Download high-resolution image Look inside
Listen to a clip from the audiobook
audio pause button
0:00
0:00

Bless the Blood

A Cancer Memoir

Look inside
Listen to a clip from the audiobook
audio pause button
0:00
0:00
Hardcover
$19.99 US
| $26.99 CAN
On sale Feb 06, 2024 | 400 Pages | 978-0-593-52949-2
Age 14 and up | Grade 9 & Up
Reading Level: Lexile NP
A searing debut YA poetry and essay collection about a Black cancer patient who faces medical racism after being diagnosed with leukemia in their early twenties, for fans of Audre Lorde's The Cancer Journals and Laurie Halse Anderson's Shout.

When Walela is diagnosed at twenty-three with advanced stage blood cancer, they're suddenly thrust into the unsympathetic world of tubes and pills, doctors who don’t use their correct pronouns, and hordes of "well-meaning" but patronizing people offering unsolicited advice as they navigate rocky personal relationships and share their story online.

But this experience also deepens their relationship to their ancestors, providing added support from another realm. Walela's diagnosis becomes a catalyst for their self-realization. As they fill out forms in the insurance office in downtown Los Angeles or travel to therapy in wealthier neighborhoods, they begin to understand that cancer is where all forms of their oppression intersect: Disabled. Fat. Black. Queer. Nonbinary.

In Bless the Blood: A Cancer Memoir, the author details a galvanizing account of their survival despite the U.S. medical system, and of the struggle to face death unafraid.
Dear Reader,
This book encapsulates a time in which I experienced many things that people would consider disturbing, triggering, overwhelming, or uncomfortable. It is my intent to shed light on what often feels unbearable to talk about.
Sometimes, when reading heavy words, you may feel seen in a way that can be both comforting and painful. Sometimes, when reading heavy words, you may be made aware of realities outside of your own that can be both enraging and jarring. Either way, witnessing a heavy journey such as my own is a task in itself.
Please take care in the ways you need while reading my book.
If that means walking away from this book for a week, a month, a year, or forever—so be it. If that means throwing this book against a wall, please do so—it was built for it. If that means crying into this book—my words will hold your tears; this ink was made to be blotted.
If at any point you feel overwhelmed, please call a friend or loved one to vent, talk to a trusted person in your life, partake in some sort of self-nourishing activity to soothe your nervous system, or reach out to whatever network you have, big or small, for support. Be gentle, sweet soul, with your heart, your emotional world, and your bodymind.

Content Warning: cancer, hospitalizations, medical procedures, medical racism, microaggressions, macroaggressions, ableism, chronic pain, stem cell transplant, systemic violence, physical and emotional abuse, neglect, sexual assault, suicidal ideation, self-injury, disordered eating, financial trauma, social media, substance use, chronic pain, medication, weapons, racism, classism, depression, anxiety, PTSD, neurodivergence, homophobia, misgendering, transphobia, fatphobia, erasure, death of loved ones, grief & loss.


writer’s note: this here ain’t a john green novel
after cynthia parker-ohene
look, before we get started, imma let y’all know: this here ain’t a john green novel. i do actually smoke down the cigarette augustus waters puts between his teeth. i don’t believe in corny Tumblr metaphors about death. i will pick up that lighter. inhale marlboro reds to the chime of funeral bells and an IV beeping. this is not a romanticization of tragedy. no, there won’t be a nicholas sparks redemption arc reserved for me. i’m not an innocent porcelain angel like jamie sullivan from a walk to remember. do not expect me to perform infinite kindness or gratitude. notice black people do not exist in these worlds, but cancer exists in mine and theirs. again, this here ain’t a john green novel. you ’bout to step into my world. one of the misunderstood. this here ain’t for the hardheaded ego or faint of heart. i plan to fail any expectation you have of me. there’s no prophetic wisdom to sip in doses of stanzas like a prescription. i am not an inspiration. i am not the undesirable, ugly ghoul that society portrays the sick and black and disabled to be. welcome to my lecture on medical racism. i’m not here to make survival comfortable. i am indeed the bad cancer patient. i talk back and think after. i cuss. i hold glorious pity parties. i self-­sabotage. i am the catchall for assumptions. i am not your token negro. i will spit at the feet of those who spite me. i am not part of white men’s “robust” imagination where they thread plot lines about lives they’ve never lived. i do not want to be imagined by them. that’s why you’re here. reading this. there is no consent in the “theatrics of cancer.” there is no soft underbelly of the beast [america] for black folks. this book is a mess about time. and cancer. and time. and love. and time. and hurt. and time evading us all. no happy endings. it just. is. a witnessing.


