A few months ago I was contacted by a a fellow member of a colorectal cancer web discussion board to simply talk about cancer and writing and how we both are fairing. We shared a number of emails and then a phone call during which I learned that John is a professor of rhetoric at Stanford University, that he is working on a book of essays with another writer/cancer patient to be given to cancer patients for free. The intent is to discuss the many emotional aspects of cancer in a manner that hopefully will help the newly diagnosed and those undergoing treatment to better understand how they are handling their emotional response to the disease.
It is not intended to be a How-To, but rather an honest discussion that includes the thoughts and reminiscences of a number of people that have experience with the disease. As we talked John asked if I would contribute an essay to a chapter he was working on that would discuss why we write about cancer and what we hope to gain from it. As I continue to think about and work on my memoir of my experiences, a number of ideas came flooding into my mind as to what I could write. I thought of something that another writer had said, which is, "Writing is an act of nonconformity," and wondered how I could use that because it was true that writing is a means to protest cancer and to react to it as if it were a seperate living being that people battle. And then I thought of why I started writing, which was to address my loneliness and that I wanted life to be more than the suburban boredom that it was. And then I remembered the teacher who read that piece and the words of encouragement I received and from that moment on I had cast off my boyhood ideas of being an EMT or glass blower and decided I wanted to be a writer. So here I am, a writer, such as it is.
But none of those really captured what it is that I have learned and gained as I've written about my experiences because writing about cancer, or any illness, is more about seeing what is unseen; that which lays slightly beneath the surface, in corners and periphery of our vision. It is about reliving experience in a controlled environment where we can see from some perspective what the experience meant and what all of the individual and smaller elements of that experience meant at the time and what they mean now. Writing about illness is about gaining visiibility into sickness, understanding our responces to it as well as the reactions of those nearest to us, and then being able to place what has happened and is happening into its rightful place in our memory and frame of context.
So I wrote about that and sent it to John yesterday.
Then on the very same discussion board I saw a post from a woman describing a blog by a woman named Kairol Rosenthal so I followed the link and read a bit more about Kairol. She is suffering from incurable thyroid cancer and has written a book titled "Everything Changes," which is an examination of what it means to be a cancer patient when a person is essentially younger than 40. It is one thing to have cancer at an older age, but quite another to be diagnosed with the disease when you are just starting life and once seemingly had so much time and opportunity ahead of you. The emotional response to the disease and diagnosis is unique and one that has been underserved by the oncology world for quite some time. So Kairol bought a digital recorder and sought out people she could talk to about their experience with cancer. She then took all of that information and those voices and created her book, which has recently been published by Wiley (her blog is here: http://everythingchangesbook.com).
To be honest, I have not read the book yet (I will start today), but I look forward to it because it will offer a glimpse into how others have experienced this disease and I will have the opportunity to learn more not just about the range of experiences, but in how I have experienced it. Combined, Kairol's and John's books will go a long way toward helping people better understand what it means to have cancer and why we described ourselves as cancer survivors even as so many of the people we have met along the way have died.
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.