Sharing your feelings through writing can be a beneficial part of the healing process.
Bonnie Annis is a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in 2014 with stage 2b invasive ductal carcinoma with metastasis to the lymph nodes. She is an avid photographer, freelance writer/blogger, wife, mother and grandmother.
Almost three years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time, I didn’t realize how that diagnosis would change my life in more ways than one. Not only did cancer change my body image, my self-esteem and my emotional state, it also became a convenient excuse at times. I found myself using that excuse to avoid committing to social events. Even though the excuse was filled with truth, often I used the excuse “I have cancer,” more than I should have. I gave cancer power over me. I allowed it to become my identity. As time has passed, I’ve gotten tired of living up to the cancer identity. I no longer want to be considered a cancer survivor, although I know I’ll be labeled that for the rest of my life. I’d like to be able to forget I ever had cancer, but that would be unrealistic. It has been the most traumatic experience of my life and it continues to affect me to this day.
The majority of my breast cancer experience has been challenging. I’ve looked at things negatively instead of positively. It’s been difficult getting through surgery, treatment and aftercare. I’m not usually a negative person. Most times, I choose to look at the world through rose-colored glasses, but cancer changed me. I don’t like who I’ve become since that big cancer label got slapped onto my forehead.
It would have been wise for me to attend some type of counseling after diagnosis. I’m sure a professional therapist could have helped me process the many emotions and conflicts I faced. Instead of seeking help, I did the best I could on my own. I tried to navigate the storm alone. I don’t think I did a very good job, but I managed.
Today, in my quest for complete healing, I thought it important to give myself permission to write another letter. Letters are helpful when written in first person and since I’ll not only be writing the letter but receiving it, the words will be filled with truth. My truth.
So much of what we hear in life comes from outside sources: the news, family, friends or co-workers. We soak in all their messages about who we are and how we are doing, but rarely do we ask ourselves what we say about our life. A letter of affirmation is a good way to tell yourself how special and unique you are. There is no correct way to write your letter, but it should be positive and caring. People usually have a tendency to be especially hard on themselves, me included. A positive message coming from one’s self can be powerful and healing.
First of all, decide why you feel a need to write a letter. Do you need to do it to encourage yourself? Do you need to do it as part of your healing process? You may decide not to write a letter to yourself but to your tumor or to your breasts (like this one I wrote to my breasts
or this one to my tumor
) instead. You may need to share some deep, heartfelt feelings you’ve kept private since your diagnosis. Words are cathartic. Words can heal.
After you’ve decided on the type letter you want to write, you might need some journaling prompts to get started. Here are a few:
· What do I want to say specifically to my cancer, tumor or breasts?
· Do I want my letter to be addressed as to an enemy or to a friend?
· How did receiving a diagnosis of cancer make me feel?
· Did I feel scared, angry, betrayed or helpless?
· What have you learned through this experience?
· What has cancer taught you?
· Are there valuable lessons you’d like to share with others?
· What do you like or dislike about your body now?
· Are you missing parts that are no longer there?
· Are you grieving the loss of your body parts?
· What can you do to help yourself heal?
· Can you give yourself permission to speak about your feelings?
· What is the next step you should take on your path toward wellness?
· Are there people you’d like to thank for their love and support?
After you’ve written your letter, what are you going to do with it? You may want to tuck it away for safe keeping. You may want to have a small ceremony where you burn it or destroy it in some way. Whatever you choose, let it be what’s best for you. No one will read the letter unless you share it, so be as open and honest and real as you feel you can be.
There should be no limit to the number of letters you write. Write as many as you feel necessary as often as you need to write them. I will warn you, if you decide to write a letter, be prepared for the emotions that will surface. You may not expect any to arise but I guarantee you, they will.
And now, I’d like to share my letter with you:
Dear breast cancer,
I’m so tired of you! Every single morning, I’m reminded of what you’ve done to my body. As I stand before the mirror, I see the scars you gave me, long, ugly, red scars that will forever mark my body. As I get dressed, I’m frustrated. I can’t wear what I want to wear. I have to choose clothing with larger arms now because of the lymphedema you caused. Why did you have to travel into my lymph nodes? Why couldn’t you have just stayed in my breast?
I’m so angry at you! Every single day, the swelling in my arms causes me discomfort. You’ve made me a complainer! I can’t help it. I don’t want to be a complainer. I want my old life back. I want my body back. And since you’ve come into my life, my relationship with my husband has changed. You’ve stolen from me!
No matter how hard I try, I can’t forget you. I HATE YOU, cancer! I hate what you’ve done to me. I want to be free of you forever, but I don’t know if I ever will. I feel like you’re a rabid dog constantly chasing me and there are some days I feel like you’re chewing ravenously on my ankle and I can’t shake you off.
You’ve made me feel so alone and isolated. I feel like I’m nothing. I feel like I don’t matter. I feel like I’m not a woman any more. Oh, how I wish I’d never met you.
But after telling you how much I hate you, cancer, I do have to say I appreciate you, too. You’ve given me a new outlook. I see life differently now. I treasure time with family and friends. I don’t ever want to take a single moment for granted. You’ve taught me to be more mindful. You’ve taught me to focus on the things that really matter in life and to let go of the things that don’t matter. You’ve reminded me how important it is to love and to forgive, so thank you for that…but I still hate you. Mostly, I hate you because my life will never be the same and I miss my old life. I miss the me I used to be.
Disclaimer: I am no expert on healing or counseling. I have done this for myself and have found it to be helpful.
“Words, once they are printed, have a life of their own.”