A blog about writing and all things story…
My cancer doesn’t have a month. You know, when everyone runs, raises money, wears pink and celebrates the boobs
or testicles they do or do not have, grateful for life. Yet in all of those festivities I, too, rejoice in the joy of surviving. And as a writer I believe that all life experiences are fodder for the pen, including illness.
Those community events are great rituals for people; they aid in their healing whether they are the victors of disease and loss, or family members left behind. I’ve been both. Both are hard life lessons.
For me, the victor without a month, without a celebration, a run, or a color, my healing ritual is writing.
Based on an emotionally challenging medical schedule, I’ve developed a rite of my own. Every ninety-days my doctor orders my blood testing so he can determine if my calcitonin levels have increased or decreased. If they have then its high alert; possibly an MRI, and possibly surgery, again. Raised levels indicate the tumor in my throat has grown. As long as it doesn’t grow, I can live with the amount of cancer left behind. It’s on my vocal chords and to eradicate it fully may cause a permanent loss of voice. SO, when it increases I choose to have it cut out as much as possible, then live with the (maybe 2%) remaining. We keep a close eye on it and I live my life. It’s like living with a knife at your throat, literally.
Having a knife at your throat gets your attention. It sharpens your focus on goals and life in general. What you want to do and who you want to do it with become paramount. This is great for goal setting!
So, every ninety-days when I have my blood testing, I also reassess my writing objectives. What do I want to write this year? What emotions or issues do I want to explore in my next novel or short story?
It is as important to set writing and life goals as it is to reassess them when life changes, and I guarantee you your life can change with one tiny prick of a needle.
After my fasting blood draw (24 hours no food or COFFEE) I sprint from the hospital to a coffee shop for, you guessed it, food and coffee. If they had an intravenous drip with espresso I’d be hooked up in the coffee shop corner. As my blood sugar levels out and the caffeine kicks in, I write, old school; pen and paper. Old school because of the connection from the brain to the hand – it’s been proven to be more effective when writing to heal. It’s also the method of choice for a lot of writers while in creative mode. I find that when mining bottomless emotion pen to paper excavates more deeply than typing.
It always takes up to seven-days to get the blood test results back. During those days thoughts spiral through my head; what will they say? “The tumor has grown . . . we must do surgery again . . . you may not live.” These tortuous thoughts used to cause sleepless nights, but the last few years I’ve reigned them in. I also do this little trick on myself and convert my fears into hopeful statements;
“The tumor has NOT grown . . . we WILL NOT do surgery . . . you WILL live A LONG AND HAPPY LIFE.”
During that time of trepidation and anxiety I have learned to tap into those emotions and use them in my writing. Doing this helps me gain perspective, relate to others who suffer loss or dis-ease, and it aids me in writing (to the best of my ability) with universal humanity. Everyone has fears and hopes, that’s what makes those themes universal. Utilizing my conversion trick as a writer’s craft tool helps me identify with my character’s motivations.
Writing has become my ritual and restorative tool. This year as I compose my next novel, Garden of Lies, I am consciously exploring anger and survivors guilt through my characters who are holocaust survivors. Obviously I cannot truly relate to being a victim of the holocaust, but I can capture my fear of death, dying, and never seeing loved ones again. I then can compellingly imbue my characters with that borrowed emotion. I can write about the desire to live, love, and to just see the world one more day.
If my cancer did have a month I’d like it to be April. Partly because of Easter, a season full of hope and rebirth which is what I feel every time I get a positive blood test, like I just did. But mostly because in April my sleeping garden sends up courageous sprouts and confident buds, fingers reaching for the sun, ready to uncoil their delicate blossoms to the world for one glorious but fleeting season of conveying joy and beauty into the hearts of all who behold. These enthusiastic spring offerings remind me of life. I want to bring inspiration when I can, and like those blossoms, I am awake to the fact that I live on the edge of mortality, that the next blood test may not be positive and the next spring may come and go without me tending the next reawakening of my garden, so I tend it now.
Through my writing I share optimism about this inescapable season in my life. By sharing I endeavor to inspire even one person who suffers, letting them know that spring comes, be glorious, bring beauty and joy to the world because winters cloak falls on us all, and this is the way of life – we are but a season, a seed, a fragile garden. Time is fleeting, so set goals, reassess them regularly, convert fears to hopes, and use every life experience in your writing as a way to connect with humankind. 🙂
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Author, Editor, Speaker, Storytelling Coach, Writing Instructor, and Director of The Outlaw's Journey Prison Writing Project
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