With more than twenty years as a nonfiction editor for museums and academic journals under my belt, I switched to the other side of the publishing desk to write. It wasn’t really a choice at the start.
After finding out I had a rare and aggressive blood cancer in February 2011, I wanted to share updates with friends and family by posting on a CaringBridge blog. During eight- to ten-day hospital stays for round-the-clock chemo and between rounds of total-body radiation, I kept writing. Even after a life-saving stem-cell transplant from my anonymous donor at world-renowned City of Hope on July 21, 2011—my fortieth birthday (best gift ever!)—I continued blogging to all my supporters. What began as brief updates became the latticework for my self-published book, Every Breath Is a Gift: Reflections on My Leukemia Journey, available in paperback and as an ebook here and here.
There’s been no evidence of disease since my transplant. The gratitude I feel for this extra time with my son, who was twelve months old when I was diagnosed, is only matched by my desire to give back. So I write (and speak and teach).
Because of my yoga training, I knew better ways to eat, breathe, think, and feel during my cancer treatments. Being mindful and expressing myself creatively made all the difference then, and I still tap into these tools and techniques today. I want to empower cancer survivors to live their best lives through mindfulness and creativity.
My writing has been featured in Heal: Living Well after Cancer, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society national website and Facebook page, Yoga International, and Asana: International Yoga Journal. The media, including Prevention and Runner’s World, have quoted me as an expert on the connections of mindfulness practices, health, and good living.
I’ve signed on as the first-ever advice columnist for City of Hope’s cancer online community, Hopeful.org. The first column was posted on the website in July 2018 and reposted on City of Hope’s social media.
As a member of City of Hope’s Speakers’ Bureau, I highlight for audiences how mindfulness and creativity helped me dampen the stress and anxiety of cancer treatments. I also field interview requests via the City of Hope Media Team.
I’m available to share my expertise on the interplay of mindfulness and creativity and how being mindful and creative can help people live better with or after cancer. Please contact me here to request for me to be a guest on your podcast or to speak to your organization.
When the wonder of still being alive gets foggy, I snap it right back into focus with the mindfulness toolbox I assembled in yoga classes, workshops, and teacher training in 2005–6. I studied with Rosie Taylor, a disciple of senior teacher in the Iyengar tradition Kofi Busia, and Ann Richardson Stevens, a protégé of Power Yoga innovator Beryl Bender Birch. I’ve shared mindfulness tools with my yoga students ever since.
In 2017, I participated in a ten-week research study at City of Hope on the efficacy of creating comics as a healing modality for cancer survivors. Other participants and I followed the gifted teacher, Mark Todd—a professional illustrator and art school teacher—down a path of discovery. I learned how to express myself through drawing and embrace my beautiful mistakes, which reignited a part of me from childhood that is full of joy. I’ve since introduced the wonder of comics creation to others informally, and I’ve incorporated it into my innovative workshop.
mindful memoir workshop
For cancer survivors, everything changes. The fear of cancer—coming back (relapse), getting worse (progressive), arriving anew (another type)—never goes away completely. The lingering trauma after treatments or when told to watch and wait can consume seemingly all the time and energy that should go into getting on with life. I’ve developed a workshop called Mindful Memoir to help people through the trauma of cancer to live better.
Mindful Memoir combines mindfulness practices and creative forms of self-expression to explore trauma in a new way.
Some people like to write; others prefer to draw. If the pictures or words are self-focused, that is creative self-expression (Memoir). But when that self-expression focuses on trauma, it’s important to know techniques to shift away from the emotional turmoil of the trauma back to the present moment (Mindfulness). To reflect both components, I named the workshop Mindful Memoir.
Once I was diagnosed with cancer, I became a cancer survivor. That’s a heck of a lot better than what they said in the old days: “cancer victim.” I wanted to live, so the “survivor” label worked well, at least at the beginning. When I got into remission, I said to all who eyed my bald head and chemo-brained blank stare with pity, “But my cancer’s in Remission!” After receiving the life-saving stem-cell transplant, I went back to “cancer survivor.” This label nagged at me, though. How could I still call myself a cancer survivor when cancer had changed me so much since the diagnosis?
For a time I borrowed the wording “cancer thriver.” On those days when it was all I could do to drag myself out of bed to face another day, I felt like a sham, not like someone thriving. That’s when I realized I needed to find something between “survive” and “thrive.” I let it noodle around in my noggin.
Prevail floated into my mind in early 2018. To prevail one must “persist” or “become effective” or “gain ascendancy” (according to Merriam-Webster’s). With magical powers, I conjured up “prevailer” (definitely not in Merriam-Webster’s), which grants survivors the ability to reign over their own lives and not be ruled by cancer.
I am a Cancer Prevailer. Welcome to the kingdom.