Hopscotch for Leukemia Was Apparently for a Real Disease
“You have a white blood cell count of 660,000.
That is 600 percent more than normal. You likely have leukemia.
You will be getting admitted to the oncology unit” flatlines the room
The doctor darts out as quickly as he says the news.
He leaves a nurse trying to hold back her pity but failing miserably.
My eyebrows twist into a question mark devoid of panic.
I don’t know what leukemia is.
I haven’t even heard of it.
Mmm, well, except this one time at Montessori.
In elementary school, we were competing in a fundraiser
for some poor, sick kids pictured in colorless pamphlets.
Eight hours passed to the metronome of hopscotching across
my school’s pastel chalk concrete playground.
I was lighthearted back then.
Not whatever this is now—­
my face slammed against the garage door of my mind.
A Google search illuminates me,
leukemia is: blood cancer
 . . . 
Cannnceeerr . . . ???
ARE YOU BLEEPIN’
KIDDIN’ ME,
CANCER!?!
Praise for Bless the Blood:

"Nehanda infuses queer Black disabled resilience and wretchedness into a poetic sinew that stretches, tears, and heals again and again...Shatters mirrors and windows to reveal the jagged shards of self-determination: 'gently volatile' and absolutely crucial."
Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"A forcefully crafted collection of poetic and narrative storytelling with devastating impact"
—Publishers Weekly, starred review

★ “Nehanda is a gifted poet with a fiercely honest, achingly vulnerable voice. They reveal both the ugly and the beautiful, their anger (‘Concept: Coraline but Make It Black’) as compelling as their stunning love poems (‘Heaven Is at Grandma’s House’ is unforgettable) and odes (‘Nail Salon as Self-Care’)…Teens will recognize the inspirations for many of the poems, from bell hooks to Megan Thee Stallion, as they follow Nehanda’s journey to its cathartic, revelatory end.” —Booklist, starred review

★ "Nehanda crafts a gritty collection of poems and short essays that speak to the emotional, financial, physical, and social circumstances of illness and medical racism in America. ...Nehanda's writing is clear-eyed and lucid as it relates their numerous struggles and considers their own self-realization and determination to survive." —Shelf Awareness, starred review

"A recommended purchase for teen memoir collections ­because of the powerful writing and storytelling." – School Library Journal

"The importance of Nehanda’s debut memoir cannot be understated... This book should be in every classroom library, and in the hands of anyone fighting to survive." —The Poetry Question

"Bless the Blood is unlike any book I’ve read before. In a voice that’s utterly electric and completely new, Walela Nehanda explodes the tidy narratives of the typical illness arc. Equal parts prose and poetry, memoir and manifesto, this book rejects every trope of what it means to be sick and disabled. When in the throes of illness, it’s so easy to feel helpless, but Bless the Blood pulses with a power that’s contagious. Reading this book gives me the energy to take it on." —Suleika Jaouad, New York Times bestselling author of Between Two Kingdoms

"Walela Nehanda’s Bless the Blood: A Cancer Memoir cuts deep into the pain, everyday details, dysfunctions, dreams, and desires of being sick and disabled. Nehanda’s depiction of the medical industrial complex is spot on. ...A haunting and powerful read." —Alice Wong, Founder and Director, Disability Visibility Project

"With this stunning collection of poetry, journal entries, prose poems, vignettes, notes to self, notes to all the rest of us, it becomes clear that Nehanda's gift with words also serves as their lifeline to living with leukemia. Their refusal to sugar-coat, sanitize, sterilize, normalize, etc. is what makes this book genuinely more uplifting to me than most all illness and disability narratives. This reality, so masterfully delivered and coming from a young queer Black nonbinary person, makes it the only real successor to my beloved Audre Lorde's Cancer Journals I have ever encountered. Whether unpacking medical racism, economic hardship, or everyday ableism—whether investigating family bonds, community efforts, and the grace of our ancestors—Bless the Blood goes all out and truly deserves its own section, shelf, category." —Porochista Khakpour, author of Sick: A Memoir 
Walela Nehanda is a nonbinary cultural worker, stem cell transplant and cancer survivor, and mental health advocate born and based in Los Angeles, California. View titles by Walela Nehanda

About

A searing debut YA poetry and essay collection about a Black cancer patient who faces medical racism after being diagnosed with leukemia in their early twenties, for fans of Audre Lorde's The Cancer Journals and Laurie Halse Anderson's Shout.

