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Nancy Pierce Morgan

We are honored to introduce Nancy Pierce Morgan, Director of the Arts and Humanities Program at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in Washington D.C., where she leads the expressive writing clinical practice and conducts related research studies. Nancy has generously offered to share her insights and provide practical suggestions from her clinical practice to inspire us to Write Now!


Dr. James Pennebaker and his colleagues have produced much evidence of the health benefits of writing through scientific research. When he suggested expressive writing should be tested in a real world setting, my research team decided that a busy cancer clinic was just the place. With permission, we approached people waiting for physician appointments and asked if they would like to participate in a brief writing study. After providing basic information about their health, they responded in writing to the question, "How has cancer changed you and how do you feel about those changes?" We discovered a significant link between participants who said the writing changed the way they thought about their cancer and reports of improved physical quality of life in subsequent interviews. Our results suggest that a single writing session may have contributed to better health. Just as important, the writing was straight from the heart and beautiful. Our research continues.

Clinical Practice

Writing can fill many needs. We might write to confront, manage, clarify or find a respite from health concerns. At Lombardi we write to rescue parts of life that may have fallen aside since the diagnosis. Universal themes enable the writer to decide which needs to address. The following exercises help affirm that there is much more to life than cancer and that staying connected to life-affirming people, places and events helps us thrive. We write to acknowledge all that we are. Cancer may or may not come up in the writing.

Homecoming -- At various times in our lives, we set out on a journey, away from the familiar to discover new things about the world and ourselves. After, we come home to tell the story of that journey, to educate our people and perhaps establish a new position in the group. Homecoming can be viewed from the perspective of the adventurer, the seeker of wisdom. We can also look at homecoming from the perspective of the family member, friend or teacher who lives in anticipation of welcoming the wanderer home for a day, for a season, or for good. This person is the receiver of the news, the one who congratulates and affirms the worth and new status of the courageous explorer.

Write about a homecoming in your life experience. Describe your own journey, the nature of the homecoming, the personal transformation created by new experiences and the separation from familiar people and circumstances. Or write about the journey of a loved one and your feelings about their long-awaited return.

Daydreaming -- It may get you in trouble in school -- staring out the window, oblivious to the lessons taught, your mind wanders to a place of your choosing. However, a visiting poet once reassured his group of students that daydreaming was creativity in action.

Summer is a perfect time for daydreaming, spending hot lazy days under the shade of an oak tree next to the Potomac, listening to the sound of rushing water near Great Falls, watching birds do an easy dance across the dome of the sky. Your eyes squint with the day's brightness. Soon you're not really sure if you are awake or asleep.

Daydreaming with Mary Oliver is sheer delight. She carries us into the meadow or woods and wraps us in the scents and sounds of that place. Her poem, The Summer Day, invites us to lounge with nature. It can be found in the Writer's Almanac archives. I recommend reading it to set the mood for writing.

Close your eyes, imagine yourself in a favorite summer place, a peaceful oasis far from daily life, an imaginary place if you prefer. Take the deep breaths of one who has no place to go, and nothing to do but daydream. And when you return from your reverie, tell us the story of your daydream.

Moving Toward/Moving Away From -- Life seems to be a process of moving toward, or away from, an event, a personal milestone, an encounter. We might see our life as moving toward certain goals, or escaping current circumstances, a run of bad weather, a troublesome task at work, an undesirable environment. The image we paint of ourselves is looking forward, or looking back, depending on our choice of focus.

Poets seek that place in between - the present - as an oasis for reflection. Shedding concerns about past or future, the poet settles comfortably into the easy chair of this moment, sensing the smells, sounds, savoring the colors and textures, recording the details in symbols and metaphors. In the poet's "present perfect", the anxiety of fight or flight vanishes. An acceptance of what is, an attentiveness to life outside one's life, an escape to the writer's world: these are the poet's gifts.

How would you characterize your life? Are you moving toward or away from events and circumstances? Are there times that you become the poet, achieving the tranquility that is available to you in the present moment?

In addition to research and administrative responsibilities, Nancy leads a writing facilitation training program, and facilitates individual and group workshops. She also manages the publication of Lombardi Voices, an anthology of writing from the Lombardi community. Nancy has written two poetry chapbooks: Writing from Life/ Writing for Life and Last Lessons, and numerous articles about writing and health. She s a contributing author in The Power of Words: Transformative Language Arts Reader, Goldberg, CM, editor, TLA Network/Mammoth Publications 2007.

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