Courage, cancer and poetry


Courage takes many forms, and for some who struggle with cancer or terminal illness, courage is the ability and willingness to notice beauty in the midst of fear and suffering.  The New York Times recently published an article about the growing number of individuals who have begun writing poetry in response to their cancer journeys, and what a healing tool poetry and other forms of creative writing can be.

When Kyle Potvin learned she had breast cancer at the age of 41, she tracked the details of her illness and treatment in a journal. But when it came to grappling with issues of mortality, fear and hope, she found that her best outlet was poetry.

How I feared chemo, afraid
It would change me.
It did.
Something dissolved inside me.
Tears began a slow drip;
I cried at the news story
Of a lost boy found in the woods …
At the surprising beauty
Of a bright leaf falling
Like the last strand of hair from my head

“The creative process can be really healing,” Ms. Potvin said in an interview. “Loss, mortality and even hopefulness were on my mind, and I found that through writing poetry I was able to express some of those concepts in a way that helped me process what I was thinking.”

The article profiles, among others, Karen Miller, who started writing poetry when her husband was first diagnosed with cancer, while she was pregnant with their first child. She has since gone on to create a series of anthologies called the “Cancer Poetry Project.”  On her experience of talking with the various writers, many of whom have cancer themselves, she said:

“They say it’s the thing that lets them get to the core of how they are feeling.  It’s the simplicity of poetry, the bare bones of it, that helps them deal with their fears.”

Though not all of us have had to face the presence of cancer in ourselves or those we love, we do all have fears that must be dealt with.  Poetry is something that is accessible to anyone–there are, literally, no rules. Have you ever used poetry or other creative writing as an outlet for expressing worries or emotions?  What other healthy and positive methods have you used to deal with your fears?

Caren Swanson

(Top image by flickr user Insomnia PHT, bottom image by flickr user churl, both via creative commons)

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