When Walela is diagnosed at twenty-three with advanced stage blood cancer, they're suddenly thrust into the unsympathetic world of tubes and pills, doctors who don’t use their correct pronouns, and hordes of "well-meaning" but patronizing people offering unsolicited advice as they navigate rocky personal relationships and share their story online.

But this experience also deepens their relationship to their ancestors, providing added support from another realm. Walela's diagnosis becomes a catalyst for their self-realization. As they fill out forms in the insurance office in downtown Los Angeles or travel to therapy in wealthier neighborhoods, they begin to understand that cancer is where all forms of their oppression intersect: Disabled. Fat. Black. Queer. Nonbinary.

In Bless the Blood: A Cancer Memoir, the author details a galvanizing account of their survival despite the U.S. medical system, and of the struggle to face death unafraid.

Excerpt

Dear Reader,
This book encapsulates a time in which I experienced many things that people would consider disturbing, triggering, overwhelming, or uncomfortable. It is my intent to shed light on what often feels unbearable to talk about.
Sometimes, when reading heavy words, you may feel seen in a way that can be both comforting and painful. Sometimes, when reading heavy words, you may be made aware of realities outside of your own that can be both enraging and jarring. Either way, witnessing a heavy journey such as my own is a task in itself.
Please take care in the ways you need while reading my book.
If that means walking away from this book for a week, a month, a year, or forever—so be it. If that means throwing this book against a wall, please do so—it was built for it. If that means crying into this book—my words will hold your tears; this ink was made to be blotted.
If at any point you feel overwhelmed, please call a friend or loved one to vent, talk to a trusted person in your life, partake in some sort of self-nourishing activity to soothe your nervous system, or reach out to whatever network you have, big or small, for support. Be gentle, sweet soul, with your heart, your emotional world, and your bodymind.

Content Warning: cancer, hospitalizations, medical procedures, medical racism, microaggressions, macroaggressions, ableism, chronic pain, stem cell transplant, systemic violence, physical and emotional abuse, neglect, sexual assault, suicidal ideation, self-injury, disordered eating, financial trauma, social media, substance use, chronic pain, medication, weapons, racism, classism, depression, anxiety, PTSD, neurodivergence, homophobia, misgendering, transphobia, fatphobia, erasure, death of loved ones, grief & loss.


writer’s note: this here ain’t a john green novel
after cynthia parker-ohene
look, before we get started, imma let y’all know: this here ain’t a john green novel. i do actually smoke down the cigarette augustus waters puts between his teeth. i don’t believe in corny Tumblr metaphors about death. i will pick up that lighter. inhale marlboro reds to the chime of funeral bells and an IV beeping. this is not a romanticization of tragedy. no, there won’t be a nicholas sparks redemption arc reserved for me. i’m not an innocent porcelain angel like jamie sullivan from a walk to remember. do not expect me to perform infinite kindness or gratitude. notice black people do not exist in these worlds, but cancer exists in mine and theirs. again, this here ain’t a john green novel. you ’bout to step into my world. one of the misunderstood. this here ain’t for the hardheaded ego or faint of heart. i plan to fail any expectation you have of me. there’s no prophetic wisdom to sip in doses of stanzas like a prescription. i am not an inspiration. i am not the undesirable, ugly ghoul that society portrays the sick and black and disabled to be. welcome to my lecture on medical racism. i’m not here to make survival comfortable. i am indeed the bad cancer patient. i talk back and think after. i cuss. i hold glorious pity parties. i self-­sabotage. i am the catchall for assumptions. i am not your token negro. i will spit at the feet of those who spite me. i am not part of white men’s “robust” imagination where they thread plot lines about lives they’ve never lived. i do not want to be imagined by them. that’s why you’re here. reading this. there is no consent in the “theatrics of cancer.” there is no soft underbelly of the beast [america] for black folks. this book is a mess about time. and cancer. and time. and love. and time. and hurt. and time evading us all. no happy endings. it just. is. a witnessing.


