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Medicineworld.org: Five Women, Five Stories, Five Breast Cancer Survivors.

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Five Women, Five Stories, Five Breast Cancer Survivors.

Five Women, Five Stories, Five Breast Cancer Survivors.
A year and a half ago, these women gathered for the first time for a writing and performance workshop. Having been through the world of oncology, they arrived needing to express their feelings of fear and powerlessness - as they would say, to Get It Off Our Chests. They joined the workshop to reclaim their power and use their voice and words to help other women who would follow them through the world of cancer. They knew they had a powerful message to share - there is life after cancer; there is hope; you are not alone.

Facilitated by a theatre director (me, Leah Carey) and a writing coach (novelist Jodi Picoult), the group spent three months writing, sharing their stories with each other, and learning new skills that would help them share their stories onstage. I developed a script from their writing, and three nights of performances were planned for their family, friends, and medical teams. What happened next took us all by surprise.

The response to our show, by both media and audiences, was astounding. Word spread. We were invited to perform in three states. The women jumped at the chance to take their message of hope and healing on the road (on weekends only, since all of the women have jobs and families). At each stop, audience members urged the group to record the show so it could be seen by a wider audience.

After our first performance, the editor of an international oncology journal, The Journal of Cancer Education, sought me out to write an article about the benefits of writing and performance (known as expressive disclosure) for the breast cancer survivor. In my research, I discovered that people who write for just 15 minutes a day experience significant, measurable improvements in their emotional and physical health. In maladies as wide-ranging as breast cancer and rheumatoid arthritis, these health benefits include fewer illness-related medical visits. These results are astounding!! If writing for a few minutes a day results in fewer trips to the doctor and less stress on the medical system, why aren't doctors, oncologists, and surgeons crying this from the rooftops? Quite simply, because they don't know about it. Expressive disclosure is well-documented in psychological journals and literature, but to my knowledge my article (published in March 2006 and enclosed in this package) is the first time it has appeared in an oncology journal. The importance and benefits of this "new" therapy can't be overstated; any patient can undertake it, regardless of insurance coverage or diagnosis. Other than encouraging their patients to do it, doctors do not have to prescribe, administer, or track side effects; this is a "treatment" with ABSOLUTELY NO SIDE EFFECTS.

That brings us to today. A screen adaptation of our stage production is currently underway under the title Getting It Off Our Chests. Like the stage show, it is a story filled with truth and wisdom, pain and humor, but most of all, it is a story about real women surviving and thriving after hearing the dreaded diagnosis. Getting It Off Our Chests addresses the human side of the disease, the emotional and spiritual journey of breast cancer, rather than the facts and figures we hear so often on the news.

What makes this piece different from all the information and corporate attention already dedicated to breast cancer?

First, while huge effort is necessarily put into finding new treatments and cures for those women who will be diagnosed in the future, Getting It Off Our Chests speaks to the women who are battling the disease and living with its aftermath today. We offer support and information to women who, for instance, have suffered in silence because they have never heard of "chemo brain" and thought they were going crazy (unfortunately this is a true story that we have encountered more than once.)
Second, for doctors we offer an insight into treating the whole patient, not just the physiological disease (we had one oncologist tell us that in the course of our 75-minute performance, she heard things about her patients' experiences that she had never heard in 20 years of practice.) Medical personnel have also told us consistently that Getting It Off Our Chests is an excellent instructive tool for those medical students still developing their "bedside manner" and their sense of themselves as physicians.
Third, the perspective that our group offers to families and friends of survivors is invaluable. Women in the midst of battling breast cancer often do not have the energy or clarity to express what they need and how they feel. Getting It Off Our Chests offers insight about state of mind, what is helpful (and what is not!), and what it means to a woman who is used to being her family's caretaker to suddenly be the one taken care of.

Fourth, Getting It Off Our Chests is about women helping women and taking a proactive approach to their own health and healing. Proceeds from Getting It Off Our Chests will go toward making workshops available around the country for women (including and especially low-income women) who are living with the aftereffects of a life-changing trauma like breast cancer. This will complete the cycle from original workshop, to regional phenomenon, to national distribution, back to original workshop....and this time for many, many more women.

Please take a few minutes to visit our website, SacredCliffs.org. If you are moved by our message of hope and healing, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution on the Donate page. Please spread the word to your friends and family, and especially everyone you know that has been touched by cancer. This is more than a video production - we are spreading the word about a new, proactive approach to your own health.




Did you know?
A year and a half ago, these women gathered for the first time for a writing and performance workshop. Having been through the world of oncology, they arrived needing to express their feelings of fear and powerlessness - as they would say, to Get It Off Our Chests. They joined the workshop to reclaim their power and use their voice and words to help other women who would follow them through the world of cancer. They knew they had a powerful message to share - there is life after cancer; there is hope; you are not alone.

Medicineworld.org: Five Women, Five Stories, Five Breast Cancer Survivors.

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