Writing ‘Taught Me to Become’ After Cancer


Writing about my breast cancer experience became cathartic to me, and eventually my journal entries were compiled into a book, “Feisty Righty.”

female hand holding a pen, ready to write in an open journal

Over the next 247 days, I journaled every detail of my cancer journey, documenting the different emotions, thoughts, doctor appointments and fears.

May 1, 2017 was a daunting date that was a bookend by Nov. 2, 2017, which was the worst day of my life. On the other hand, this timeframe brought one of the best days of fighting to overcome triple-positive breast cancer.

After I received a call from my doctor informing me that I had invasive ductal carcinoma and falling into the depths of my deepest nightmare, I sat exhausted in the rubble afterward.

Even though I was scared, in shock and unsure of what to do next, somehow, a clear internal message pushed its way through. I didn’t know if the voice came from the universe or God or if it was the tiny voice hidden deep within my frontal lobe where rational thought is born, but wherever it came from, the message said:

“Journal the experience.”

I didn’t know why. I just knew I’d been tasked with an obligation to fulfill — an assignment. And so, I decided to write.

Over the next 247 days, I journaled every detail of my cancer journey, documenting the different emotions, thoughts, doctor appointments and fears. After my words filled one journal, I opened a new one, and started another, until I had completed a stack of seven. After seven, it was time to stop, so I set my pen down and hid those documented (and difficult) memories inside a cabinet forever.

If I didn’t read the things I had written on those pages, then maybe I’d forget my cancer journey and could move on. I’d build a new normal. Life would become easier.

But that’s not how life works. To further my emotional and mental healing, I had to look. It was the only way to process everything I went through. And so, a year later, I opened that cabinet. I pulled out the seven journals, bringing them back into the light. Selecting a random one, I flipped it open, and with my heart-racing from anxiety, I began to read.

And I read, and read and read. It was gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, but at the same time beautiful, fascinating and inspiring. We cannot hide from our past. It lives inside each of us, and I realized then, in order to heal, I had to embrace everything.

I spent the next four years compiling the details into a book format. Repeatedly, I relived my cancer experience. I cried. Took breaks followed by many deep breaths. But, just like enduring chemotherapy and radiation, I found a way to navigate through the challenging stuff. I embraced my vulnerability. I felt the freedom in speaking my truth and being completely honest about what I went through.

I began to heal.

My pre-cancer self would have stopped me from publishing it. My pre-cancer self would have been too concerned about what people might think. Will I appear too weak? But the post-cancer me, the one that embraces the lessons that a cancer diagnosis taught me, pushed forward, and although the act of putting myself out into the world was intimidating, the post-cancer me decided to live fearlessly, which was a lesson that I learned from having cancer.

And now, the book exists. It’s out there. I gave it a catchy title, "Feisty Righty," and released it into the vast world, which was symbolic because it felt as if I was releasing parts of my journey simultaneously … at least the parts that no longer served me. The day it went live, I felt freedom. I felt fierce. I felt alive.

Cancer has changed me in so many ways, but it has also taught me to become. Become a better version of myself. Become the person I truly am. Become someone who, even when afraid to share a truth or appear vulnerable, is dominant over fear, holding the power to diminish it. And so, much like my healing process, I power through, still healing, to become the person I was born to be.

This post was written and submitted by Jennifer D. James. The article reflects the views of Jennifer D. James and not of CURE®. This is also not supposed to be intended as medical advice.

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