Published on March 7th, 2017 | by Tara Dorabji


DIAGNOSIS: On Sickness and Our Country

My mom was diagnosed with cancer the same week that Trump was elected president. On the morning after the election I called her and she said, “This is just further evidence that I live in a parallel universe. This guy is president and this thing is growing inside of me.”

Trump is a diagnosis like cancer. Something terminal has been growing, but you don’t want to articulate it until the language is forced down your throat, by a map painted in more red than blue, by a CT scan that leads to a positive biopsy.

I want to place the CT scan that reveals the tumor on top of that red map, fusing them together, so that I can place the image in the palm of my daughter’s outstretched hand. “This, darling, is your future. This is what you will carry.”

The morning after the election, one of my daughters is so angry that she screams at her sister and me. I am too raw to meet this with compassion. I yell. We cry. We arrive at school wearing black. Their skinny 9-year-old bodies cloaked in a political grief that became very personal.

I haven’t said the word cancer to my daughters yet. It is the one time I remember withholding language from them. I say, “Nani is real sick. You bring her joy. We must stay in the present.”

My mom says she won’t do chemo. I say I will support whatever choice she makes. The doctors say the cancer could have spread to the lymph nodes; the tumor could have been there for years. They will not be able to stage the cancer until surgery. I will likely be there when the doctors open her body, the disease exposed.

I am more surprised by Trump winning than the cancer. I am not proud of this, nor do I feel the need to apologize. We all live in our own delusions. We all seek diagnosis in our own way. We all lie to ourselves, even though we can often feel the truth.

The worst part is talking with my 97-year-old grandma, who lived under Hitler. “Tell me,” she says, “What is new?”

I can’t remember something good to say.

“I am so sorry you have to live through this,” I say. We are talking about Trump, but at the same time we are talking about her daughter. We have a language of silence that has evolved over years.

image by Albaraa Mehdar / Creative Commons License

She asks my daughter. “Are you a mommy’s girl? Is your mother the love of your life?”

“Yes,” my daughter says curling into my arms.

“Your mother is the love of my life,” she says to me. “She is everything to me.” She starts to cry. We are hiding the language from my grandma, too. We refuse to say cancer.

My Grandma was born on her mother’s birthday. She became bed-ridden the week my mom was in the hospital, even though we didn’t tell her that it was happening. And now she sits with her daughter at the edge of life. An unjust cycle, almost poetic.

I say, “We will all be together for Thanksgiving[1]. It will be beautiful.” Even though we are only supposed to take it one day at a time, we still need something to believe in.

This is the last time, I see my grandmother alive. She didn’t make it Thanksgiving. But her blessings still bloom from her garden and deep within my spirit. She offers the simple truth that some hard roads don’t end, but there comes a time, when it is time to fly.

At each new nomination to the cabinet, there is a relief in me that she does not have to process it. The national raids begin.

My mom is in and out of the hospital. I no longer hide the language from my daughters. I know too much to do this now. My daughter asks me one question after my mother’s seven-hour surgery, “Did the cancer spread to the lungs?” It’s the most relevant question, yet not one that the surgery can answer. We ask questions we don’t want to hear the answers to.

There will be no chemo. We start to live different. I wake up on a Sunday and take my daughters to the beach. There is a pod of dolphins jumping out of the rip tide. We head to the airport to protest the ban on refugees. There are thousands of people, with handwritten signs on cardboard. The protest is sudden and full of beauty. I love the organizers, the gentle, calm way they move the crowds. This is a side of the movement I have not seen before.

My mom calls me the next morning, to tell me that she has decided to renew her passport. I book flights to Mexico. I start waking up at 5am to make art because this is the moment I have.


It is time for art to get fierce.

It is time to love fiercely.


Time feels so finite, yet it is the thing I will experience the most of. I can ignore what is beneath the surface, wait for it to come to light, or simply live with the shadows. I am trying to not be afraid of the truth – to stop lying to myself about the things that are hard to live with. Some of the things I don’t want to believe still exist. I feel them. And on some days, feeling things is enough for them to be real.

[1] Elisabeth Venturini, my grandmother, passed away on November 21, 2016

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About the Author

Tara Dorabji is a writer, radio journalist, mother, filmmaker and Vice President at The Center for Cultural Power, a home for artists and activists. She currently serves on the Advisory Boards for Color Congress and Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation. Her work is published in Al JazeeraThe Chicago QuarterlyHuizache, and acclaimed anthologies including: Good Girls Marry Doctors & All the Women in My Family Sing. She received a 2019 & 2021 Arts Commission from the San Francisco Arts Commission for her writing and documentaries on Kashmir. Her first film, Here Still, was screened at over a dozen film festivals throughout Asia and the USA, and were an official selection of the Jaipur International Film Festival, the world’s largest competitive film festival. Awards include Asia’s Best Independent Documentary Film at the All Asia Independent Film Festival 2020, a Silver Medal at the 2020 Asia South East Short Film Festival, and a 2021 Semi-Finalist Award for the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival.

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