Coping With a Disappointing Response to My Cancer Story

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While being treated for a rare bone cancer at the hospital, I’d often lose myself in fiction and storytelling— anything to escape the grim reality I was experiencing personally.

I’ve always enjoyed writing, in fact, one of the first steps I took after receiving my diagnosis was to start a blog and share the journey with my community.

Then somewhere along the way, in addition to keeping up with the blog, I developed an urge to write a book on my experience— about how my life was hijacked by cancer at the age of 30, and how I was miraculously able to defy the odds wrong after given a survival rate of less than 10%.

Part of me secretly hoped that writing might offer me a new career path as I coped with a post-cancer identity crisis. I spent over a year devouring every writing class on Masterclass, joining writing groups and studying the craft.

As my health improved, I sat down and got to work, putting in hours every day with the encouragement of close friends and family. About a year later, I completed a draft of my story. The process was not only extremely cathartic, helping me purge all the terrifying events I had just endured, I also found it creatively rewarding.

In retrospect, I now realize that I experienced disassociation which protected me throughout the writing process— as if the harrowing events were happening to someone else. However, when I had a few close friends and family read the book, they couldn’t keep the hard-hitting emotions at bay quite as easily.

Many expressed that they loved me but just couldn’t re-live everything. I even caught someone close to me pretending they were reading it, but once I engaged with them it became clear they were giving me the run around. Others came back with feedback that the content was a little too dark, if I was trying to get it read more widely. And on top of that, a fellow writer relayed feedback she’d received by publishing agents to basically not waste their time trying to get books on drug addicts or cancer patients published due to a major glut in the market.

Eventually, I stopped working on the book and shut down on the subject to block off the feeling of rejection.

There was the aspect of wanting to pass along valuable insights to other cancer fighters, and my disappointment in others not appreciating the creative elements that I worked hard to refine in the draft — how I laid out scenes, introduced tension and humor, misdirection. Yes, cancer is depressing, but my experience was wild enough where it left room for me to have fun with the storytelling side (all leading to an inspirational, happy ending).

In a way, this felt empowering; I’ve suffered miserably, but now I get to tap into my inner Alfred Hitchcock as I walk readers through the chain of events.

I still care about passing along the tips and tricks I’ve learned; that’s why I keep up with writing these articles and have also been working on a more straightforward guidebook — less storytelling, more facts on how I approached each situation and managed to turn my health around after doctors ran out of answers. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it hurt to feel like my hard work was disregarded by others.

It sucks, but at the same time, I must remind myself that these people literally went through hell with me for years and just because I was able to disassociate in the storytelling, that doesn’t mean they can shield themselves while reliving the destructive events towards someone they love.

I guess like everything else cancer-related, it’s complicated.

And who knows, maybe one day I’ll take another crack at touching it up.

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