June was National Cancer Survivors Month, so this was the focus of my June writing workshop for cancer patients and caregivers. What better way for my thriving writers to celebrate than to spend time reflecting on and writing about what being a survivor means to them, right?
Okay, okay–I admit there are probably more exciting ways to celebrate, but when you don’t have a cheesecake the size of a hula hoop, a journal and pen will have to do. So we picked up our pens and dug in! By happy coincidence, one of the participants brought scented pens, so we were able to relish the cherry, blueberry, and chocolate scents of our words as we wrote about being survivors of cancer, other illnesses, or non-medical traumas.
Survivorhood (-ship?) takes on many forms–from disease, to emotional trauma, to the dis-ease of daily life. Now it is not my intention to diminish the significance of surviving physical and emotional traumas by including the last one. My point is that we all are survivors of something to some degree and that we can enhance our quality of life and improve our health and wellbeing by reflecting on and exploring our life’s struggles–no matter their size.
It doesn’t have to be June, and you don’t have to be a cancer survivor to celebrate survival. Below are a few ideas for reflecting on yourself as a survivor and exploring your survival experience. The first one includes instructions for writing a poem like this one, written by the woman who brought the yummy pens. I believe her survival tastes like cherry and grape!
Suffering leads to strength.
Understanding leads to purpose.
Resilience leads to revival.
Vigor leads to victory.
Impossible becomes incredible.
Value comes from their voyeur.
Obstacles are a chance to overcome.
Remembering the struggle leads to renewal of the mind.
Ideas for Reflection and Writing
1. SURVIVOR: See how many words and phrases you can come up with that begin with each letter of the word. The words and phrases should describe you and define your experience as a survivor. After you make your list, consider writing an acrostic poem, in which the first letters of the lines in your poem spell “survivor” (see example above). Each line after the first doesn’t have to begin a new sentence. For example, here’s a bit from my poem:
Suffering requires stamina, and there’s the strength that drives
Us to not only survive but thrive.
Renewal of life is a daily revival,
Victory born anew, day after day, sun to sun.
. . . .
Also, consider using the words and phrases on your list as individual topics for your journaling or creative writing.
2. As a survivor, you probably consider each day a gift. Reflect on and write about the people, experiences, sights, sounds, tastes, etc. that make each day a gift for you. Think about how you can bring more of these into your days and use your journal also to create a plan to make it happen.
3. As a survivor, maybe you consider each new day a birthday. Reflect on your past birthdays, who and what made them so special, and write about these special memories. From these memories, create a future birthday memory by describing how you want to experience your next birthday.
4. Celebrate each new day by writing in your journal what you’re looking forward to. This is an especially effective thing to do while you’re sitting in a waiting room or are being held up in some other unpleasant situation. (Yes, this means you should carry your journal with you everywhere you go! Buy a small one specific for this purpose.)
*Please feel free to share your journal entries and poems in the comments section or privately here*