The Benefits Of Writing About Your Cancer Experience
In 2017, we published a great article by a young writer that inspired many and had a few of you asking where is she now! Today we have an update from Sam Rose and her story of what she's doing after beating cancer.
I hope you enjoy and follow her journey!
Finding Benefits In Writing About A Cancer Experience
In 2017, I wrote an article for Dancing With Fireflies on Fulfilling A Passion For Travel After Cancer. I explained how my various trips in Europe and the US, as well as at home in the UK, fitted in between my medical appointments and after I was given the all-clear from colon cancer. Travel still remains something I’m really passionate about. Unfortunately, cancer is also something that’s stuck around.
In my first article, I explained that I’d been diagnosed with colon cancer in 2010 at the age of 22 and Lynch syndrome in 2011, a genetic condition that makes people more likely to get certain types of cancer. Well, in 2018, I was diagnosed with duodenal cancer and uterine cancer, both within two days of each other. Cue four months of two medical teams trying to decide what to do with me and how to tackle both of these diagnoses. The result was a hysterectomy in September 2018 and a Whipple surgery in November. Whipple surgery is a big surgery that involved removing the duodenum (part of the small intestine); the head of the pancreas, the bile duct, and the gall bladder. The operation took eight hours, and I was in the high dependency unit for two days and in hospital for a total of ten days. My hysterectomy means my partner and I cannot have biological children, so cancer has been hard in lots of ways.
My experiences with cancer
I’ve become passionate about exploring the emotional effects of cancer survivorship, which are numerous and difficult. Think fear of recurrence, poor body image, lack of trust in your own body, post-traumatic stress, nightmares, intrusive memories, and more. The first time around, all of that was really unexpected for me. It’s the bit they don’t warn you about. I think there needs to be a lot more conversation around the emotional effects of cancer survivorship in clinical settings, in the media, and in society.
What I've done since my Cancer-Free Diagnosis
I decided to get my Ph.D., and my thesis is on how creative writing can help cancer survivors to cope with these issues. I’m now in the second year of my Ph.D., and I’m enjoying it a lot. Separately from that, something else I’m really pleased to have done is writing my memoir. I started writing it in 2019 and have now published it, which is really exciting! The book Gut Feelings: Coping With Cancer and Living With Lynch Syndrome spans the time from my first diagnosis in 2010 to recovering from my surgeries in 2018. It covers not just the physical and medical aspects but the emotional issues so important to me and many other cancer survivors I’ve spoken to.
Many things in my life have happily continued outside of cancer, and I've had some new and exciting experiences. I still live with my partner of now 14 years, and in 2020 we bought our first house together. We lived in a small flat that he owned, but we both own this house and absolutely love it. I'm also still working at my job in a digital marketing agency, where I am now Head of Content, and I've been there for seven years. Outside of work, I'm, of course, working on my Ph.D. and my various writing passion projects, as well as my literary magazine, Peeking Cat Literary, and its new accompanying podcast Speaking Cat. In terms of travel, I'm visiting Orlando every couple of years when I can (though the pandemic has put a hold on that, of course), and in 2019, as you'll read in my book, my parents and I visited Iceland for the first time! I realize that trauma like cancer doesn't happen in isolation, and there are so many great things that happen between and despite diagnoses. That's what gives me hope.
Writing a book brings up hard memories.
The book was challenging to write because all the things that happened with my diagnoses and surgeries are hard to revisit, but it was also useful to write. It helped me organize my thoughts, and I feel good to have written it all down in one finalized work body. I tried to inject the natural dark humor I often employ around my illness, as well as revisiting the great things that happened in between – like all my traveling. I wanted the book to be an optimistic read and not all doom and gloom because illness doesn’t exist in a vacuum. There are plenty of experiences that shone a light even during my darkest days.
I hope that my book will help people who have had the same experiences as me – whether that’s colon, womb, or duodenal cancer, Lynch syndrome, or having a colostomy bag or an internal pouch. I hope the book makes people like me feel less alone and also hopeful for the future. Yes, cancer is incredibly difficult, both emotionally and physically. But there is also still light to be found in life if you look hard enough.
If you are reading this and you would like to talk to someone about your own cancer experiences, please feel free to reach out to me. I’m on Twitter at @writersamr and my website is https://www.writersam.co.uk.
My memoir, Gut Feelings: Coping With Cancer and Living With Lynch Syndrome, is available on Amazon.