In the days following my diagnosis of breast cancer, I needed ample time alone for reflection. Sometimes I’d just sit in the backyard writing about things I might never want to share, but other times, my journal entries actually became published articles that helped other women cope with their own demons and issues surrounding breast cancer.
At the time, I had not yet gone back to school for my doctorate in psychology, but was a nurse-writer who taught journaling and memoir writing in various community settings. Helping others also helped me heal both physically and psychologically from losing a breast and getting a newly constructed one. I believe that self-expression as a means to self-discovery, whether through writing or art, is a critical component of emotional healing.
Of course, I’d been journaling since the age of ten, when my mother gave me my first journal following my grandmother’s suicide. It was a Kahlil Gibran journal with quotes on the top of each page. These days, my journal is called a “writer’s notebook,” and it’s where I can be honest with myself; and share my sentiments, passions, thoughts, fears, and whatever else crosses my mind during the course of any given day. It’s also a place where I store my favorite quotes and books to read.
Many women have used journals to record their breast-cancer experiences, either to share with their families or to refer back to at a later date. Some of these journals or books have been published, such as those by Audre Lorde, May Carton, Betty Rollin, Rose Kushner, Hilda Raz, and Elizabeth Berg, to name a few. At one point during one’s recovery, it’s interesting to read these published journals, but it takes some time to be ready to hear the stories of others. Because I was so wrapped up in my own narrative, it actually took me an entire year to venture into hearing or reading other people’s stories. Everybody has their own journey, and mine was to surround myself with as much positive energy as possible.