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Let It Out: Writing About Your Cancer

December 14th, 2012 |

by MichaelSolomon | Survivor: Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma    Connect

Did you write about your cancer experience? In this week's column, guest blogger Michael Solomon, author of "Now It's Funny: How I Survived Cancer, Divorce and Other Looming Disasters," offers some great tips on how to write it all down - whether it's for loved ones or just for yourself.

Why Write?

For me, writing has always been a tool for processing information, so it was the one way that I could have a certain amount of space within my head to try and confront what I was dealing with and not be overwhelmed. I communicated with myself through the notes that I kept - it was cathartic to know that I always had a place to turn to within myself.

Writing helped me to identify a lot of my own crazy fears and let me laugh at them. Somehow, if I could just put it on paper and look at it, it was less threatening. Even when I was at the hospital going through terrible tests and thinking I was going to die, I went home and wrote about the really pretty nurse at the hospital. Writing things like that softened the experience for me - it reminded me that I still had to live my life, no matter what happened. My life was still there, I was still me, and the world was still the same one I'd inhabited before cancer.

The whole reason I started writing notes was because I kept thinking to myself, "I want to make sure I don’t forget this." I didn't know why, but I wanted to remember it all. By keeping notes, I always had a way, if I wanted to, to see what I was thinking and see how my thinking had evolved. By the time my first surgery happened, I had accumulated an enormous pile of notes.

If IHadCancer had existed when I was going through my experience, I definitely would have used the Dear Cancer Section. I like how it gives cancer fighters a microphone and a forum - to be happy, to be mad, to curse cancer, to seek a silver lining, and so on. I think it's therapeutic just to read all of the different emotions that so many other people are experiencing and it opens your mind to things you may not have otherwise thought about yourself. Plus it helps you realize you're not alone.

How to write...

If you're thinking about writing about your cancer experience, my advice is: just go for it. Don't be afraid and don't judge yourself or whatever it is that you're writing. You don't ever have to show it to a soul if you don't want, though the more you reveal about yourself, the more other people will be able to relate to you. And even though what you think you're revealing about yourself is what you believe makes you different from everyone, often it's what makes you so much like everyone else. We're all weird, each in our own ways, but there's a lot of commonality in all that weirdness too. We just don't usually talk about these things because we tend to try to show our better half to the world.

Even without knowing it, you could impart really valuable, useful information to others when you write about your experiences. One of the things cancer patients seem to like about my book is that there are a lot of things that only a patient would know and could tell you. Your doctor is going to do their best to tell you, but they've never been a patient. Once you go through it as a patient, you know not to forget to bring socks, or to make lists of questions to ask your doctor, or other seemingly small things that make such an enormous difference. You can only get that patient perspective from another patient. Every day is different, every outcome is different, and it's helpful to see that.

But remember, any story that you tell to others is subject to the rules of storytelling, so, as Elmore Leonard says, "try to leave out the stuff that people tend to skip over anyway."

Writing isn't for you? That's okay, too. Find a way to record your story in whatever way your voice is expressed. Everybody feels and everybody has some way of expressing those feelings. Some people draw, other people talk, others write or take photographs. No matter how you express yourself, use it as a source of comfort and a record for yourself - even if it ends up just being for you.

Time to open up the conversation. Did you write about your cancer experience? Share your comments and a link to your blog post below!

Living with cancer is much different than dying of cancer. Check back next week to find out how Michael's life was altered by his cancer experience and how he made the necessary changes.

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MichaelSolomon's picture
Michael Solomon is a New York-born writer and award-winning documentary film producer. He has written numerous screenplays, essays, and short stories. Most recently, he wrote "Now It's Funny: How I Survived Cancer, Divorce and Other Looming Disasters," a memoir about his experience with Lymphoma (and everything else that was going on at that time). You can buy the book on Amazon and iTunes - it is even available for Kindle and Nook!