Guest post- Gut Feelings: Helping Myself and Others By Writing My Cancer Memoir

In 2018, I wrote an article for Lucy Turns Pages on Writing About Mental Health and Cancer Survivorship. In it, I talked about my diagnosis of colon cancer in 2010, the effect that has had on my mental health and how writing helps me work through these things. Fear of recurrence means that I’m often wondering if the cancer will come back and if I’ll need to continue to use writing as therapy in this way – and a couple of years ago, that’s what happened.

In 2018, I was diagnosed with duodenal cancer and uterine cancer, both within two days of each other. I had a hysterectomy in September 2018 for the uterine cancer and Whipple surgery in November for the duodenal cancer. Whipple surgery is a big surgery that involved removing the duodenum (part of the small intestine); the head of the pancreas; the bile duct; and the gall bladder. The operation took eight hours and I was in the high dependency unit for two days and in hospital for a total of ten days. My hysterectomy means my partner and I are unable to have biological children, so cancer has been emotionally difficult again in new ways.

But once again, writing has helped me. Firstly, it’s helped because I decided to do my PhD on how creative writing can help cancer survivors to cope with emotional issues. I’m now in the second year of my PhD and I’m enjoying it a lot. My studies have given me a new and exciting purpose, bringing meaning to my cancer experiences.

Secondly, in 2019 I began writing my memoir and now that book has been published! Gut Feelings: Coping With Cancer and Living With Lynch Syndrome spans the time from my first diagnosis in 2010 to recovering from my surgeries in 2018. It covers not just the physical and medical aspects, but commentary on the effects and how cancer survivors can practice self-care.

My memoir was very difficult to write because it meant revisiting hospital experiences and memories of illness that are very hard for me to think about. However, it was also useful to write as it helped me to organise my thoughts and place the experience in a self-contained book. I aimed to make the book true to what happened, not just in terms of illness but other things that happened in between, like my travels and other new experiences. I also tried to make the book funny, so you’ll spot my dark humour in there a little. But most of all, I wanted the book to be an empathetic read for other cancer survivors or those at the beginning of their experience, to help them know they are not alone. Because of this, I want to reach as many people as possible who may benefit from reading about what has happened to me.

The reason why I’ve had cancer three times is because I have Lynch syndrome, which is a genetic condition that makes it more likely for people to get certain types of cancer. This also features heavily in the book, alongside colon cancer, womb cancer, having a colostomy bag and then an internal pouch, and of course, the mental health issues surrounding cancer survivorship. I hope anyone who can relate to any of those things, or is a caregiver or relative of someone experiencing any of those things, will get something out of this book.

If you are reading this and you would like to talk to someone about your own cancer experiences, please feel free to reach out to me. I’m on Twitter at @writersamr and my website is https://www.writersam.co.uk.

My memoir, Gut Feelings: Coping With Cancer and Living With Lynch Syndrome, is available on Amazon.

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