Posts tagged Shame
Sick, not silent
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Sick, not silent: A conversation about cancer through art


In September of 2009—at 26 years of age—I was diagnosed with cancer, after experiencing the first of many seizures to come. Of all the trials I could imagine that lay ahead, I never thought most of them would be exercises in recollection.

Patient name? Dennis Svoronos (thankfully I can always get this one)

Date of birth? 3/8/83 (a palindrome, helps to keep it easy)

Occupation? Artist (maybe not my parents first choice)

Approximate date of last surgery? 11/09 (Who forgets their first brain surgery)

Existing medical conditions? Anaplastic Astrocytoma (a cancerous brain tumor)

Repeat daily, for years.

As time progressed; I remember those waiting rooms, questions and ID tags much more than the operating theatre and injections; trauma is kind like that.

However, they made me feel intrinsically linked to my disease. What was I, without these suffixes of sickness to identify with? Somehow, all my other unique and admirable qualities were set-aside for the identifier of ‘cancer patient’. It’s easy to resign to the belief that those forms and wristbands define your life, mere statistics, data—you and your cancer. Just as painless, is to ignore the process completely, pretending your exams and operations are the bad dreams of another person, your ‘real life’ goes on unaffected.

Either way, it seems you’re not to talk openly about cancer, and it is difficult for most; patients, family and doctors alike. My initial sense was, it would be easier for me—and more comfortable for others—to keep off the topic. Sickness is a surprisingly taboo subject in a very liberal culture.

The artist in me, however, couldn’t stop questioning why we hide from the discussion. Over the course of my treatment and the years to follow, the entirety of my work became a continuous, very uncomfortable, conversation about my disease with anyone that would listen.

In doing so, I freed myself from the fear and shame that I felt initially upon my diagnosis. It allowed me to speak honestly to an audience on an issue I was passionate about, to relate to others on a level beyond the initial stigma of sickness. I became a proud patient. My work wasn’t about the ‘battle’, ‘fight’ or being a ‘survivor’; the words of conflict I was trying to avoid. The art became focused on the subtle, sincere and even sarcastic aspects of the life-changing experience I was going through. I wasn’t interested in discussing my struggle with cancer; I wanted to embrace the insight it gave me.

In January of 2014, I exhibited a solo show of this work at the Boston Sculptors Gallery (486 Harrison Ave. Boston). In the month that followed, I was able to engage with patients and the public in ways I was never able to before. My show became a safe space for anyone to talk about this difficult subject. In doing so, stories were shared, wisdom was gained and many tears—of joy and woe—were shed. To all who came, I sought to impart a sense of community and empathy they didn’t enter with. I learned, as a patient I need to speak about my experience with the ‘healthy’ world, regardless of stigma or discrimination. My ultimate healing came through delightful conversations about a horrible problem.

Dennis Svoronos: Biography

Dennis Svoronos’ work exists between art and engineering; it is inspired by the modern world in motion. He uses his sculpture to reflect this environment charged with electricity, spectacle and information. He uses our common language of the 21st century: electronics, robotics and interactive kinetics, to build connections between the viewers and the work. In a society fractured by technology, Dennis Svoronos uses it to bring us together. At current, he is making work in response to his recent diagnosis of brain cancer, seeking to use his art as a platform to question sickness, wellness and recovery.

Dennis Svoronos is a Boston-based sculptor whose work has been shown nationally and internationally. He holds a diploma from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and a Bachelors of Fine Arts from Tufts University. His work has been exhibited at numerous institutions and galleries such as the MFA, Boston; the Norton Museum of Art, Palm Beach, FL; G.A.S.P Brookline, MA; and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Lake Worth, FL. Svoronos has also been the recipient of numerous awards and public work commissions. Currently, he is living and working in South Boston.

A Transgender Teen Tells His Story of Navigating Gender Dysphoria

Zachary went through puberty twice, first as a girl, then as a boy, after he started taking hormones. “The second time was a lot better,” he said. “I got excited when my voice cracked, and when I started to smell different,” though he adds that excitedly telling friends that you smell really bad is kind of a conversation killer..

Zachary is transgender. He was born female but he has always known, even before he could articulate it, that he is male. His journey has been challenging, and he suffered from depression for many years as a result. But he is now a confident, happy, inspiring young man

Last month, Zachary, 19, graduated from Methuen high school. He’ll start Wheelock College in the fall, where he has received the four-year, $20,000 annual Passion for Action scholarship for his demonstrated commitment to community service, leadership and scholarship. He plans to become a social worker with the goal of working with LBGT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) kids.

