I Didn’t Set Out to Make Cancer Into a Creative Project

Learning you have cancer literally cleaves your life into two. Before was all the la-di-da of your normal life, whatever that was, your dreams and desires, your friends and your family, your job and your hobbies. After is a panicked frenzy of writing down medical terms you’ve never heard of and navigating doctor’s office phone prompts as fast as you can, in an effort to outrun the cells multiplying manically inside of you.

Still, within 48 hours I felt the urgency to blog about it, and within weeks I had embarked on a podcast suggested by, and co-produced with, my son Noah.

When Noah suggested it, I said yes immediately, and envisioned it as me and a bunch of friends sitting around the living room on chemo days smoking medical marijuana. But a podcasting friend said, You’ve got to take your mic into the doctor’s offices. You’ve got to get the sounds of the chemo wing. And so we did. I even got my husband to record me in the recovery room after my double mastectomy. I still laugh every time I listen to my Dilaudid-slurred responses to the nurse telling me how to use the pain pump.

The Chemo Files, ironically, may be the most fun I ever had as a creative person. I got to collaborate with my son, learning as much about writing from him as I imparted. We laughed ourselves silly in the oncology waiting room and played ukulele together in the infusion room. And, amazingly, we picked up a $5,000 award and a free trip to New Orleans when the American Association for Cancer Research awarded us an inaugural June L. Biedler Prize for Cancer Journalism.

Creativity begets creativity. People are often struck by the image on our Chemo Files postcard (above), which shows my head turned into a phrenologist’s model.

That was actually just our 11th-hour effort at a Halloween costume featuring my bald head. I’d always planned to incorporate it into Halloween, but my husband’s surprise triple-bypass operation just weeks earlier put Halloween on the back burner. So the night before Halloween, we brainstormed how we could transform a head quickly using nothing more than eye pencil. And once we saw the pictures, we knew we also had a great image to use for marketing our product.

I’m really proud of the 10-episode series Noah and I created. But I’m even more amazed at what it did for us as a family and for me as a cancer patient. It pulled together talents I forgot I had (I’d made radio documentaries in graduate school) and pulled our family together through a crisis. But most of all, it made cancer fun.

That’s the power of creativity.

I’ll be c0-leading a three-part workshop, Courage to Create, in Montclair, NJ on March 10, 17 and 24. Our motto: Be fearless. Imagine. Make Magic. Sign up with a friend and save money.

Listen to The Chemo Files.

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