Sharing Your Cancer Story

“Each person living with cancer has a story to tell, but some may choose not to share it because of its personal nature,” writes one survivor. In this piece, she describes how she found a way to give her story words.

When the coronavirus made its way into our country and we were told to shelter in place, I wondered what I’d do without the ability to do what I loved most: travel. Staying home was not my idea of fun. Oh, sure, I could binge watch shows on Netflix or learn new skills on YouTube, but those wouldn’t keep my interest for long. I wondered what worthwhile project I could attempt and that’s when I heard a little voice inside my head saying, “Tell your story.”

Those three little words haunted me for days. What story did I have to tell and who would I tell it to, anyway? Being cooped up inside the house, I didn’t have much of an audience. How could I tell my story if there was no one to listen? That’s when I remembered a beautiful leather journal I’d been given. That was a eureka moment. I could write my story.

Opening the journal, the smell of rawhide in my nostrils, I began to flip through the parchment pages. Pen in hand, there was so much I wanted to say, but had no idea where to begin. “Begin at the beginning…" words from a favorite childhood movie, “Alice in Wonderland,” echoed.

At first, as I began to record memories about my experience with breast cancer, the words came forth as a small trickle. But then, it felt as if a dam burst open as memories came flooding back. I found myself thinking about everything – from the most insignificant blood test to the painful procedure of having my breasts removed. As I continued to write, I moved on to living life after cancer and how I was finding out new things about who I was and what I wanted out of life. It was amazing to see how cancer had changed me.

Some days I only scribbled a few words, like “I’m scared!” or “I hate cancer!” Other days, I wrote pages of details including feelings, hopes and dreams. Writing was cathartic. When I’d finished telling my story, I realized I had enough material to compile into a book and set that as a future goal.

Each person with cancer has a story to tell. Some may find sharing challenging. It’s not always easy to be open about such personal things, especially when they are related to one’s health. It can be a big decision and one that needs to be weighed carefully. But others may find sharing a form of therapy.

The first thing to consider in the decision to share a cancer story is the audience. Would you feel comfortable to begin sharing with a small group of family and friends, or would a larger audience be preferable? Focus on your comfort level and proceed accordingly.

A story doesn’t have to be written; it can be shared in many ways. Cellphones are great tools and can be used for recording quick thoughts or snapping a few photos. One thing to remember – if shooting photos of medical personnel, facilities or equipment, it’s best to ask permission first.

Another tool for documenting a cancer story is through use of an online blog. A blog is like an online diary. Privacy settings allow the user control of sharing publicly or privately. There are many free online blogging websites. Some of the most popular are Wix, WordPress and CaringBridge. CaringBridge is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with hosting done in the United States. Online blogs are also a convenient way for the person with cancer to update loved ones without having to constantly repeat information.

For those wishing to record more than words, online video diaries are a great way to share a cancer story. Sites like YouTube or Google Video offer free hosting and accounts.

Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are free and make sharing almost instantaneous. Be sure to read the privacy settings for each site and become aware of the do’s and don’ts of posting.

Sharing a cancer story is a very personal decision and may be painful for some, but it can also provide a healing outlet for others.

For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE®’s newsletters here.