Why write?

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The need to express ourselves and to communicate with others about our experiences is part of what it means to be human. The experience of breast cancer brings with it a host of feelings as well as life-changing experiences. There are lots of reasons why women choose to write about their experience of breast cancer, these can include:  
  • Expressing their feelings about cancer and treatment

  • Updating friends and family about treatment plans and progress

  • Sharing challenges and opportunities that seem important to help others to have a better understanding of the experience  

A space for sharing

We hear from women of all ages, from all walks of life, each with their own unique experience and viewpoint. So often the stories that our friends and family hear about breast cancer in the media reduce the experience of women living with breast cancer to a ‘single story’ - make no mistake, these are stories that are important to tell, but the reality is that breast cancer is a complex disease which affects women in many ways. We all know what it means to hear the words ‘You have breast cancer.’ We have all experienced being on this lonely road, even when friends and family gather round us. Whatever our circumstances, we are all going forwards with our lives, hoping and coping in the best way we can. Being able to reach out to one another to hold hands by sharing our experiences can be an enormous source of comfort and strength.   

By listening to the experiences of others, we can learn new ways of thinking and being. We can also discover more about our own perspective - for instance, we might come across a view or feeling that is quite different to our own, but this is no less valuable because we still gain new understandings of ourselves. 

We all have a story to tell. It is our hope that our blog will become a space to share our emotions and our thoughts; our challenges and our strengths as women living with and beyond a diagnosis of breast cancer; a collection of stories which reflects the rich diversity of our experiences, a place to celebrate our pain as well as our joy.

A space for healing

But, writing doesn’t come easily to everyone and many of us might feel nervous or worried about putting our thoughts and feelings down on paper and sharing them. For Tamsin, writing was not something that came naturally to her at first:

When I was going through the process of diagnosis and treatment for breast cancer, I was not in a place where I could have written about what was happening to me because all my energy was focused on decisions and the next step in front of me. Events moved so fast that there was no time to stop and think. If anything, when I look back, it was as if I became frozen - like a rabbit trapped in the head-lights of a car. I began writing when I stumbled across the Young Women’s Breast Cancer Blog UK and decided to write about my family history for Breast Cancer Awareness Month http://youngwomensbreastcancerblog.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/breast-cancer-awareness-month-finding.html

This was the first time I was able to put my experiences in some kind of order and make sense of them.  

Tamsin’s experience is a good example of how writing allowed her to make sense of her complicated and emotional experiences. When dealing with an emotional upheaval like cancer, it can be enormously helpful to be able to stand back and pause for breath. Evidence is beginning to emerge that people appear to benefit from being able to create a story or narrative about what has happened to them. Dr James Pennebaker (www.utexas.edu\features/2005/wrting) explains that our minds are designed to make sense of the things that happen to us. When we experience an emotional upheaval, our mind works over-time to try and process events and thoughts about what has happened and this can lead to distraction and interrupted sleep. Pennebaker argues that the act of writing and what he calls, ‘translating experiences’ into words, helps us to take more control of what has happened. This process can bring about improvements in our well-being, for instance we might be able to sleep better and our relationships can improve as we become better able to communicate with others.

A space to celebrate

It will come as no surprise to hear how interested we are in resilience here at the Centre for Psychological Resilience in Breast Cancer (the clue is in the name!) When we talk about ‘resilience,’ in this context, we are describing the process of adapting well in the face of the many challenges that accompany a breast cancer-diagnosis. Resilient people are flexible, can regulate their emotions and embrace their feelings and thoughts without fighting them, after all emotions tell us what is important and are part of what makes us human, dynamic and insightful.

We are constantly moved and inspired by the resilience of women living with and beyond a diagnosis of breast cancer. It is our hope that the blog offers a space which allows women to celebrate these achievements in all their different ways.

Posts can be submitted by email to bcresilience15@gmail.com


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