Cancer Treatment: Writing to Heal (cont.)

fidel__WebMD: What do you think of venting through the writing of fiction or poetry?

Davis: I need to say that expressive writing isn't just about venting, or complaining. It's about coming to an understanding of one's feelings. When people write fiction, and I have done this, too, it's a way of expressing that doesn't seem to be direct. Fiction writing can be a way to fulfill dreams that won't happen in our own lifetimes. I do want to point out, though, that when some of my students write about a particularly difficult time in their cancer treatments, they might have to write in third person. For example, "She realized she would never be able to have children." This is okay because it's the closest she could come to admitting the truth. As for poetry, I have read some very poignant poetry by people with cancer and they seem to have gotten to an understanding of their lives through that medium. I don't happen to be a poet so I can't comment about that genre as a way of healing.

fidel__WebMD: What kinds of issues do people talk about on your message boards?

Davis: In the private class message boards, they post comments of support and advice. They might compare their situations with those of other classmates. Also at my site, I have free buddy boards for people who are looking for people who want to write about cancer with a buddy, for people who want to write about caregiving with a buddy, and people who want to write personal essays with a buddy.

tenuli_WebMD: While writing can be cathartic, I don't want anyone to see what I write. Sometimes it is emotionally true but not factually accurate. How can I explain to my partner that I am not sharing what I write because it is just for me?

Davis: Hm, I'm not in that kind of advice-giving business. I can tell you what I tell my husband. I tell him that I need privacy with my writing -- of course, he knew that about me before we were married. I keep a stack of my journals, although why I'm not quite sure because I don't want anyone to read them and I have stipulated in my will that when I die, the journals get destroyed. I keep the journals in my den, and my husband and I have an agreement to respect each other's privacy. I don't rummage in his stuff and he doesn't rummage in mine. What I write is true for me in that instant, in that place. I need to write to understand how I feel, what I think. What I put down on paper is a process, and if he were to read my process, he would jump to conclusions that aren't necessarily true.

Moderator: What kinds of questions should one ask him/herself, when sitting down to construct an essay?

Davis: Think reflectively. It's not enough to just tell a story with who, what, where, when, and how. You need to reflect back on the event and examine how it has affected your life. I'm talking now about personal essay writing, which may or may not be undertaken for the purpose of healing, although many of my personal essay writing students write in their course surveys that they have come to understand themselves better. A good personal essay entertains and informs the reader. The reader gets to know the narrator.

Moderator: Can you give a few examples of topics people have chosen in the past?

Davis: Actually, I provide the topics. I have accumulated over 600 writing topics with prompting questions for my personal essay writing courses. Sometimes I'll ask people to write about qualities, e.g., courage, and to show how they were courageous or timid (lack of courage) with an example from their lives. Showing with examples is important to get their points across. Another topic: Write about when your heart was broken as a teenager.

Expressive writing can help people heal emotionally and physically. It's not enough to complain, though. It's important to write deep thoughts and feelings about stressful events. Please check out and my new book, The Healing Way, A Journal for Cancer Survivors.

Moderator: Well, thank you very much for your time today, Ms. Davis. It's certainly been a pleasure.

Davis: I was glad to be here.

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