TODAY

TODAY   |  April 30, 2013

Eve Ensler: Cancer helped heal my self-hatred

“The Vagina Monologues” author opens up to NBC’s Maria Shriver about how fighting cancer helped her become connected to her body again and her new memoir, “The Body of the World.”

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>>> now to a personal crisis for a woman who helped others change the way they think about themselves and their bodies. maria schriver had the opportunity to sit down with her. good morning to you.

>> reporter: good morning, savannah. almost 20 years ago eve ensler shocked the world with her one-woman show "the vagina monologues ." the award-winning play explored women 's bodies and sexuality and sparked a global movement to end violence against women . in her latest memoir, the body of the world , eve describes in moving and heartbreaking detail her own battle with cancer and what it taught her about her life, her body and the world around us.

>> it was a shocking, terrifying experience to suddenly, within 48 hours , be in a nine-hour operation where i lost a lot of organs, many nodes and my life was forever changed . but i landed in my body. vaginas are beautiful.

>> reporter: ensler's name is synonymous with "the vagina monologues ," a collection of stories that's become an anthem for women 's rights. she's spent years talking, listening, traveling the world , helping women take ownership of their bodies.

>> education and transformation is the key to the future.

>> reporter: it wasn't until a diagnosis of uterine cancer that ensler herself identified with her own body in a way that all of the violence she had seen and heard had not allowed.

>> i was chemo, prorted, pediatriced. it was undeniable. i was nothing but body for months.

>> reporter: abused by her father as a child, eve said she spent her whole life feeling disconnected. "in the body of the world " is her journey back.

>> for years i carried around such darkness, such sorrow. such self-hatred. when i would sit with the port and five hours of chemo juice would go into my body i would visualize it burning away.

>> reporter: did it burn away?

>> it did.

>> reporter: the shame, doubt, self-hatr self-hatred. all gone?

>> i would say 95%.

>> reporter: to be an activist, to change the world -- which you have -- some say you need rage to do it. if you don't have the rage can you still continue to change the world ?

>> i'm not sure my rage is gone. i think the difference is it's not my own stuff in it. it's righteous rage at injustice, at things that shouldn't be going on in the world .

>> reporter: do you think you have done something already to change the world , improve the world , ignite the world ?

>> loving other women who were raped in bosnia, who were cut in kenya, who were destroyed in afghanistan but being there for them was my wakeup. you need community. you need friends. you need support to wake up. you cannot do it alone.

>> reporter: in june 2011 ensler opened city of joy in the congo. a sanctuary for women who have survived the worst abuse ensler said she's ever seen. it's a place for them to go and rebuild their lives. once you were told you had cancer, you thought, okay, i have loved well, i have been loved, i loved my child, i think i have made a difference in the world . i'm not scared. i'm okay to go.

>> yes. then there was the second part of that sentence which was, oh, my god --

>> but i don't want to.

>> i don't want to. i think the difference now is i don't want to die yet. i love life . but my life, not so important anymore. the big life , the story of humanity, the story of people, very important.

>> reporter: also very important -- love.

>> i think we are told from a very young age that there is going to be this person who comes into our lives and it is going to be the big love . to be honest i never fully bought it. one day it occurred to me, you know, there were so many people in my life loving me when i got sick. this was the love i have been waiting for.

>> reporter: do you feel healed?

>> i do.

>> reporter: today ensler is cancer-free, traveling the country on what she calls her second wind, urging people to wake up, feel and connect to the world around them.

>> i really feel that if we wake up together it won't be so scary. i worry now with a lot more love. you know, with a lot of more love. it brings people further than my anger used to.

>> maria, it's great to see her doing so well. thank you for the story.

>> by the way, as you bring us that story you bring us good news as well. we want to say welcome back to the family. you're coming back to nbc news as a special anchor.

>> that's right, i am. i'm really excited to be profiling people like eve ensler , women and men i call architects of change who are taking us out beyond all areas of human endeavor. i'm excited to be reporting along with all of you about women 's evolving experiences in the united states as parents, caregivers, care takers. there is so much going on. i'm excited to be coming forward, as i say, going forward with nbc and all of you.

>> you left in 2004 . what have you been doing -- i'm kidding.

>> just hanging out, waiting for you to call. sitting here, look for your love.

>> you always have our love.

>> i'm not on match.com yet though.

>> that's another story for another day. maria schriver , back with the family at nbc . we're thrilled about it, maria. we can't wait to see you soon.

>> thank you, matt. thank you, savannah. i'm happy to be here.