Alternative Therapies and Lifestyle

Can We Find Healing Through Writing? Workshops For Cancer Patients

+ Pamela Friedman

Have you ever used creative writing to help in your battle with cancer? We were deeply interested in the healing power of creative writing for cancer patients, and were privileged to interview educator and author Sharon Bray, founder of the Writing Through Cancer workshops. Sharon was diagnosed with breast cancer herself in the year 2000, and was able to share her journey with us in the following exclusive interview.

1. What kind of response did you receive from cancer patients, after developing the Writing Through Cancer workshops?

“From the beginning, the response from those who participate in my workshops has been overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic. Diagnosis and medical treatments tend to overwhelm, confuse and rob patients of their identity, but writing together and sharing their stories can give them a “voice” once again. Cancer patients discover they are not alone, because others share their fears, anger, sorrows and experiences. A community of support is established in the act of writing together… but that’s not all. People discover that they can write in a way that touches our hearts, makes us cry, laugh and nod our heads in understanding.”

2. How has creative writing impacted the lives of cancer patients?

“Many of my group members go on to become published (which is cause for celebration), and even when we lose a group member to cancer, we have their legacy of stories, poems and essays that lives on. ‘I love this group,’ one member commented. ‘We’re not just writing about cancer; we’re writing about life.’ In our writing groups, cancer ultimately becomes only one of the topics people write about. Stories of life (childhood, relationships, mishaps, joys) also get written as people begin to heal.”

3. What can a patient expect at a Writing Through Cancer event?

“I work to create a safe and supportive environment right from the beginning. All the writing is done in a group, responding to the prompts and exercises offered. I open with a guided meditation and time for ‘free write,’ and then segue into longer writing prompts that open up cancer experiences or other memories. After we write, there is the opportunity to read aloud what one has written. Sometimes we simply listen, and say, ‘Thank you.’  Other times, when a writer has finishing reading, the group members will offer encouraging and specific responses for what they found touching, moving or relatable.”

4. How do you make workshop participants feel comfortable with the healing process?

“We never critique work done in the moment. We stay focused on the writer who is reading, and listen deeply to their words. What happens over the course of eight-to-ten weeks is astounding. Everyone’s writing becomes more descriptive, alive, and powerful. It’s extraordinarily life-affirming!”

5. How do you feel creative writing has helped those fighting, recovering or affected by cancer?

“Creative writing provides a place where we can reveal what we truly want to say…while having it acknowledged and affirmed. In the same way that therapy is the talking cure, writing truly is the “writing cure.” We can get negative and stressful emotions outside of ourselves, write them down (poetry, fiction or nonfiction), and distance ourselves enough to “see” and “hear” how we’re really feeling. It helps us to gain perspective on the coping process…as well as reclaim our sense of self.”

For workshops in your area, please go to the Wellspring Writers website, or check out a list of up-and-coming Writing and Healing Workshops. To submit or express your own cancer story and writings, please click here.

Has creative writing helped you cope with cancer? Please share your story, advice or opinions…

Photo courtesy of Sharon Bray