Episode 28: A Documentary Intervention with Andrew Silver
by Anya Silver
I’d like a long braid to lasso my rage away, to stand on a stage in a garter belt and thigh high boots and stamp my feet through the floor, like to put my face right up against someone else’s face and scream until the scream knocks me to my knees, coughing. I could become an arsonist, delicious click of the lighter. Every time someone I love dies, I’d like a diamond to line the hilt of a dagger, or tip an arrow.
I’d like to shoot the whole God damned universe through its infinite starry center, and watch it suck into itself, scattering the suns and galaxies over each other like a jar of tipped glitter. Don’t tell me not to be angry. Do you know how close I am to flinging my whole body at you, how little I care about being hit back or spat on, or bruised? Humiliation means nothing to me. I have nothing to lose— If you push me off a building, I’ll sing. I’d jump in front of a bullet if I could. I’d let someone wring my neck if only I knew it would hurt God just one bit to watch me die.
One of the most difficult, most heart-wrenching things about life with metastatic breast cancer is how many people just like you you watch and listen to die. Every day, it’s happening, and I can’t go on social media sometimes because I’m afraid of what news I’m going to get. I’m afraid of who I’m going to lose next. Metastatic cancer, when it gains momentum, has a tendency to move very quickly. It’s terrifying, and it’s also our reality. The longer I live with this illness, and the more time I spend with the metastatic community, the more incredible, amazing people I meet. And the more incredible, amazing people I watch die.
It feels cruel and unfair, like a sick cyclical groundhog day, where we - or at least I - often feel torn between allowing my grief to pull me under and submerse me, knowing that it will hit me unyieldingly in incessant waves. Knowing that that grief is not survivable, either, and that, submerged in it, I have no air for anything else. Or I can tamp down that grief, let go of it while I cling to a life raft- literally, to life, to the numbness that comes with continuing on after loss. For me, it often feels like an either/or sort of thing, and yet, to choose one feels like a betrayal to the other.
However, there is another kind of grief that I’ve found myself experiencing more and more as I continue to live this life with cancer. It’s an unexpected grief, something I couldn’t put my finger on until recently. Something that, to me, feels like this very fundamental cornerstone of loss. I find myself, over and over, grieving for the people that I never met, never interacted with, and never will. The people I learn about only through their obituaries, their online tributes, the condolences that float through our shared Facebook groups. These people, whose lives are punctuated by the illness that stole them, who will never post another late-night worry or pose a question to the online community, or who will never let us know the results of a good or bad scan. Whose lives, and everything that they encompassed, are over.
I have experienced this grief so many times over the last two years, but, in many ways, one person has stuck out to me- the incredible, indomitable poet Anya Silver, who died last year from metastatic inflammatory breast cancer. We shared membership in a number of Facebook groups and online metastatic breast cancer communities, but had never interacted, but for a few comments on the same threads. I didn’t know much her until I read her obituary, posted in one such group. A few months later, her husband posted on Facebook that he was looking for interview subjects to be part of his documentary theatre project about metastatic breast cancer. I reached out, interviewed, and today- October 10th, the day this episode is airing- a cast of all metastatic people will be performing a reading of the first act of the play in Washington DC.
Through my involvement with this play, I’ve gotten to know so much more about Anya, and the more I learn about her, talk about her, read her poetry, the more angry I am that she is gone, and the more I feel that immense, weighty sadness that I will never get to meet her or get to talk to her. That my voice continues a conversation that is fully one-sided, conversations I wish so much I could have had with Anya.
In today’s episode, I talk with Anya’s husband, Andrew Silver. Over the last few months, Andy has become a dear, dear friend to me, and I am fortunate to have the opportunity to help out with his play. It’s an incredible project, and one that I am so proud to have had a part in. But more than that, it carries on these one-sided conversations, the conversations between the living and the dead, and breathes a bit of life back into those who we have lost. And, in doing so, makes the impact of those losses so much harder, so much more real. Andy’s play, IV, is a documentary theatre project that uses the voices from those who have lived with metastatic breast cancer, as well as family members, friends, and loved ones, to amplify the need to understand the nuances of individual lives in order to capture the collective experiences of those living with this disease.
Andy has lived out these such experiences for his entire life. His mother died from metastatic breast cancer in 1985, when he was 14 years old. His wife, Anya, was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer when she was pregnant with their son. Her disease later metastasized, and she died from metastatic inflammatory breast cancer in 2018. This play serves as a gathering point for his experiences, and for hundreds of others - those who have come before, and those that will come after. In our conversation today, we talk about his life with breast cancer, as well as those of his wife and his mother. We talk about parenting with cancer, grief, and how the play is unfolding. Andy is a professor of English at Mercer University, and also a playwright, songwriter, and musician. He lives in Macon, Georgia, with his teenage son and their dog.