Medically, a transgender person can choose to pursue hormonal treatment and/or surgery in order to bring the biological sex closer to the gender identity, though no intervention is a necessity. For female to male trans people, like Zachary, the surgical options include removal of the reproductive organs, “top surgery” (mastectomy), or “bottom surgery” (construction of male genitalia). For now, Zachary has chosen to pursue hormones, removal of his uterus and ovaries and top surgery, but doesn’t feel that he needs to have bottom surgery. He stresses that this is a personal decision, and that no two transgender people are the same.

Sexual orientation among transgender people is equally varied. Zachary identifies as bisexual. He has dated females in the past and currently has a boyfriend who is a female to male trans like himself. Their shared experiences have brought them very close.

I have learned a tremendous amount from Zachary. I now better understand that people are born with a biological sex and a gender identity, and that these don’t always match up. Trying to ignore ones gender identity, or to force it to align with ones biological sex when this doesn’t feel right, is painful and psychologically detrimental. To feel whole, gender identity must be embraced, but when there is incongruity between biological sex and gender identity, as is the case for transgender individuals, society doesn’t make this easy.

Most importantly, Zachary has taught me that we all need to educate ourselves and develop tolerance toward transgender individuals. He is a person with tremendous courage and integrity, but he has been forced to deal with a more difficult set of decisions than most of us, and with societal discrimination.

This week, the Joint Committee on the Judiciary in Massachusetts held a hearing to determine the future of the Equal Access Bill.

This bill would add “gender identity” to the Massachusetts civil rights law for public accommodations. As it stands, this law prohibits discrimination on the basis of “age, race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, sex and marital status” in public accommodations, but does not protect transgender individuals. Put simply, this means that Zachary could be denied service or treated unfairly in a restaurant, an airport, a retail store, a public bathroom, on public transportation and so on. According to a national transgender discrimination survey published this year, up to 50% of transgender individuals in Massachusetts have experienced verbal harassment or mistreatment in public accommodations.

Originally published on WBUR Commonhealth Blog July 12, 2013


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Photo credit: Marilyn Humphries, Greater Boston PFLAG


Buy Me Some Peanuts

It was a humid night in June,
One of the hottest days of the year.

You could feel your hair standing up on its end,
As a cold and warm front collided.

It left passers-by wondering if the lightning would ever stop.

It did.

So people believed that the storm was over,
That all was well.

I was too loose.

A group of us were going to Fenway,
First game of the summer,
First beer of the week.

The change in weather felt like a good omen,
We bantered as we walked up to Yawkey,
Taking in the smells of Franks,
The shouts of vendors,
And the sight of RED.

As we moved past security,
And scalpers that hounded,
We made our way to our seats.

To the right of me,
I heard a sickening sound.

Like the thump of a bird as it hits a window,
Or the crack of a gun as it soars through the air,
Or the split of a head as it meets concrete.

A man lay,
Cane sprawled in front,

RED blood started pooling,
Pouring out of both ears,
Like my beer pouring out of its tap.

People were screaming,
But I couldn’t hear.

I kept thinking,
He is right next to me,

I thought back to the CPR training I had taken two summers before,
Was this it?
Is this what I was supposed to do?
Is this the final test?

I got confused and spun in a circle,
Walking around next to him,
Hoping that suddenly I would know his diagnosis,
As the loops straightened out in my head.

But not acting.


Someone else nudged him
Someone else was on a phone,
Someone else said help is on the way.


My friends call me over,
But they know they are ok.

They don’t know him,
He’s not their dad,
Or brother,
But I know him.

He was standing right next to ME.

Just that morning,
I was telling someone about my degree.

What do you study?
Medical Humanities.
What does that mean?
Oh ok. I get it. We need more people like that.
I AGREE.  We need more people like that.

Running away,
Waiting for someone else to step in,

As the stretcher wheeled itself,
And four EMTs rushed after it,
I considered chasing after them,
I felt sick.

I’m sorry man!
I didn’t know what to do.
I’m sorry man!
I panicked.
I’m sorry man!
I’ve never seen blood pouring out of a brain.
I’m sorry man!
I haven’t signed up for this.

But I didn’t.

Maybe I’m not EMPATHETIC.
Maybe I’m not destined to:
Maybe we need more people like that.
I AGREE. We need more people like that

Sarah Ramsey is an incoming senior at Boston College with a major in Operations Management and a minor in Medical Humanities.  She is the Managing Editor of the Medical Humanities Journal of Boston College and a trip leader for the Appalachia Volunteers.  Sarah aspires to use her business background to improve and expand health opportunities.