Writing About Cancer

I read a really great article not so long ago by Caroline Crampton, a journalist who had cancer when she was younger. She said she had made a conscious decision not to become a cancer writer, because cancer was part of her past, not part of her present. She said she felt that there we so many other people out there who wrote about cancer so eloquently, she didn’t want to add her voice to the choir – they were all doing it so well, she hadn’t felt the need to participate until the NHS England announced cuts, preventing blood cancer patients from getting second stem cell transplants changed (read about that here).

This article got me to thinking, not just about the fact that we need to make this kind of treatment available to those who need it, but about my decision to write about my cancer diagnosis, treatment and the aftermath.

I hugely respect Caroline’s decision not to write about her cancer. It was literally never a question for me that I would do it, but there were times when I wondered if putting it out there was a terrible mistake. While I’ve been incredibly keen to keep other aspects of my life and my health out of my blog, writing about cancer became my way of processing things. Often times I sat down with my phone, my laptop or a scrap of paper and I’d find myself reliving part of my treatment in tears. Tears which, when retelling the story, with an alternative perspective, I allowed to come out. My incredible counsellor tells me that telling the story in a way in which other people can understand it is a huge part of the healing process.

I made the decision to put this all in the public domain because I was in the fairly privileged position of having a platform on which I could do that and I felt that if something good could come out of my shitty experience, I’d be glad to do it. I didn’t know that it would.  I I felt that it might. I’ve heard from people who’ve found a bit of solace in my words when they were going through a tough time and my blog brought my wonderful friend Kate into my life under decidedly shitty circumstances. Those things made it worth me writing about cancer.

But then I think about my future. I want to be a writer. I love to write. But I don’t want to become a cancer writer. A person who writes solely about cancer. I shouldn’t need to. The tumour has gone. I’m still here and I’m alive. What can I write about other than cancer? How can I create space for the other things I know about and understand and how can I prove myself to be an authority on them, when so much of my life is still mixed up in Cancer-town? How can I persuade people that my words are worth reading?

My career has undoubtedly changed course as a result of my cancer diagnosis and this blog has given me a portfolio of work which, I hope, shows that I’m alright at putting a sentence or two together. That I can do so in a way which is interesting and engaging and hopefully sometimes funny and moving but I still find myself wondering how I can grow and develop. Now that cancer is in my past, what can I write about moving forward? How can I actually say cancer is in the past, when it never bloody is? What can produce the same passion and determination and drive that writing about cancer did? What can I write about that won’t make people go “OHMYGOD IS SHE NOT OVER THAT WHOLE CANCER THING YET?” *nb – no one has actually said that but it’s a genuine concern that I’m just boring everyone to tears.

The answer is that I truly don’t know. I have my fingers in some pies (as one should have often – literally and metaphorically) and I’m trying to move forward but it’s hard to know where to go.

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