Please note: This post asks you to hear Bob Dylan’s “Positively Fourth Street” in a new way. If you are a huge Dylan fan and do not want me to ruin this song for you, please read one of my other blog posts.
Last week, while inching down Philadelphia’s crowded and congested Route 1 on my way to merge onto the rowdy and raucous I76, I heard Bob Dylan’s “Positively Fourth Street” on the radio. While nervously trying to navigate traffic and my pending appointment time at my cancer treatment center, I had not heard this song for years and in this moment, the lyrics took on a whole new meaning.
Suddenly the “you” in “Positively Fourth Street” is no longer about those who criticized Dylan’s departure from traditional folk to electric guitar, or the “plastic people” that he met in Greenwich Village, or those who were jealous of his artistic success. The “you” is metastatic breast cancer (MBC).
Ruefully laughing, I hear Dylan’s nasally voice painting the “you” as a fake, self-absorbed brat. And yep, that’s exactly what it feels like to be living metastatic breast cancer’s childish petulance!
Take a listen to “Positively Fourth Stree” here. While listening, here are some lines that really speak to what it means to live with MBC:
- “You got a lot of nerve/ to say you are my friend./When I was down/You just stood there grinning”
When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, I spent a lot of psychic energy moving away from “othering” my breast cancer and toward recognizing its part within my cell fabric. These lines seem so fitting because even after all of that psychic work–not to mention major reconstructive surgery, chemo, and five years of a hormone therapy–metastatic breast cancer still showed up and just stood there grinning.
- You got a lotta nerve/To say you got a helping hand to lend/You just want to be on/The side that’s winning
The reality of MBC is that in 2020, metastatic breast cancer killed 684,996 women. These women are your mothers, aunts, teachers, sisters, friends, neighbors, cousins, grocery clerks, advocates, businesswomen, writers, and the list goes on and on. Here’s another truth: Black women have a 41 percent higher death rate from breast cancer than white women. These statistics need to change. MBC cannot continue to win.
- I wish that for just one time/You could stand inside my shoes/And just for that one moment/I could be you//Yes, I wish that for just one time/You could stand inside my shoes/You’d know what a drag it is/To see you
When I heard these lines, hustling in and out of traffic, I shouted. Yes! I would like for metastatic breast cancer to stand inside my shoes. And Yes!–the driver next to me laughing at me–I’d love for MBC to see what it is like to live in my body. To navigate the roller coaster. To worry. To cry. To shout with frustration. To hug my family tightly. And then to say goodbye to friends, who never make it 50 years old!
Then metastatic breast cancer would truly know what a drag it is to see you.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Here’s what you can do to make a difference:
- Donate to Living Beyond Breast Cancer and attend Knowledge is power about the Black breast cancer experience.
- Support Metavivor, an organization that supports metastatic breast cancer research, support, and awareness
- Subscribe to WILDFIRE Magazine
- Make an impact, support The Chrysalis Initiative
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