by Jerry Waxler
Breast cancer occurs with breath-taking frequency. It will strike one in eight American women in their lifetime, making it a present danger for every woman. To understand more about how that feels, I read Diana Raab’s memoir “Healing With Words: A Writer’s Cancer Journey.” She offers the story of her own journey, detailing the emotional and technical challenges of being diagnosed with cancer, undergoing treatment, and surviving.
Cancer is a strange way to face death, every bit as deadly as a bullet, but without the suddenness. When it strikes, we look back and realize with horror it has been building under the surface. After the diagnosis, cancer patients must continue with ordinary life, getting through each day with dignity, while death lurks in the wings. And even after the cancer has been eradicated, it is never really final, leaving its mark and requiring ongoing courage.
If breast cancer were to surface in a woman in my life, before now I would have been able to offer general compassion. Now Diana Raab has helped me tune in to the details of the situation. From the perspective of a person who has been diagnosed with the disease, she shows me the demoralizing effects, and also the courage, the community support, and the medical procedures that sustained her. (* see note)
For those readers who must cope with cancer, Raab offers some of the wisdom that helped her survive emotionally. Her most important tool, the one she loves and that has contributed to the title of the book, is her belief in the healing power of writing.
Throughout her illness, Raab wrote in her journal regularly, tapping into her heart and mind and pouring words on to the page. Much later, she decided to share her experience with readers, offering us a chance to grow along with her, witnessing her danger and her strength. For readers who are coping with cancer themselves, she includes writing prompts at the end of each chapter. The blank pages silently invite your words, allowing you to transcend the isolation and wordlessness of cancer.
Once you have written in your journal, you may desire to publish your story or you may not. Many aspiring memoir writers ask “why should I write my story?” While there are many reasons to consider, one factor to take into account is the value your story might have for other people. Consider the support that Raab has shared with her readers, and then consider offering your own.
In an interview I will post tomorrow, Diana Raab shares more about writing and sharing this aspect of her life.
Diana Raab believes so deeply in the value of journaling, she edited an entire book on the subject. ” Writers and their Notebooks” contains essays by a number of writers who share their habit of writing in a journal. The essays describe a wide variety of uses for keeping a journal, including self-development, finding a better writing voice, and developing material for publishable pieces. I highly recommend this book for every writer.
(*) Another excellent memoir about a woman who had to traverse these dangerous and troubling experiences was Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg’s book “Sky Begins at your Feet.” See my interview with Caryn by clicking here.
More memoir writing resources
To see brief descriptions and links to all the essays on Memory Writers Network, click here.
To order my short, step-by-step how-to guide to write your memoir, click here.