About a month ago, from out of the blue, I learned I had cancer. (See my other post at http://housesandbooks.wordpress.com/2014/03/25/a-blow-from-left-field/.) Almost at once I had to undergo abdominal surgery and sign up for chemo treatments, with very little time to ready myself.
My first round of chemo turned out to be painless and attended by very helpful staff. I didn’t know how long I would end up being there or what to expect, but I arrived with reading material, a blanket, and a stuffed plush animal. Because I’m a spinner and weaver, I also brought along a hand spindle — a brass tahkli from India — and several lengths of Sea Island cotton roving to spin. The photo shows me gamely spinning cotton thread while hooked up to the chemo port in my upper chest. [Click to enlarge.]
Many friends commented positively on the photo when I posted it on Facebook, saying encouraging things like “rock that chemo!” or “spin doctor!” But not a single person made the connection that anyone living two thousand years ago would instantly have made. Our ancestors in ancient pre-Christian Europe believed that the threads of each person’s life were spun, measured and cut by one of three female deities, called variously the Fates, the Norns or the Moirai. The number three and the female gender were so tied to each other that the connection lasted as late as Shakespeare’s three witches in “Macbeth.”
At a time in my life when my very existence is threatened, at a time when the Fates might be preparing to cut my thread of life, I went in to deal with my chemo with spindle in hand, ready to spin my own thread of life and measure it out when I damn well feel like doing so. To use an academic word, I was exerting “agency” over my life by doing so. Should fellow spinsters ever be dealt a blow like mine with their health, I strongly encourage them to consider bringing their spindles along to the chemo ward in order to feel stronger and pluckier and more in control of their destinies.