Get through Cancer the “Write Way”
by Judith Kelman
Cancer is complicated. Every survivor, every disease, every outcome is unique. The same holds true for coping strategies – you have to find what works best for you. There is no single right way to cope with cancer. However, the “write way” is worth exploring.
Writing has been shown to reduce stress, increase feelings of well-being, and enhance self-esteem. Studies have found that people who write about tough experiences feel more in control, more confident, and better able to move on. This is true for people with a lifelong love of writing, as well as for those who are filled with dread at the prospect of writing down their innermost thoughts.
Writing doesn’t have to be difficult. I’ve had people regale me for hours with enchanting stories and then declare, “I can’t write.” You may be thinking the same thing. But you can write. You already have the words, the ideas, and the experiences. The only thing left is to figure out how to draw them out of your mind and put them to paper (or computer). It’s simpler than it sounds. You just need to build a writing habit. Here are a few ways to get started:
♦ Keep a journal. Write in it every day, even if it’s just a few words or for just a few minutes. By looking back at these entries, you can track your progress through treatment and beyond and appreciate how far you’ve come and how much you’ve learned along the way.
By looking back at your journal entries, you can appreciate how far you’ve come and how much you’ve learned along the way.
♦ Write “Morning Pages.” Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, encourages people to fill three pages with whatever pops into their mind first thing in the morning, before they’re fully awake and under more conscious (and self-conscious) control. Try it.
♦ Write a letter to your cancer. Say anything you wish. Anything.
♦ Write to stay in touch. Keeping up with friends and family can be taxing, especially when you’re busy or stressed. You may find it less tiresome to update your supporters through email or social media, or even by starting a blog. A blog enables you to share what you’ve learned with people all over the world; many survivors find comfort, inspiration, and enlightenment through the blogs they follow. If you’d like to give blogging a try, you can find many tools online to help you get started.
♦ Practice prompt writing. A prompt is anything that induces writing – a question, a suggestion, an image, an object. Search online for “writing prompts” and you’ll find an endless selection. Some classics include “Write the story of your name,” “Write about your childhood kitchen,” and “If you could be anybody, who would you be and why?” To take the pressure out of prompt writing, remember that there are no wrong answers. Limit your writing to four or five minutes, and don’t worry about grammar or punctuation. Just write.
Once you’re more comfortable with writing, you can branch out in any way you choose. Try your hand at writing a poem or a screenplay. Start that novel you’ve had trapped in your head. Pen letters to people you love. Or simply continue writing in the notebook you keep on your bedside table, inscribing thoughts to be read only by you.
Through writing, you may discover a talent you didn’t know you had. But, more important, you will find your voice and learn a new way of expressing yourself. Give it a try. The “write way” of coping with cancer might be just right for you.
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Judith Kelman is an award-winning author and founder and team leader of Visible Ink, a therapeutic writing program for cancer survivors at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, NY. Learn more about Visible Ink at mskcc.org/VisibleInk.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, January/February 2014.