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The word pet is a signifier that evokes emotions of companionship, love and caring.   But that’s the thing with serious illness,  it changes everything.  The word pet no longer stands for a memory of those warm emotions, in the case of someone undergoing treatment for cancer,  it now stands for  Position Emission Tomography  (pet) scan.

Even our language and our emotional response to it is altered by our illness.

There is both a comfort and a static to be had in succumbing to the process of disease and treatment and the loss of control that evades not only our daily decision making but also our grasp and control of language and memories.

As we explore issues that are somewhat taboo,  we often reach a point of caution “can we say that in public”, “is that ok?” The term “political correctness” has even popped up in our conversation.

I remember the initial discussion Mayu and I had about working on art making during her treatment,  she talked very passionately of wanting to make art from the heart that wasn’t second guessing the concerns of community.  Pure expression from her that might not only be beautiful art but sometimes might be ugly or horrendous.

Sometimes, I watch Mayu and myself second guess thoughts that we have “what if that upsets someone”, “can we actually say that”? It is cancer after all, serious stuff.

I am very committed to the ugly and difficult stuff being said through this project, if that’s what Mayu wants/needs. Redefining social boundaries in terms of disease as we fulfill our desire to express honestly and sometime painfully and to navigate that with a remembrance that this very subject matter is an emotional trigger for lots of people. How do we negotiate it with responsibility to ourselves and with the responsibility that we have to others purely from the fact that we are making things that have a public life.

If we avoid saying something that we wanted to say, because society deems it to be a taboo, is that just another form of taking control away from Mayu?  If we can’t have complete control of our outpouring at a time of disease and treatment, when can we have it? And what then is the purpose of self expression if we can’t use it when we need to in both defence (to protect) and in attack (to protect) from the effects of disease.

Taboo avoidance/taboo embracing.  Deciding whether to whisper or whether to scream, often wanting to do both simultaneously.

by Vic McEwan

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