Hopscotch for Leukemia Was Apparently for a Real Disease
“You have a white blood cell count of 660,000.
That is 600 percent more than normal. You likely have leukemia.
You will be getting admitted to the oncology unit” flatlines the room
The doctor darts out as quickly as he says the news.
He leaves a nurse trying to hold back her pity but failing miserably.
My eyebrows twist into a question mark devoid of panic.
I don’t know what leukemia is.
I haven’t even heard of it.
Mmm, well, except this one time at Montessori.
In elementary school, we were competing in a fundraiser
for some poor, sick kids pictured in colorless pamphlets.
Eight hours passed to the metronome of hopscotching across
my school’s pastel chalk concrete playground.
I was lighthearted back then.
Not whatever this is now—­
my face slammed against the garage door of my mind.
A Google search illuminates me,
leukemia is: blood cancer
 . . . 
Cannnceeerr . . . ???
ARE YOU BLEEPIN’
KIDDIN’ ME,
CANCER!?!

Reviews

Praise for Bless the Blood:

"Nehanda infuses queer Black disabled resilience and wretchedness into a poetic sinew that stretches, tears, and heals again and again...Shatters mirrors and windows to reveal the jagged shards of self-determination: 'gently volatile' and absolutely crucial."
Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"A forcefully crafted collection of poetic and narrative storytelling with devastating impact"
—Publishers Weekly, starred review

★ “Nehanda is a gifted poet with a fiercely honest, achingly vulnerable voice. They reveal both the ugly and the beautiful, their anger (‘Concept: Coraline but Make It Black’) as compelling as their stunning love poems (‘Heaven Is at Grandma’s House’ is unforgettable) and odes (‘Nail Salon as Self-Care’)…Teens will recognize the inspirations for many of the poems, from bell hooks to Megan Thee Stallion, as they follow Nehanda’s journey to its cathartic, revelatory end.” —Booklist, starred review

★ "Nehanda crafts a gritty collection of poems and short essays that speak to the emotional, financial, physical, and social circumstances of illness and medical racism in America. ...Nehanda's writing is clear-eyed and lucid as it relates their numerous struggles and considers their own self-realization and determination to survive." —Shelf Awareness, starred review

"A recommended purchase for teen memoir collections ­because of the powerful writing and storytelling." – School Library Journal

"The importance of Nehanda’s debut memoir cannot be understated... This book should be in every classroom library, and in the hands of anyone fighting to survive." —The Poetry Question

"Bless the Blood is unlike any book I’ve read before. In a voice that’s utterly electric and completely new, Walela Nehanda explodes the tidy narratives of the typical illness arc. Equal parts prose and poetry, memoir and manifesto, this book rejects every trope of what it means to be sick and disabled. When in the throes of illness, it’s so easy to feel helpless, but Bless the Blood pulses with a power that’s contagious. Reading this book gives me the energy to take it on." —Suleika Jaouad, New York Times bestselling author of Between Two Kingdoms

"Walela Nehanda’s Bless the Blood: A Cancer Memoir cuts deep into the pain, everyday details, dysfunctions, dreams, and desires of being sick and disabled. Nehanda’s depiction of the medical industrial complex is spot on. ...A haunting and powerful read." —Alice Wong, Founder and Director, Disability Visibility Project

"With this stunning collection of poetry, journal entries, prose poems, vignettes, notes to self, notes to all the rest of us, it becomes clear that Nehanda's gift with words also serves as their lifeline to living with leukemia. Their refusal to sugar-coat, sanitize, sterilize, normalize, etc. is what makes this book genuinely more uplifting to me than most all illness and disability narratives. This reality, so masterfully delivered and coming from a young queer Black nonbinary person, makes it the only real successor to my beloved Audre Lorde's Cancer Journals I have ever encountered. Whether unpacking medical racism, economic hardship, or everyday ableism—whether investigating family bonds, community efforts, and the grace of our ancestors—Bless the Blood goes all out and truly deserves its own section, shelf, category." —Porochista Khakpour, author of Sick: A Memoir 

Author

Walela Nehanda is a nonbinary cultural worker, stem cell transplant and cancer survivor, and mental health advocate born and based in Los Angeles, California. View titles by Walela Nehanda