I’d never considered myself a writer and didn’t harbour any long-burning ambitions to launch a literary career, but I found myself turning to writing in 2015 after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
To say that the news came as a shock would be an understatement, and confronted with so many new things to process — new words, yo-yoing emotions and physical changes — I found myself, somewhat surprisingly, turning to pen and paper.
I retreated from the world, as do many people with cancer, but at least had a companion in writing. Over the coming months I found poetry as a wonderful way to express myself, organise my thoughts, keep those closest to me informed and a simple way to keep a record of how far I’d come.
Thankfully, I got the ‘all clear’ earlier this year and have published my poems in Be With Me, It’s C. I didn’t do this because I think I’m the next Wordsworth. My hope is that it acts as a trigger to encourage others to write down their feelings.
To give further encouragement, here are my top eight reasons why writing can help through breast cancer.
You May Not Feel Like Talking
When something significant happens in your life like the big C, you cannot predict how you will act. You may wish to tell the world or simply hide in the smallest room in your home and never come out. Writing gives you a personal channel to express yourself, on your own terms and in your own time. Whether you are writing for yourself, or for others, the most important thing is that you are communicating.
A Support For Your Mental Health
After you receive the diagnosis you will likely experience a wide flurry of emotions, and this will continue throughout your treatment and beyond, with different emotions being encountered at different stages. It’s true to say that it is a mental health journey as well as a physical one, and it is important to be able to process those feelings rather than bottling them up, which can lead to depression. Expressing your inner-most thoughts and committing it to paper is an important step in understanding how you are feeling at that point in time.
It Is Your Companion
The wonderful thing about paper is that it does not judge, respond or answer back. This is purely about you. If you are struggling, angry, confused or overwhelmed, write to your friend the paper. Tell it exactly what is going on. Let it help you deal with getting the emotion out.
Your piece of paper is always there for you, 24/7. You don’t know when you will need to get something out; typically, it is when you least suspect it and could be in the middle of the night, when writing down your thoughts it could bring some peace of mind and the chance of a decent night’s sleep.
Your Quiet Time
Whether prompted to write because of an appointment, news article or conversation, there is also significant benefit by purposefully taking time out to understand your inner reflections. Whether it’s just before receiving results, going into the next stage of treatment or six months after getting the all-clear and trying to re-gain your life, how are you really doing? Be truthful, you may surprise yourself.
Breaks The Awkward
Friends and loved ones really do want to know how you are doing but are always in a predicament. Will they upset you by asking? How probing should they go? If they don’t ask, will you think they don’t care? By writing a small piece at key moments of your journey (it doesn’t have to be the deeper emotions; that is private to you), not only will it help to process very complicated appointments with lots of new jargon and bring self-healing, it will bring your closest friends and family along with you.
You may be in hibernation mode but still wish for people to know how you are. Sending a written update to close family and friends will prevent you from having to answer the same questions over and over again.
It Will Act As Positive Encouragement
Emotions and your experiences do not finish at the end of treatment. You may have side effects from chemo and/or hormone tablets; issues getting back into life; moments of anxiety or emotive decisions about breast reconstruction etc. At these points, reading your previous most inner feelings will make you realise that even though the journey hasn’t ended, you have travelled a very long way.
Be With Me, It’s C by Avril Chester is available now, priced £6.99, from Amazon UK. At least 10 per cent from every book sold will be donated to Breast Cancer Care. Follow Avril on Twitter at @bewithmeitsc.