Suleika Jaouad Confronts Life After Illness
From the Thresholds Podcast, Hosted by Jordan Kisner
This is Thresholds, a series of conversations with writers about experiences that completely turned them upside down, disoriented them in their lives, changed them, and changed how and why they wanted to write. Hosted by Jordan Kisner, author of the new essay collection, Thin Places, and brought to you by Lit Hub Radio.
In our latest episode, we revisit our 2020 conversation with Suleika Jaouad, on the release of her memoir Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted. In the conversation, Suleika talks about life after her leukemia diagnosis and learning to come back to “the kingdom of the well.”
From the interview:
Suleika Jaouad: I think once I started to bump up against the limitations of this narrative and to realize that just wasn’t where I was at and where I was going to be anytime soon, I felt a real sense of being unmoored and not being quite sure where I fit, because the truth was I wasn’t a normal twenty-six-year-old girl and I couldn’t do what my healthy friends were doing. But at the same time, I wasn’t a sick person anymore. So for about a year, I didn’t quite know how to make a home within that sort of wilderness that lies between the kingdoms of the sick and the well. It was tricky. On the one hand, I didn’t have leukemia anymore. And yet I was still on disability because I was constantly getting hospitalized for different infections and things because of my compromised immune system. I was presumably well enough to be working, and yet up until that point, my career had been writing this column that was about illness. So I didn’t quite know what my next project would be. It was just this really strange and difficult time of trying to figure out where I fit and what was realistic for me, given my limitations without knowing how long I would have these limitations for.
Jordan Kisner: Was there a moment when you felt like you were getting the hang of it, or where you felt like you started to transition out of that confusing nether space?
Suleika Jaouad: I don’t think there was a moment where I started to get the hang of things. There was a series of moments where I realized that my way of attempting to move through the world was no longer working … when I sort of got over this delusion that I could run marathons or go dancing or do whatever. I had a really difficult period where I was really struggling and feeling really down and at the same time feeling really frustrated with myself for feeling down and feeling this sense of I’ve been through so much. I’m so lucky to be alive. I shouldn’t feel this way.
Suleika Jaouad is an Emmy Award-winning writer, speaker, cancer survivor, and activist. She served on Barack Obama’s President’s Cancer Panel, and her advocacy work, reporting, and speaking has been featured at the United Nations, on Capitol Hill, and on the TED Talk main stage. When she’s not on the road with her 1972 Volkswagen camper van and her rescue dog Oscar, she lives in Brooklyn.