I recently was asked why people write about illness; what about it do they find solace in or are they trying to accomplish in terms of healing and/or coping after a cancer diagnosis and treatment?
We all do it for different reasons, but here is my answer copied below:
"To answer your question with regard to why write about the experience of cancer and what my motivation is. First, I am a writer and it is my fundamental nature to want to write about my life, the people in it and my experiences. All of my creative writing--whether it is fiction (there are some samples on my website) or nonfiction--contain at least some elements of what I have experienced. So for me writing about cancer is a very natural thing to do. My second motivation is to get something out into the publishing world on cancer that goes beyond the bulk of writing that is out there, which is to take a more literary approach to the experience and story telling of my experience. There are a lot of books that act as how-to guides as well as a great many by women and their experience of breast cancer, but there are very few, if any, that are written by writers and that take a literary eye to the telling of the story. It also seems that because of this there hasn't been a piece of writing that truly gets into the psychology, emotion, and physicality of the experience as well as the interplay between various relationships that we as humans have to ourselves and our bodies as well as to our children, family, friends, other cancer patients, doctors, and the larger world.
"This experience of having cancer requires the ability to tell it as a compelling story in order to present it for the complexity that it represents. So many books focus on a single element or are written to tell something of a surface level story or are filled with cliches about cancer and doctors and the reactions of others to people with cancer. So I asked myself how could I get beyond that and get into a mature, frank, and compellingly honest expression of what cancer means. My natural inclination then was to begin writing as compelling and complex of a story that I could and placing it within as literary a framework as I possibly could.
"From a writer's perspective, rectal cancer (or colon cancer for that matter) feels like a perfect vehicle for that because it is not confined to one gender, nor is it rare or directly the result of some larger issue such as smoking or asbestos. In addition, there is the fact that in my case my body has been forever disfigured with a colostomy, which means that the emotional and relationship issues of me to self and people goes beyond just the disease itself, but into a much larger issue/question of what are you willing to trade for a cure or at least the extension of life? And what are your motivations for making these trades (for me it was the desire to be in my children's lives as well as to live)? So there is this amazingly broad scope of issues and elements to be explored by using this one disease as a point of leverage. And the larger good that could come of it is greater awareness among people generally of what cancer and the experience of cancer really is. It is not one thing--all chemo and cancers are not alike nor are people's reactions to them. Instead, cancer et al is a diverse and very human experience and must be taken within the context of the disease and the person experiencing the disease.
"That's a rather personal reason for why I am writing about my cancer experience, but I think there is a broader reason why so many people feel compelled to write about cancer as well as other traumatic events, which is that it gives us the chance to safely and privately reexperience them and reexamine how we dealt with it all and how we are doing at the process of coping and healing both physically and emotionally. I know that for me, as I have written I have not only reexperienced many emotions, thoughts and events during the cancer, but I have come to realize that every tool that I brought to the battle is the result of the experiences I have garnered throughout my life. Therefore, to tell my story and properly analyze my experience of it I have to talk about my past experiences and bring them into the larger conversation. The writing cannot simply be a linear progression of events leading to the end of treatment and recovery, but a look back at the defining moments in life that led me to be the person that I am and that provided me with the emotional tools to deal with cancer as well as other issues such as divorce or financial instability or what have you. The trick, though, is to not be too narcissistic about it, which I think a lot of cancer memoirs can devolve into--ergo the cliches about doctors and losing hair and so on. I think people have trouble with being honest about themselves, which is why there may be two types of writers--those who are seeking to tell a publishable story and those who write privately for the reasons noted at the start of this paragraph (e.g. to help them work through the complexity of issues that arise from cancer). I would imagine, and I have no real data, that those stories that are published tend to be along the lines of "Here's what I did" while more private/honest writing focuses on here's what I felt and thought."
Causes James Buchanan Supports
Expanding health care in the US, ending war as a viable tool of foreign policy, and issues related to social justice in general.