|PHOTO COURTESY KATHLEEN ARCHAMBEAU
By Kathleen Archambeau
â€śMainstream media coverage rarely reflects the personal fear and everyday torment that living with cancer bring (s)â€¦â€ť
Lesbian Bodyworker and Breast Cancer Activist
Even if you did not personally know Ravenlight, you might remember her. She was the woman who marched alone down Market Street in many Pride Parades, her â€śde-breastedâ€ť chest bared, while she held a sign reminding everyone that, though a trillion dollars had been spent on breast cancer research since 1991, women were still suffering amputation of their breasts in response to cancer. As such moments proved, cancer was not just a private struggle for Ravenlight. When she first met her oncologist at Kaiser in San Francisco, the doctor had already seen a postcard of one-breasted Ravenlight on a nurseâ€™s bulletin board.
Diagnosed with breast cancer in 1991, when she was 38, Ravenlight said, â€śLooking in the mirror became a daily torture.â€ť Three years after her ordeal, Ravenlight went on to work with photographer Dean Brittingham, to develop the Breast Cancer and Body Image project. Breast cancer survivors overwhelmingly responded with visual art, first person nonfiction narrative prose and poetry.
Growing up in Long Island, this â€śhigh femmeâ€ť was hardly the profile of an activist. Intervening life events, including a devastating motorcycle accident in her 20â€™s and the breast cancer in her 30â€™s, led to a very public life. It included railing against the class structure of the Michigan Music Festival, co-coordinating the womenâ€™s organization Outcasts, and expanding the breast cancer image project into a three-day conference.
The essence of Ravenlight, however, was bodywork. Her massage, cranio-sacral and lymph drainage therapies soothed both body and soul during her successful 25-year bodywork practice in San Francisco and the East Bay. She considered such work an honor and said, â€śMy passion is to create a space, a stillness, where my clientâ€™s innate healing potential can emerge and manifest.â€ť
A devotee of Mata Amritanandamayi Devi in the last decade, she was given the name Rajeshwari, the name of an Indian goddess, by Amma. Her faith led to reconciliation with her biological family.
She died like she lived, with significance. On 12/12/12, Ravenlight left this temporal world from her home in Oakland. Her battle with pancreatic cancer, after having survived breast cancer for 22 years, was lost, despite valiant efforts to overcome the disease. She used every method that she could, including acupuncture, meditation, nutrition and massage along with standard chemotherapy and radiation.
During the last year of her disease, many in the cancer resource, same-sex partner dance and spiritual communities hosted fundraisers for her, as she could no longer work. We now mourn her passing. She will be especially missed by her brother, Peter Dannenhoffer, her dear friends and caregivers Sora Counts, Rajani Venkatraman Levis and Zoe Balfour, and her beloved cats: Fetch and BBC.
A public memorial and celebration of Ravenlightâ€™s life will take place at the Womenâ€™s Cancer Resource Center, 5741 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland, CA on Saturday, Jan. 26th, from 2-4 p.m. Everyone is welcome.