Writing and healing and cancer, oh my!

Writing and healing and cancer, oh my!

By Shana Couillard

Adolescent and young adult cancer sucks. As we begin our journey down the yellow brick road of life, we are thrown into a twilight zone of nightmares. AYAs living with cancer and thriving after cancer are still healing long after the last chemo drip hits their PICC lines. I once heard a wise man say, over and over again, “Healing from treatment takes longer than the treatment.” (It was Geoff, the YACC mastermind!) It’s SO true!

We all find different ways to recreate ourselves while we are healing. We search for comfort and connections to make sense of it all and to process our experiences. Writing has been a gift in my life for many years in many ways, but it recently became a healing gift for me as part of my post-treatment life.

I was with some YACC friends at a Writing Through Cancer workshop in Toronto. I didn’t realize how much I needed words for healing until that morning. A gracious and lovely woman stood before us at these large, beautiful windows. She began to guide us through a journey of our own emotions. I sipped my coffee. We laughed. We cried. We chose to share. We chose not to share. We drank more coffee. It was magical.

I loved every moment of it, even the uncomfortable ones. As feelings came up for me, I named them, described them, organized them, and put them down on paper. That was the magic for me. BAM! That stuff was out of my head, and then new stuff came up. Name it, describe it, organize it, write it, BAM! Magic, magic, magic.

I know a lot of people who keep a gratitude journal, and I think that’s a great place to start. Write a list of things you’re grateful for, who you are, what your goals are, and write whatever pops into your head. I found that timing the exercise was helpful; it created a sense of urgency to get stuff onto the paper. I also feel that sharing is important, so I wanted to share some exercises in this blog. I hope that someone reads this and feels a little more connected to our YACC community.

Exercise examples I completed:

Question: When thinking of the word cancer, what nouns do you think of?

Answers: Weed, liar, bomb, ivy, war, fight, gun, pit, hole, trap, jail, predator


Instruction: Write about cancer while thinking about those nouns.

Round Up

Cancer is a weed
Growing in a forest
Unwanted and unwelcomed
Cancer keeps taking

The weed grows taller
It keeps taking more
The weed grows stronger
It keeps taking more

The flowers are scared,
they shrivel to the ground
The trees watch in horror
Who is next?

The air is silent.
And hope rushes in
like acid rain in your veins.


Instruction: Three minutes of grateful writing

I am grateful for each day. For love. For surviving. For trying new things. For quiet rest. For busy days. For rain. I love the way rain smells. I’m grateful for fuzzy blankets, slippers and soup. Im grateful for my children. My Love. My family. I’m grateful for my friends. FOR YACC! Beach fires. Concerts. Live theatre. Days at the shore. Whales. Old growth trees. I’m grateful for music, so much music, in my life.


Instruction: Write about fear

All That I Can Take

What if I fall?
What if I break?
What if I’ve already taken
all that I can take?

What if I can’t?
What if I cry?
What if I do all they say
and then I still die?

What if I miss?
What if I forget?
What if I stay stuck
on loss and regret?

What if I disappoint?
What if I don’t pull through?
What if I lose the fight
and I lose all of you?


Exercise: What gives you hope?

Hope Cycles

This too shall pass
It’s awful,
It’s ugly
It is not fair
It is too much
It is unthinkable
And time rolls on

This too shall pass
Friends gather
Children love
Sleep heals
Cells fight
Laughter spreads
And time rolls on

This too shall pass
In comes pain
In comes anxiety
In comes doubt
In comes weakness
In comes despair
And time rolls on

This too shall pass
Music playing
Dreams blossoming
New adventures
Strong connections
Creative expressions
And time rolls on


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