Having traversed the maze of decisions involved in treating a complex chronic illness, I empathize with people's unease and fears about vaccination. In most cases it doesn't help to mock or insult people who are apprehensive. Our bodies are sacred and it brings up core emotions to consider introducing unknown substances into them. We live in a uncertain world and our bodies often feel like the one thing we should have control over.

That said, when I had cancer I took 6 months of weekly infusions of poison directly into the veins around my heart. (Chemo is too damaging to put in the arm veins, has to go in the huge veins that get pumped by the heart throughout your body).

Making that choice to knowingly poison my own body went against everything I believed in, but long story short, I learned the hard way that sometimes you have to make choices you don't want to make. Several years later I'm still cancer free (knock on all wood everywhere) and I'm healthy and I'm happy and I'm alive.

I won't know if my cancer staying away or coming back has anything to do with my treatment choices, no one does. But I did learn that we have to make imperfect choices in our society in regard to medical care. A lot of times this is because the profit motive is so thoroughly embedded in our medical system, it is inextricable from diagnoses and prescribed treatments. That is wrong. But it is also the system we have at this time.

If we are upset with that, our work is to reduce the power of corporations and the force of greed in our society, not to decline the medical technology we now have.

While in some cases alternative therapies are well understood and effective, in many cases they aren't. The path to figuring out which is which leads in many directions, not all of which are safe and many of which are illusory despite our  desire to trust in them. The profit motive, it turns out, also drives "natural" medicine. There is no simple binary of corporate/bad vs. natural/good.

I never used to get the flu vaccine due to its unpredictable efficacy from year to year and, as many of us used to believe, I felt that I didn't need it. COVID has taught us a lot about how each of us plays a part in keeping viruses alive (or stopping them) as they move through a population.

Today, I'll be getting my second dose of the COVID vaccine. I understand it may cause an immune system reaction. But worrying about unlikely long term impacts of the COVID vaccine is laughable considering the severe and permanent changes I've had to accept from my cancer treatments. For example, not being able to have children.

We may feel that through making a strong choice as an individual we have bucked what we view as a corrupt system. This is a false flag. It makes us feel self-righteous, but does nothing to change what we don't like about the system while increasing the risk we will contribute to the hardship or death of others.

Toxic individualism fuels corporate greed at the heart of big pharma, but it also fuels the anti-vax movement. We have to learn to think in terms of entire communities and to prioritize the health and safety of people we don't know. This is especially vital considering our Native, Latino, and Black friends are twice as likely to get sick and die from COVID as white friends are. Even if we don't get sick, carrying and spreading the virus increases the odds a more vulnerable person, a healthcare worker, or an essential worker will suffer or die from it.

The corporate greed that infects our healthcare system is rooted in the American cultural belief in the primacy of individual rights. As in, my right to profit is greater than your right to receive safe and wholistic healthcare. Having grown up in this society, it's hard to divorce individualist thinking entirely. But both physics and ecology demonstrate that everything is connected and it is our relationships, not our individuality, that best explain us. Individualism is false.

Viruses are wicked things but they also teach us about our true identity, not as a discrete organism, but as an interrelated human community. We are all on one team, and with the vaccines now available, we are truly lucky to be able to take one for the team. Today I'm going to dress up, head down to the clinic, and do just that.

Malena Marvin lives in Petersburg, Alaska and is a co-founder of On Fire in AK.