surgeons and doctorsThat I was surrounded by an embarrassment of love and friends and family who bought me soup and presentsAnd rubbed my feet and made me eggs at 6 in the morning when I was ready to throw upI am reminded that I mattered And because of that I recoveredI know that every single person deserves this attentionEvery single personAnd so my scar has become a permanent tattoo Calling for inclusion and joy I know that what truly kept me alive is the women of CongoWhenever I grew despondentOr sorry for myselfI would think of the women and girlsWho still dance after 6 million Of their brothers and sisters have perished from the earth

Who still dance even after the international power elite has forsaken them for 13 yearsWho dance now knowing that V-Day's City of Joy will open February 4thAnd they will have their place, their fieldsTheir village to turn their pain to powerAnd become leaders in their world How blessed I am to be forever linked with their destinyI could not dieSimply until they were safe and free and running things

I bow to the women of Congo and thank them for saving my life

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