Sara Roque survived 2017; she lives.
Last month, Sara, an Anishinaabekwe filmmaker and leader for many Indigenous artists, marked the two-year anniversary of her diagnosis with threatening and rare forms of breast and thyroid cancers. In that time, she has experienced an emotional and numbing diagnosis, radiation, countless surgeries and doctors’ appointments with traditional, Eastern and Western healers, working, not working, working again.
It has been a difficult journey, and it would be easy to understand if she’d taken a step back from leading our community to focus on her health—but she hasn’t. Instead, she’s maintained bonds with the women and artists she mentors and inspires, like me.
In her 10-year stint as Aboriginal Arts Officer at the Ontario Arts Council, Sara consistently and thoughtfully guided those around her, something she continues to do now in her day-to-day life. Even after she started that steady stride with cancer, she kept giving genuine advice and insight. In fact, even seeing how she recognized this difficult anniversary has been inspiring.
Last month, she made a reflective Facebook post to mark this difficult day, saying, “Two years ago today, I was a different person… I may be a different person but have not lost my SELF—and our ‘self’ is the root of strong self-determined and healthy communities. I hope to be back on my feet soon. It has been a marathon but I was once a great long-distance runner and that body memory is keeping me on this road—the glory days—but it’s true… in a different way, I am here, and will be back out in my new-person-same-self soon.”
A couple of weeks later, she shared with me the idea of “running with cancer,” a teaching that was passed on from one of her healers: If she can shift her focus from “fighting cancer” to “running with cancer,” she told me, she has power over the disease. Instead of a fight, it becomes a course to run. How she responds to the ups and downs of the course is within her control, and how far she’s run is a testament to her endurance and resiliency.
It’s that endurance and resiliency—and her generosity of spirit—that makes Sara a role model who gave me hope this year. Our world is more connected than ever; we are inundated with so many opinions, which often makes me feel helpless and insignificant. Sometimes I think, If I do something, would it even mean anything? But, in acknowledging hope for herself, Sara doesn’t just give me a serious reality check, she also makes the point that healthy selves are integral to thriving communities. Her words remind me that we are accountable for each other’s well-being, and that one’s own growth is our collective growth towards a stronger, healthier people—something that’s necessary for a successful movement.
On November 24, 2017, Sara was not the same person she was the day before. None of us were, because we were there running beside her—and every other solid, f-cking intelligent, bad-ass woman out there—toward a stronger, more self-determined and healthy world.
Sara’s words speak to her exceptional circumstances, but also sustain hope and truth in a universal way. And that’s something all of us desperately needed this year.
Sage Paul makes fashion, costume and craft. She is also the founder and artistic director of Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto.
More from FLARE’s ‘12 Days of Feminists’ series:
Anne T. Donahue on Fierce Truth-Teller Scaachi Koul
Sadiya Ansari on Fearless Supernova Jane Fonda
Janaya Khan on Mary Hooks Bringing Black Moms Home
Meghan Collie on “Unf-ckwithable Voice of Reason” Lauren Duca
Nakita Valerio on Effervescent Community Leader Nasra Adem
Anne Thériault on Tanya Tagaq Singing Truth to Power
Laura Hensley on Unapologetic Activist and Entrepreneur Jen Agg
Jenn Berry on Exuberant Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante
Lora Grady on the Electrifying Lindy West
Farrah Khan on the Beautiful Jill Andrew & Aisha Fairclough
Fariha Róisín on Art-World Renegade Kimberly Drew
Huda Hassan on the Artful Kim Ninkuru
Julie Lalonde on the Hilarious Samantha Bee