To Answer Your Question: Why I Write the Journey…

LBBC is hosting its first writing series: Writing the Journey.

For more information about the fall writing series, visit LBBC’s website.

If writing has played a role in your breast cancer experience to date, or you would like to explore the healing value of telling your story, you are cordially invited to register for this 6-part workshop.

This entry was written by  certified poetry therapist and breast cancer survivor Alysa Cummings who will be leading Writing the Journey.

His name is Boris.  He is trying to kill me.  I won’t let him.

And so my CancerLand journal began: with three short sentences, a stream of words that had been swirling around in my head for days.

Days that otherwise had been spent in and around the health care delivery system, visiting assorted doctors (gynecologist, radiologist, breast surgeon, oncologist), for painful tests followed by frightening results.

I remember endless crying jags and repeated phone calls to my insurance company. In my bedroom at night I would stand in front of my full-length mirror, my shirt hiked up high on one side, and stare at my upper body – shocked and wide-eyed, hypnotized by my reflection, all the while muttering to myself, “so this is what cancer looks like.  So this is what cancer feels like.”

His name is Boris. He is trying to kill me…I repeated these words under my breath like a prayer, my very own disease mantra.  Call it the ravings of the recently diagnosed, but the words helped me focus – on the next decision, the next appointment, the next step on the path. The words also kept me slightly sane, all things considered; imagine talking yourself down from the ledge.  The words begged to be tapped out on a keyboard, so I followed the urge, liked how it made me feel in the moment and then just kept typing.

I hate Boris.  Boris has been lurking in my chest for ten years possibly, hiding, madly multiplying, growing, only now choosing to make his obnoxious presence felt.

Who was Boris?  (Yes, I confess that I named my tumor, personifying him as Boris Badunov of Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon fame). Writing about Boris and plotting his imminent demise helped me wrestle with my first real demon – that I had no control. Never had, never would. Over anything related to cancer, which by its very definition, means life out of control.

Boris. Foreign.  Evil. Pint-sized.  If I can picture my enemy I can fight him; at the very least I can write about him. Am I writing for my life?

I fantasized that I could somehow use my computer to craft a story with an upbeat next chapter.  Or a fairy tale, happily-ever-after ending. Looking back, that’s the only explanation I can come up with, why I felt so compelled to create a record of my day-to-day experiences as a cancer patient. The one thing I could control were these words that crowded each other as they quickly appeared on my computer screen; these stories that flowed through my fingertips in such a manic rush; these traumatic adventures that happened to me in a place I began to call CancerLand.

~excerpt from Greetings from CancerLand (chapter 3 in Writing Away the Demons edited by Sherry Reiter, North Star Press, 2009).

Thirteen years later and yes, I’m still at it, still writing it down.  Only now my CancerLand stories and poems are more about the challenges of survivorship than the rigors of cancer treatment. But, you know what? There are still lots of stories to share.  And telling them always makes me feel better. Lighter.  Less the victim.  More whole, inside and out.  But the best feeling of all is helping other ladies find their voices so that they can tell their stories too.

That’s why there’s an empty seat with your name on it at the upcoming six-part Writing the Journey workshop series to be held at Cherry Hill Public Library beginning Thursday, September 22nd.

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