Dear Reader, Writer, Survivor, Friend...
I've heard of people who accept a cancer diagnosis with stoicism or even grace, but I am not among them.
When my doctor phoned to tell me that eleven of the twenty-seven tissue sections taken from my breast were malignant, the blood drained from my head and all went black. Over the course of my forty-two years, I had never lost consciousness. In fact, prior to that moment, I secretly believed that fainting was reserved for the weak of heart and for melodramatic stage actresses. Yet, when I managed to recover the phone from the floor near my feet and attempted to listen to my doctor's instructions about surgery appointments and oncology consultations, I fainted again.
That was my first hint of the difficulty I would face processing the strong emotions evoked by cancer. Even with tremendous support from family and friends, I could not parcel out the deep fear, sadness, and grief that came with the knowledge that, ultimately, the fight was mine.
I felt most gripped at night after I'd put the kids to bed, and my exhausted husband had retired to dreams that did not include death, empty seats at graduations, and grandchildren never known. Desperate to purge myself of even a small portion of angst, I began slipping into the closet with my journal, flicking on the light, and letting the fears and ink flow.
During the day, I wrote in snippets -- mostly agonizing over treatment options, evaluating pros and cons, and chronicling the details of every medical visit and procedure.
After surgery and the first few rounds of chemo, I joined a writing group for cancer survivors where I was encouraged to focus and write creatively. During our biweekly sessions, our facilitator provided prompts -- poems, images, and tangible objects -- and asked us to write continuously for a specific amount of time (usually 15 or 20 minutes per exercise). After my first few sessions, I realized that the resulting pieces differed noticeably from the entries in my journal. Instead of ruminations and lists, I'd begun producing drafts of stories and poems.
Although none of my pieces was tied up neatly with a big pink bow, each had taken shape with a distinct beginning, middle, and end, often providing me with a degree of closure.
Writing gradually helped me to feel less consumed by cancer and all of its ramifications. Sharing with my peers, and recognizing myself in their powerful, poignant prose made me feel validated and much less alone.
I did not know, do not know, to what degree the physical aspects of my disease have been impacted by my writing (although scientific studies suggest that beneficial physiological changes can occur when writing regularly about traumatic events*), but my outlook and the quality of my life began to improve dramatically. It was during this time, in late 2003, that the concept for this journal was born. As much as, or more than, anything else, writing creatively helped me to come to terms with my disease. I know of many other individuals for whom this is true.
Taking the Survivor's Review from concept to reality would not have been possible without the support of many. I'm especially grateful to all of the cancer survivors who share their candid prose in this journal. Also, to Dr. Sharon Bray for providing unlimited encouragement for this project. Kudos to our webmaster extraordinaire, Larry Snyder, for volunteering so many hours to design and update this site. I must also thank my "Ladies Lodge" group of writers for their years of support and for their suggestions regarding this site. And, my writing partner, Alison, for nudging me along when I needed it. A kiss to my husband, Dan, for folding an untold number of loads of laundry while I hibernated with my laptop. And a hug to my mother, Claire, my biggest cheerleader from day one.
I feel very grateful to have the opportunity to connect with so many fellow survivors. If you haven't already done so, please join our email list so we can alert you to future issues.
In the meantime, we hope you are moved by the stories, essays and poems in our features section. For advice and prompts on getting started with your own writing, access this issue's guest contributor by clicking Write Now! And if you've written a piece that explores the heart of one or more aspects of living with cancer, please consider touching the souls of other survivors by submitting your work to us.
We always welcome your comments and suggestions.
I wish for you good health and many blessings on your journey.
Sheree Kirby lives in Northern California with her husband and children. In July of 2011, Sheree received her Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers. Before embarking on a full-time teaching and writing career, she spent several years as the Executive Director of a non-profit health foundation. Her early published work consisted primarily of articles, essays, and columns for the San Jose Mercury News, United Parenting Publications, Parenthood.com, Bay Area Oncology News, Walk About Magazine, KQED, and others. Sheree has been fortunate to have studied first-person writing with former San Francisco Chronicle columnist, Adair Lara; fiction with novelist and editor, Ellen Sussman; and expressive writing with author, educator and speaker, Sharon Bray, Ed.D. Sheree is frequently spotted rollerblading on the paved trails near her home.
* Click resources for links to books by James W. Pennebaker, the pioneer of Emotional Expressive Therapy. Or access an article summarizing his work at http://www.psychologymatters.org/pennebaker.html.