In prior posts, I identified several coping strategies I used during my treatment for acute myeloid leukemia. I’ll never know if they contributed to my positive outcome, but I’ll always know they sustained me through some harrowing times.
That was certainly the case with my final, and most important, coping strategy: writing my story. It began within a week of my diagnosis and initial hospitalization when I penned a long email to some neighbors to update them on my status. Over time, my recipients grew to over fifty people and the missives ballooned to over sixty reports narrating my cancer odyssey.
My ostensible goal was to keep people informed, and I was rewarded with supportive feedback from many who responded with kind words, timely advice, heartfelt prayers, and good wishes.
It eventually dawned on me that my story telling served an even more important purpose for me. Each day in the hospital brought a new and dizzying array of personnel, medications, tests, scans, side-effects, cautions, and complications. While I received excellent care, it was an overwhelming initiation into the world of cancer treatment that left me feeling highly vulnerable and utterly dependent on the care of strangers.
The best way I could make sense out of it was to write about it. Composing these reports became a psychic survival mechanism.
Story telling can take many forms and serve many purposes. For me, translating inchoate emotions and unpredictable circumstances into a coherent narrative tamed my fears and preserved my identity. At a time when there wasn’t much I could control on this roller coaster ride, telling my story allowed me to be the author of my own life.
It was many months later that it dawned on me that there could be a wider audience for the story I had been telling. The result was my memoir “How Steve became Ralph.”
Steve Buechler is a recently retired sociology professor and cancer survivor. In 2016, he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and successfully treated with chemotherapy, radiation, and a stem cell transplant. He has since become a big advocate of writing stories as a survival strategy in the face of life-threatening illness. His own story is available in “How Steve Became Ralph: A Cancer/Stem Cell Odyssey (with Jokes),” his memoir from Written Dream Publishing. Learn more at Steve’s website.