When the opportunity to read and review Healing with Words – A Writer’s Cancer Journey arose, one of my best friends had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. Since meeting her in 1977, she has been one of the people in my life who has always stood by me, offering unconditional love and support, as well as honest observations and constructive criticism, delivered gently and compassionately. So I jumped at the chance to read about Diana M. Raab’s experiences in honor of my friend, and in order to better understand the journey upon which she had involuntarily just embarked. I could not have foreseen that before reading the book, yet another friend would be given the same diagnosis.
According to the American Cancer Society, they are two of the approximately 207,090 United States women who will be diagnosed in 2010. Virtually no one in American can say that he/she has not been impacted by the disease, either directly or because a friend or family member has struggled to survive it.
Welcome to Pump Up Your Book’s Virtual Book Tour for Healing with Words – A Writer’s Cancer Journey
Two days after her annual mammogram, Diana M. Raab was called back for a second mammogram. For many women, that is not an unusual occurrence. Explaining that the radiologist wanted additional views of her right breast, the nurse assured her that he “just wants to make sure that everything is okay.”
But everything was not okay. At the age of 47, Raab was informed that she had DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) – cancer cells located in the milk ducts.
Raab, a Registered Nurse and writer, did not belong to any of the traditionally high-risk groups. Her family history was not only devoid of breast cancer; she had no family history of any form of cancer. She had breast-fed all three of her children, exercised regularly and was not overweight, and maintained a dietary regimen that included fruits and vegetables, plenty of water, and ingesting herbs and minerals three times per day. Thus, the diagnosis was all the more stunning.
Raab’s emotional journey from her initial diagnosis through researching and learning about the various treatment options available to her, selecting the course of treatment she felt best suited her lifestyle and needs, the delivery of those treatments, and their less-than-ideal aftermath make for riveting, but often heart-wrenching reading. Raab lays bare her trepidation and fears both for herself and her family, and unapologetically describes the sorrow she felt when it became clear that the best course of treatment for her was a mastectomy followed by reconstructive surgery.
Overtaken by depression, Raab found herself trapped in a vicious cycle: Because she was depressed, she ate more and then became more depressed because she felt fat and her clothes no longer fit her. While most cancer patients become thin, Raab’s early diagnosis allowed her to avoid undergoing chemotherapy or radiation, so her uncharacteristic weight gain was caused by a combination of higher caloric intake and lack of exercise, all due to chronic low-grade depression. Anti-depressants did not help. Rather, with the assistance of a psychiatrist, Raab came to understand that time is the great healer. However, in her case, the best healer was a return to writing.
Up to this point, writing had helped me survive many of life’s most difficult journeys: my grandmother’s suicide, my father’s death, breast cancer, and bed rest with three pregnancies. Writing forces us to scrutinize the truth. Writing is about growth and it is the writer’s only means for survival. I cannot help but agree with the poet Pablo Neruda’s sentiment, “writing to me is like breathing.”
Having a breast sliced off
leaves a woman with two lives —
the one before the loss
and the one after.
~~ Diana Raab
An accomplished poet, the book includes many of the poems that Raab wrote about her experiences. And following each chapter, writing prompts are included that have been inspired by and relate to the immediately preceding chapter. There is also room for writers to write in response to those prompts, making Healing with Words — A Writer’s Cancer Journey much more than one writer and cancer survivor’s memoir. It can, at the reader’s option, become his/her personal journal. Also included are Raab’s thoughts about writing as a mechanism for the achievement and maintenance of wellness, as well as a glossary and extensive list of cancer support organizations.
On the fifth anniversary of her diagnosis, during a check-up with her oncologist, annual blood work revealed that all was not well. Raab was again shocked to learn that she had another former of cancer, multiple myeloma (cancer of the plasma cells contained in bone marrow). Her oncologist told her, “If this condition or experience does not rivet your focus on life, then you’ve missed the point.”
Healing with Words — A Writer’s Cancer Journey definitively proves that Raab has not “missed the point.” On the contrary, four years after her second cancer diagnosis, Raab continues to write and teach. A combination of exercise, a healthy diet, meditation, and keeping her stress level low ensures that Raab feels well and maintains an optimistic perspective, albeit mixed with moments of sadness and grief about what she has lost and what the future might hold. Among the messages Raab has taken from her ordeal is that “the diagnosis of cancer should be considered a turning point that sets you free to fulfill or examine dreams that can no longer wait.” She spends her days focused on surrounding herself “with those who bring only positive and nurturing energy into my life. Being surrounded by joy brings joy and helps you move forward toward your dreams.”
Indeed, her physician, Melvin J. Silverstein, M.D., observes in his forward to the book that Raab, like many cancer survivors, has been transformed by her experiences. He notes that “what is remarkable is how she responded to her cancer after the initial shock wore off, and what’s even more impressive is what she did with her transformation.” Raab herself credits her ability to continue pursuing her goals, despite her ordeal, to three critical factors: Immediately available health care, a loving and supportive family, and creative expression. The healing power of writing is tangible and demonstrable because “[w]riting about the traumas in our lives is not only cathartic, but it can help provide answers to mysterious questions. Journaling brings you face to face with your own truths and what has happened to you.” Raab relates that she used her journal to validate her feelings on her own cancer journey.
1. Find a quiet uninterrupted time and place to write
2. Choose an inspiring notebook and pen
3. Create a centering ritual (light a candle, meditate, play music, stretch)
4. Breathe deeply
5. Put aside your inner critic
6. Date your entry
7. Begin by writing your feelings and sensations
8. Write nonstop for 15-20 minutes
9. Save what you have written
10. Write regularly
~~ Diana Raab
Healing with Words — A Writer’s Cancer Journey offers insight into utilizing one’s creative energy to overcome all kinds of obstacles, so it is a source of inspiration and encouragement for anyone who wants to experience the benefits that come from journaling or keeping a diary. Studies have shown that those benefits can include reduced stress and anxiety, enhanced lung and immune system functioning, and improved communications leading to healthier relationships with loved ones. Thus, it is recommended reading for anyone interested in the subject. But its real strength lies, of course, in Raab’s example of perseverance and determination in the face of two devastating diagnoses and their impact upon her life, as well as the lives of her family members.
Anyone who reads Healing with Words — A Writer’s Cancer Journey will likely come away from the experience determined to, like Raab, “wake up every morning happy to be alive and with joy in [his/her] heart,” rather than waiting for a cancer diagnosis or some other devastating event to be the turning point that sets you free to fulfill or examine dreams that can no longer wait. The time to fulfill or examine those dreams is now.
Enter to win a copy of Healing with Words – A Writer’s Cancer Journey for yourself or a loved one battling cancer
I am passing along my like-new copy of Healing with Words – A Writer’s Cancer Journey with the hope that it will benefit someone who is either battling cancer or experiencing some other challenge in his/her life. Please enter to win only if you plan to use the book during your own journey back to health and well-being or wish to present it to someone special in your life.
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Sunday, August 22, 2010, at 11:59 p.m. (Pacific time)
The winner will be selected at random and announced on Monday, August 23, 2010!
I read Healing with Words – A Writer’s Cancer Journey in conjunction with the 2010 Read ‘n’ Review Challenge.