surviving cancer the creative way

Ten years ago today, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, so the fact that I am here today to write this post is a celebration for me.

When I got the diagnosis, my fervent wish was that I would survive long enough to see my daughter and son, then teenagers, fully grown. And that I might find a new way to get my writings out to the world.

I was then publishing my second book with Penguin and had seen behind the smoke and mirrors of trade publishing. Denied any input into how my books were marketed and presented, I wanted a different way.

But where do you go when you’ve had the golden contract from the publisher you most admire, and it isn’t what you thought it was?

And then, cancer.

But now here we are, a decade later. A decade that saw our family of four move to London together, saw daughter and son settled with loving partners and finding work they love, the kind of work they could never have got at home.

And saw the miracle of self-publishing unfold.

That was something beyond my imagining in 2008 but was just about to break in the form of The Kindle.

Surviving Cancer The Creative Way

When I got cancer I determined to approach it the creative way and I believe–though such things are never provable–that this approach helped me to survive and thrive.

The more conventional approach to cancer describes the disease through the metaphor of battle.

When we’re diagnosed with cancer, we’re supposed to “fight” it. Newspapers carry stories of brave battles, western medicine pulls out its biggest guns, all the while talking about the need for “aggressive” treatment:  chemotherapy, surgery, radiation.

I have had all those treatments and more, but the battle metaphor never worked for me. I took the same creative way with cancer as I take to everything else in life.

The creative response borrows from psychological research, holistic medicine, and old wives’ tales to take a different approach. It sees physical symptoms as repressed information stored and presented in the body.

In this understanding, full health is more than the absence of disease, it’s the presence of ease.

And our bodies are the voice of our subconscious, trying to “tell” our conscious (con) minds about psychic unease, trying to make it hear, through symptoms, what it would rather deny.

Creative Cancer 

Instead of going to war with resistance, my way is to sit with it and see if I can work out what it’s trying to tell me. Accept it, see it for what it is, and value it. Yes, value it.

Of course, I didn’t like the diagnosis. I was shocked and fearful. I resisted the news but as a creative and creativist, I know that wherever that where there is fear, resistance or self-sabotage, there is also creative treasure. Something important lurks beneath.

After years of observing the dynamic in myself and others, I’ve come to believe that when you go to war with resistance, resistance usually wins. A self-flagellating internal dialogue is set up that is creatively defeating.

For me, the best protection against resistance and self-sabotage is conscious awareness of my own thoughts and emotions. Through this awareness comes understanding: I get clearer on which thoughts and emotions are serving me well.

And which are a drain on my creative energy, causing confusion and distraction, moving me away from presence and, yes, ease.

Back in 2008, I wrote a series of blog posts about Good Things I’ve Learned From Cancer. Looking back at the second post in that series, a rumination on what it means to live what poet Mary Oliver calls our “one wild and precious life”, I can see that taking the creative approach to cancer served me well.

As time has gone on, especially since my five-year all-clear, I have been less vigilant and sometime slip back into doing some of the things that I believe contributed to my cancer in the first place–overwork, overgiving to the wrong people or causes or in the wrong way, thinking I’m stronger than I am-can sneak up on me still.

But overall, I’m happy to celebrate the changes cancer wrought in me.  The awareness that was new in 2008, brought in by the disease, has stayed with me and turned into a way of (wild and precious) life.

Next: Creative Cancer 2: Denial: The Body Never Lies

Orna Ross
Author: Orna Ross

Orna Ross is an award-winning author-publisher, advocate for independent authors and other creative entrepreneurs and, as Director of the Alliance of Independent Authors, "one of the 100 most influential people in publishing" (The Bookseller).