Whenever I get into a discussion with someone about my cancer journey, the question invariably comes up:  What did you do to get through it? My answer, of course includes good nutrition and daily walks. But more than that it has been about getting my head in the game.  I never wanted to complain or bring others down. Yet, there has to be an outlet. Here’s what continues to work for me. If you are inspired by this, it could be life-changing for you.

I have journaled all my life.  My drawers are full and my shelves are crammed with every kind of lined paper and bound book you can imagine.  Over the years I have often wondered why I do this. What is the purpose of documenting my thoughts? Isn’t it enough just to think them?  I mean c’mon already, who has the time for this? Yet I thrive with pen in hand and paper beneath it.

Where did this come from?  I marvel myself that I am drawn to writing as my release.  In kindergarten (no preschool in my era, LOL) I was labeled: SLOW.  I couldn’t figure out my letters. When I entered first grade I was put in the lowest reading group.  My mom was aghast. I had been reading Doctor Goat page by page to her since I was three years old.  As it turns out, I had memorized it verbatim. It also turns out I am dyslexic.  This wasn’t a well-recognized disorder back then. I was just slow.

In my mind, though, I knew I was smarter than the teachers were assuming.  I just couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. Until one day my younger sister stood next to me in the mirror wearing a t-shirt with writing on it.  She made the statement “Look Janet! That writing is backwards in the mirror!” Something clicked with me. Somehow, I realized, “The way she sees it in the mirror is how I always see it.”  When I wrote my name in school, I wrote; EHSIF TENAJ. Back then I was called by my given name which is Janet. Janet Fishe always displayed as “mirror writing” on my papers…EHSIF TENAJ.

I laugh when I think of the tenacity I had at such a young age, but once I made the connection, I was determined to convince people I wasn’t stupid.  I had a plan. I would go down to the basement every night with my homework and write it out backwards in pencil on the back side of my paper. Then I would trace it on the front side and erase the back side.  I did this for years. No one knew it. Not even my mom.

This practice was a form of focused meditation that my determined “little self” developed as a second grader.  It was also probably a way to get some alone time apart from the ever-expanding family of six younger siblings in a 900-sq. ft. house.  It worked for me. And, it developed into a practice beyond school homework. We all have our struggles growing up. Each of us deal with these times of torment in our own unique way.  I did it by writing. Writing helped me cultivate joy and somehow provided guidance and comfort when I needed it most.

I remember one year for my birthday my favorite aunt gave me a diary.  It became my prized possession. Every day I filled the pages with my most personal thoughts.  One day I took it with me to a family picnic in Freeport, Illinois. I found time to sneak away and finish the last couple of empty pages.  Then somehow, I had this crazy urge to bury it behind a huge rock. I dug deep into the earth with my hands, placed it carefully and covered it with dirt and grass clumps.  I remember looking over my shoulder when we passed the area where the big bolder stood as we drove out of the park. I had a secret with myself. It was kind of exciting. I vividly recall thinking, “This is important to me right now but I will probably never even remember it when I’m grown up.”  Funny, I think of it all the time.

As the years passed my writing continued.  At times, it became poetic. In the 1960s it expressed a hippie voice and in the 1970’s it was all about my new little sons.  The 80s addressed my job at IBM and my young teenage boys. The 90s centered on my travel and speaking. The 2000s introduce a lot about my health.  

The beautiful thing is that it is all documented.  I usually never re-read anything until at least six months after it is written.  But when I do, I learn so much. I am able to look back and view my past struggles with a new set of eyes from the future me.  It is always a perfect reminder that “This too shall pass!” At times, it has given me the mental nourishment to keep moving forward.   

The irony isn’t lost on me that the hardest thing I had to learn has become my vehicle of expression.  As a young girl, I felt there was no option but to figure out a way. But now it IS my way. And, what I have come to realize is that my writing is always a personal letter to God.  As I pen my thoughts it’s more of a conversation that appears one-sided but I know who I am addressing. These pages of the past are a gift to me; given to myself over the years. When I look back I can see where I was and how my desperate pleas were answered. The answers have not always been what I was looking for, but I now know everything unfolded perfectly. The evidence is right there in my face as I read back and realize.

It is difficult to develop a daily practice for so many years without it coming up in conversation with those around you.  As I emerged as a speaker I talked about it on stage. I have experienced being surrounded by many younger people in my audiences that came to me with their “journals” and asked me to autograph them.  When I realized the effect it was having, I eventually developed a writing course to teach people the discipline. To this day I hear from people all over the world who share their experiences as the result of integrating this practice into their daily life.  Many of these stories are dramatic.

Today I am addressing you, the cancer patient entrenched in the concern for your life.  I know what you are going through. You have questions, you have fears, you have pain and you have tears.  If I was there with you right now I would hold your hand and tell you, “Whatever you are facing, it’s all going to be alright.”  But I’m not there. What I can do is encourage you to look internally for a moment and ask yourself if you think you could pick up a pen and write a heartfelt letter to God, or the universe or whatever you see as your higher spirit.  Ask the questions you have inside yourself. Write them down. Don’t even think about what you are asking. Just write. Then do it again tomorrow and the next day and the next.

Know that it is okay to ask the hard questions and state the grand pleas:  Why me? What now? Please help! We all feel this way at times. Get it out of your system.  Write it down and don’t gloss over the areas where you are struggling. Acknowledge this crap in your life. Feel your feelings and express your needs. On the flip side, I also encourage you to end each writing with a positive statement of some kind. For years (regardless of how I am feeling) I have ended every single daily writing with two statements.  These two affirmations call into action an uplifting energy that begins my day with bright expectations:

  • I am happy, I am healthy and I am blessed
  • Thank you God, for the unexpected good that is coming to me at unexpected times from unexpected places.

It starts with the “will” to fight.  You may be asking, “How can I even think of starting a daily endeavor?  I am too overwhelmed right now!” I get it. I truly do. So, do it once.  Then take it day by day. If you can get to the point where you start each day with a letter, odd coincidences will begin to show up in your life.  Your intuition will be heightened. You will develop dramatically vivid dreams that increase your awareness. And you will know what you need to do to stay on your path.  I don’t know how to explain it, but it sets you free. I call this a Nod from God. Trust me, I have had plenty of practice dancing through the upside and downside of life, including cancer.  But my daily letters give me the strength to keep pulling the gloves back on and stay in the fight.

Do this and you will come to know that you are powerful!