Practical advice and personal wisdom from a four-time cancer survivor.

Words are like puppies and toddlers. The more you chase them, the further they run.

I’ve finally learned to stop. And walk the other way. Until they starting chasing me.

The writing voice I couldn’t find for so many years finally showed up when I stopped looking for it.

Only when I was drugged and in so much pain, could it finally find it’s way through the complicated neurons synapsing in my brain.

The drugs and pain creating a tunnel like the parting of the Red Sea.

Creating a pathway for the words to finally escape.

Now the words flood my brain every day, all day, especially late in the evenings.

They come to me while I eat, while I walk, while I’m in the bathroom, in the shower, at the doctor.

I tried for so many years to hold them back, afraid I would drown if I let them all in.

But this past month, it became too exhausting to cover the holes in the dyke any longer.

Whatever I was afraid of happening couldn’t be worse than how bad I felt trying to hold them back.

So after a lifetime of trying to keep them at bay, I filled my lungs with air, held my breath, and removed my hands from the crumbling wall. I braced myself for the literary tidal wave that slammed into my fragile body.

I am now gulping for air, clawing my way to the surface. Watery words twisting around my legs like seaweed.

Currents of icy cold epiphanies and poetic prose gagging me.

The salty sting of truths clawing at my skin.

My only option now is to learn to swim through them and figure out how to navigate their powerful currents. And hope that I’ll master a few strokes. That, one day, it won’t all feel so overwhelming.

But it’s a process.

It takes time to master the river of words. I’m flailing, banging into large boulders, sometimes sinking, like a small kid suddenly thrown in the deep end of a pool.

I’m trying to adjust. To so many things. Living with family. Surviving on liquids. Coping with pain.

This new reality will take some time. Trying to wrap my head around being disabled, to calling myself an artist, a writer. To knowing my life will never be the same again.

All I know is that I feel so much better when I let the words OUT.

When I give them a little bit of attention. Drawing them on paper with black sharpies. Scratching them onto tiny pieces of paper in the middle of the night.

Entering them here into proper form for the world to see. Rearranging them. Editing them. Even when I’m falling asleep, I’m trying out different words in sentences that are running through my mind.

Maybe, if I share the words here on a regular basis, they won’t beat their little letters against my skin, my gray matter, my heart when I need peace and quiet.

If I share the words here, they will find other people who will grab them, hold them in their hands, and stuff them in their hearts so they won’t be alone anymore.

If I share them here, it won’t just be me carrying the long sentences, the heavy phrases, and even the tiny punctuations, up the long, winding mountain alone.

If I share the words here, maybe we can divide them up between us and carry them all together.

I think my body would appreciate that very much. If I shared the words and we all put them in our pocket and walked up the lonely, cold mountain together.

All I know is that the words want out. And writing them down in private isn’t enough anymore.

Now they want to be HEARD. Be SEEN. Find other homes, other hearts to live in.

And my only job, the weary secretary, is to release them to the wind.

Perhaps that’s what art is – releasing something that we can’t hold in anymore.

So that whatever it is that we create, finds a new home, the right home.

Because I couldn’t stop now even if I tried.

They are tired of living in my phone and in my journals.

They want to fly free and I can’t blame them.

If you close your eyes and listen only to the whispering on the wind, they’ll find you too.

  • Cancer Teacher
    Hi there, my name is Julie. I’m a nutritionist that’s had four cancers: melanoma, ovarian, colon, and endometrial cancer — the last 3 all at once due to a genetic disorder called Lynch Syndrome. Cancer can be horrific, painful, life-stealing. It can also be transformative, mind-opening and life-affirming. I’m working hard to get strong and find the silver lining lessons during this shit storm experience. Stay tuned to find out what I've learned, and continue to learn, from Cancer Teacher.

    Much love,

    Julie Negrin

    About Julie & Cancer Teacher