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Breast Cancer Warriors

What my cancer journey taught me about strength.

Even though receiving a breast cancer diagnosis at the age of 47 was devastating, I would not allow it to sidetrack me from my life’s path. If anything, it would inspire me to fight even harder for my life. The year was 2001, just months before the World Trade Centers tumbled to the ground, and everything was going extremely well in my life. I had a strong marriage and three beautiful children. My writing career was taking off, and I had a lot to live for.

After my gynecologist phoned with the news, I placed the telephone down and sat on the sofa in my office, a place where I often contemplated creative ideas. But at that moment, all I could do was stare blankly into space. My daughter, Regine, came into the room and gently sat beside me. She placed her arm around me, and the first thing she said was, “Mom, you always told me to turn negatives into positives, so I’m thinking there must be a book in all of this.” At the age of 16, she was wise beyond her years.

Although writing a book sounded daunting, I knew after coming to grips with the idea of cancer growing inside of me, that I’d want to share my story with the universe. 

Like other life challenges, such as losing my grandmother to suicide, I knew that my chosen path was to learn from the experience, and like a warrior navigate it graciously, and then help others navigate their own journey. While, in a short time, I’d have to have a breast removed—the part of me that had nursed three babies and that represented my womanhood, I would not allow myself to be defined by my diagnosis. Instead, I would be challenged and riveted to become an even better person. I was ready to bear the burden. I valued life and wasn’t ready to face death. 

Since childhood, writing had been my passion and way of coping with difficult times. I also knew that for me writing meant leaving a mark for the world, and a way to transform others. In spite of a loving and supportive family, the turmoil, fear, and uncertainty of those times was unrelenting. Thankfully, an early diagnosis and my passion for journaling saved me. I felt blessed to be able to express myself through writing. 

Back then and up until today, as a writer (and former nurse), I’ve taught writing for healing and transformation, and believe that it’s a critical when going through difficult times. My breast-cancer journal eventually evolved into a self-help memoir called Healing with Words: A Writer’s Cancer Story, and my hope was to help others navigating similar challenges. More recently, I’ve published a book called, Writing for Bliss: A Seven-Step Plan for Telling Your Story and Transform Your Life and Writing for Bliss: A Companion Journal,  which continues to inspire people to write their own stories. 

I received many letters from other women who remarked on my courage in sharing my story and also my positive attitude. People called me a “woman warrior” because I paved the way for their own healing by inspiring them to think positively and write about their journeys. 

For those of us who are survivors, even though incisions heal and we get back to our routines, the emotional and physical scars of having had breast cancer remain for the rest of our lives. 

My passion for journaling began during my childhood when my mother gave me a Kahlil Gibran journal to help me cope with the loss of my maternal grandmother and caretaker, who’d died in my childhood home. Since then, I’ve used writing to help me heal. Now, my mission is to share my passion and teach others to do the same. In fact, my doctoral research dealt with writing memoirs for healing and transformation.

Here is some advice I’ve shared in my book and in my writing workshops for embarking on the writing process: 

  • Find a quiet, uninterrupted time and place to write.
  • Choose a notebook and pen or pencil that inspires creativity.
  • Use a centering ritual (light a candle, play music, meditate, stretch).
  • Take deep breaths.
  • Put aside your inner critic.
  • Date your entries.
  • Begin by writing down your feelings and sensations.
  • Write nonstop, starting with 15 to 20 minutes at a time.
  • Save everything you’ve written.
  • Schedule a regular writing time each day.

In essence, there’s no “easy” way for us to be woman warriors. There are many concerns, issues, decisions, hurdles, and milestones involved, but there are also many high points, and it’s important that we remember to celebrate those!

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