Eve Ensler has spent a lifetime getting women to connect with their own bodies through her Vagina Monologues and other projects, but says she never was in touch with her own body until she lost part of it to cancer.
She describes the "cancer conversion" she experienced beginning in 2010 in her new memoir In the Body of the World.
As she says in an interview with CBC’s Q cultural affairs show, she did not make that journey alone, but alongside a group of women in the Congo who she met while fundraising through the V-Day and One Billion Rising campaign against gender-based violence.
"The women really came up with a vision of what they wanted and they conceived of this amazing place, called the City of Joy which is a transformational, revolutionary centre where they return women to power," Ensler said.
While the women were in the process of building the centre — with their own hands — Ensler was trying to raise money for their efforts. Then she got the cancer diagnosis — the news that a tumour the size of a mango was growing in her uterus.
She said she felt a "strange liberation when I realized I was going to die" and waking up after surgery forced her to face her own relationship with her body.
Ensler describes her relationship with her body as "disassociated," saying sexual violence by her father forced her to be "absent" from the body.
She faced a lot of demons in the months of her recovery, but her own plight seemed to weave into the solidarity of women in the Congo, as well as the future of the earth itself.
"When you listen to other women’s stories you begin to understand your own better and you begin to find ways back through and with each other," Ensler said. "For many years now I feel like my own body struggle has been linked and connected with women I meet in the world. I think we’re in this together. I don’t think I could have gotten better if that hadn’t been the story."
Ensler draws parallels between her denial of her own body’s needs and the way humankind is trying to deny climate change, saying the two are linked in her mind because the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico coincides with her recovery from cancer.
Ensler discusses her new memoir In the Body of the World, with Ann-Marie MacDonald at the Toronto Reference Library on Monday. She'll be in Vancouver on Tuesday as part of a tour in support of her book.