Writing to Heal

You don't have to be Bob Dylan to benefit from expressive writing

You don’t have to be Bob Dylan to benefit from expressive writing

I am a writer by trade. When I was going through chemotherapy my friends urged me to write a blog. Write a blog? I thought, No way! – because A: it’s work, and B: who on earth would want to read a blog about somebody having cancer? Not me.

One day, en-route to the hospital and bedecked with headscarf, chandelier earrings, red lipstick and dark glasses, I stepped into my friend Jamie’s car to be greeted with his remark, ‘You’re really working the chemo chic look today girl.’ And that was it – a blog was born: Chemo Chic – A Guide to Surviving Cancer With Style. And then a book: The Elegant Art of Falling Apart. And then this website: The Chemo Chic Project.

All the way through my illness I wrote and wrote. On occasions it was difficult to describe the ghastliness of the chemo, the tediousness of the radiotherapy and the fear and desolation that I sometimes experienced. Other times it was pure joy to write about the silliness of encounters with my doctors, the kindness of the nurses and the love that landed on me in unexpected ways from all of my friends. No matter what I wrote about, after writing I always felt better.

My instinct was, and is, that writing is good for you but there is more to this than just my fancy. Continue reading

Not the Year You Had Planned

Cathy McCarthy was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2007. She had surgery, 6 sessions of chemotherapy and 33 sessions of radiotherapy. Having recovered  from the treatment she feels blessed to now be so well. She describes her bout with cancer as an opportunity to get living:

May you find the wisdom to listen to your illness? Ask it why it came, where it wants to take you What it wants you to know, What quality of space it wants to create in you What you need to learn to become more fully yourself That your presence may shine in the world. – John O’Donohue

It is a great shock to be diagnosed with any form of cancer. It takes a while to filter the information and to believe that you are the one with the cancer.

When I was diagnosed I decided I was going to make the most of the unexpected year in my life. It was not the year I had planned, but it was the year I had been given. Continue reading

Coping With New Chemotherapy Research

A human fibroblast cell

In the past month research has been published that suggests that chemotherapy may cause cancers to return. The news is all over the internet, of course, and is presented differently by various groups according to their interests.

For several days I refused to read any of the articles. I don’t want to know about that, I thought. But this is important information, you have to read about it. Well, let me just say this: nobody HAS to read about anything if they don’t want to and no-one can make you. But this research Continue reading

Gaby We Miss You

My beautiful cousin Gaby succumbed to cancer on the 17th of October 2008. She was a wonderful artist, funny, kind, clever and brave. Above all she was humane. I miss her every day.

This tribute to Gaby was composed and performed by the very talented Rory Lankester. I still cry every time I see it.

If you would like to pay tribute to someone you love, please get in touch.

Things I Wish I’d Known Before #2 – How to Break Bad News

I found that telling my friends and family that I had cancer was way harder than receiving the news myself. I was so concerned about upsetting them – or crying myself – that I often ended up putting a jokey spin on things or being utterly deadpan.

There is no easy way to do this…

How not to break bad news: “Guess what?” “Ummm, you’ve won the lottery?” “No! Guess again…”

Don’t beat around the bush: “You know I had an appointment at the hospital?” “Yeeees” “Well I went there it was such a hassle to park and then I couldn’t find the place and then I waited for ages and when I finally went in to see the doctor he sent me upstairs and I had to wear one of those hideous gowns, you would have laughed, then I had a mammogram, it’s not nearly as painful as I thought it would be, then I went for an ultrasound scan and anyway it turns out I’ve got breast cancer. Tah-dah!”

Give it to them straight: “I’m afraid I have bad news to tell you. (Resist the temptation to pause dramatically here, just get on with it) I’ve been diagnosed with cancer.” That’s it. Now just stop and listen, even if there is nothing to listen to.

Don’t bombard them with information, just to fill in the silence.  Continue reading

A Prayer

This weekend, Eloise Cook is marking the end of her year of cancer with a big party. As well as celebrating with her friends and family she has worked through her memories of the last year in a prayer. “It feels like a full stop,” says Eloise, “It feels welcome”.

Expectant

My fingers found the lump with a jolt.

I knew it was alien, other, not quite right, not meant to be there

But I had no concerns, only curiosity.  Continue reading

Acceptance is the Key to Freedom

We were utterly blown away by Sim Warren’s unexpected news of remission. After she’d finished partying all night, we asked her to tell us a bit more about what happened:

Last July I was told that the chemo for my relapsed lymphoma had not worked. My tumour had in fact grown. I was given ‘options’.

Option  A – stronger chemo, then more chemo, then a bone marrow transplant. This carried a significant risk of death or long term morbidity (a posh term for other conditions caused by the treatment, for example: heart disease; leukaemia and hypothyroidism).  Continue reading