Creativity Is Integral to Healing
If I thrive, I can help other cancer survivors thrive, too.
Everyone Talks About Being a Phoenix and Being Thrown in the Fire
And that is exactly what survivorship is. You're thrown in the fire and you're being forged like a hardened steel knife. And what you do afterwards can mean immense strength and enlightenment for yourself — and therefore for others — or else you just burn up. So I’m sharing my survivor journey with everyone. I am doing this for all the other people who are going to get a chapter like this in their lives.
I Am Allergic to the Only Drug Available
After my breast cancer diagnosis, I went through chemotherapy and a double mastectomy — all under the extraordinary care of my team at MSK. And then I was on the final phase of my treatment — a targeted therapy that wasn’t even available ten years ago. After only two doses, they told me I was allergic and took me off it. So I said to my oncologist, Dr. Bromberg (who is awesome), “What do I do?” She said, “Be happy.”
I Looked at Her and I Was Like, “Be Happy?”
“Be happy?” I’m angry. I’m thinking, “Where’s the alternative drug?” And I’m sitting angry on my ride home when I suddenly get it. Even if I was on the drug, what difference would it make if I wasn’t also happy? So when I saw Dr. Bromberg next, I said, “I get it.” I started to examine what she meant and it changed the rest of my life. My best chance would come from within.
Without the targeted therapy this thing was supposed to come back aggressively, but it hasn’t. I learned that “be happy” works. And if you asked me if I would undo my cancer, I wouldn’t. Even though my body has gone through all these changes, I wouldn’t. Here I am, happy and genuinely grateful about my cancer experience, which I don’t really think people say.
Ever Since, I’ve Channeled My Experience Into Creativity
Before cancer, I made excuses for not being creative. I told myself I was “blocked.” But I wrote about my breast cancer experience for Visible Ink, MSK’s writing program for patients, and called it “Cancer in a Jar.” You see, one night when I was dealing with cancer I went a little bit insane. I went to an arts and crafts store and got some googly eyes, fabric, and pieces of paper. And I created this goofy little thing with eyeballs. Then I went and got a tomato sauce jar and I held this thing and I said, “This is my tumor.” I put it in the jar, closed it, and the second I put it on the shelf, I felt like my tumor was removed. That was the first story I wrote for Visible Ink. I just wrote it all out. You can watch actress Susan Spain read “Cancer in a Jar” here.
— Cynthia (aka DJ CherishTheLuv)
Cynthia is a contributor to MSK’s Visible Ink, a one-on-one writing program for patients at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. It offers opportunities for self-expression, stress reduction, personal growth, and individual success at a time when many participants face the considerable challenge of a serious illness. Visible Ink has served more than 2,300 patients over the past 12 years.