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Jennifer Giuffre-Donohue Headshot

Talking About Your Cancer Experience

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I've always loved to write (huge revelation, I know). When I was little I kept a diary and wrote stories about the stray cats that we fed by our house. Writing has been a positive outlet for me ever since I can remember. Then I started going through chemotherapy and suddenly I was too tired to write. I didn't have the energy to do my normal activities, let alone take the extra energy to write. One day while in treatment I met an 80-year-old cancer survivor. We struck up a conversation and lo and behold he was a writer, a published one at that, a sign perhaps? After talking to him on multiple occasions I was inspired to start writing again. Even if it was just a short paragraph about how I was feeling that day I started to journal about my experience.

I eventually decided that I wanted to turn my journalling into a book (I know, I know, who isn't writing a book?) and I hope to get it published one of these days. It's called Cancer, With a Twist, a sarcastic/funny look at what I went through during my treatment. If you want to see some of the book in action check out my YouTube link at the end of this blog. It's a video of my one-act play, excerpted from the book (thank you in advance for watching it, it's not long and it will make your sarcastic side smile).

I wanted to write the book for many reasons but mainly to help someone else going through a similar situation and because it was cathartic for me to let everything out and to talk about my experience, good and bad. It was either write a book or keep telling everyone who asked "How are you?" way more than they really wanted to know, which tends to make some people uncomfortable. So in lieu of alienating the people who don't really want to know all of the spectacular details, enter the book.

I've found that there are people like me who are very open about pretty much everything and then there are people who like to keep it all private. I'm not saying that you have to tell the world your business but it helped me a lot to be able to talk about what I was going through. Even if you have only one person that you can confide it, that's all you need.

Contrary to what a lot of people think, you're not asking for sympathy when you tell people what you're going through. I'm not talking about being Debbie Downer and complaining about everything, I'm just talking about being real. Unfortunately cancer treatment can last from months to years and when you're having a sucky day you should feel free to be honest about it. Those were the days that one of my best friends would bring me homemade matzoh ball soup (thank you Michele). About a week later when the medication induced haze would lift and I would feel more like myself again I could find those silver linings a lot easier.

I found that being open allows people to really rise to the occasion when they know you're going through a hard time and aren't the superwoman/superman that you usually are. Most people want to lend a hand if you need it and it makes them feel good to do it. My children were seven and three when I went through treatment so I rallied the troops. I wasn't taking any chances with my babies. You go through cancer as a family so I wanted to know that my children were making it through emotionally when they weren't with me. I informed their principal, teachers and school counselors about what was going on. I knew that I had their support and that they would be on the lookout for any signs of sadness in my kids so that I would be able to address it right away.

Your ability to be vulnerable and honest allows other people to feel free to be open as well. For example, one night my husband and I went out to karaoke with some friends. I happened to be wearing my wig that night. I didn't wear it often since there was no hair on my head to attach it to and I was always worried that a stiff breeze or a curious bird might snatch it from my head (I know, I have issues). My pink bandana was my head wrap of choice but that night I had my "Fancy hair" on. I needed to use the rest room and while in there and making sure my wig looked okay, another woman walked in and said "I love your hair, the highlights are beautiful." I laughed and because I'm an open book I replied "Actually it's a wig." I explained why I was wearing a wig and then she told me that a friend of hers was about to start chemo for breast cancer and was wondering where to go for a wig. I recommended the place that I had gone to and told her about the very kind woman who worked there and made the emotional process of buying a wig very easy. So that night I was able to help someone else because I was open about what I was going through.

If you're a private person I'm not saying that you should all of a sudden tell everyone everything but if you're keeping it all in, try opening up to that one person in your life (or people) that you trust and let them in on how you're really feeling. Make some stupid jokes, laugh, cry, trust me, it's cathartic for everyone.

Here's the link to my play, thanks again for checking it out!

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