On Writing about Illness

Mommy boots and Nate boots.

Mommy boots and Nate boots.

I’ve contemplated how best it is to share this story, this experience of being a young mother, fighting this illness. I started this blog to keep friends and family in the loop about what’s going on. But I also started it as a way to get back to writing.

I used to write a lot: short stories, a personal journal, academic papers, and I enjoyed it. But I was always somewhat nervous about sharing my writing. At academic conferences, I would stand up and read my papers. I would submit writing to books and journals and it was always with a sense of trepidation. And a few things have been published. But I always thought, what if people didn’t like what I had to say? When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in December, this fear began to fade away. (It was, unfortunately, replaced with plenty of other fears.) I had always wanted my writing to be as polished as possible before sharing, now I just want it to be as honest as possible.

Along with the diagnosis, there also came a sense of wanting to be more connected. I don’t post often to social networking sites like Facebook, mostly because I felt somewhat strange about sharing my personal life with so many people. Yes, they were all technically my “friends” but many of them were people I hadn’t been in touch with for ages. Wasn’t it strange to share so much with acquaintances? I loved getting updates and seeing pictures from other people. I just didn’t reciprocate much. I didn’t love the idea that little Nate would have an online presence far before he was able to control it, and so I shied away from posting pictures of him. But now, I think I get it, that desire to be connected, that desire for publicness. I want to feel more connected to people, to people from my past and perhaps to some new people too. I want to say, “Hi, remember me?” or more accurately: “Don’t forget me, please.” I want for people to see my little family, and I want to say, “Look at my son. Can you send him a little love?” I also want to say, “Check your boobs, lady friends.”

So, if you found your way here through Facebook, I say, “Hello old friend. Thank you for stopping by.” And please feel free to follow, share, or post a comment. I am happy to tell you that I am now a mother, a wife, and a doctoral student. I am also battling breast cancer.

There has been something profoundly moving about hearing from all sorts of people sending their positive thoughts my way. I want to believe that all these loving thoughts accumulate into something powerful. So here I am, blogging about something very personal, letting down my guard and being open to the world, to connections old and new. It’s my little way of saying, “Universe, you may be messing with me now, but I’m getting ready to mess back.”

This past weekend, we went to a friend’s cottage a few hours north of Toronto. With surgery coming up in one week, we desperately needed to unplug. Here are a few pics from a lovely weekend (and thanks to E and Z for good cottage times):

All smiles at the cottage.

All smiles at the cottage.

Nate with his dad.

Nate with his dad.

Checking out the dock.

Checking out the dock.

Nate and Pooh, hanging at the cottage.

Nate and Pooh, hanging at the cottage.

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About Naomi

Writing about health/wellness and motherhood at www.everybodyhearts.com and academia and research at www.tracingmemory.com
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42 Responses to On Writing about Illness

  1. hensleton says:

    Beautiful! Thanks Naomi. Puts things in perspective. Your strength is truly inspiring. LOVE.

  2. jb says:

    Naomi – this is amazing. Throwing it out in the universe – what an incredible gesture of “generosity”… And you know what I mean!
    Also, what a gorgeous trio you guys make. Hooray for cottage times! You look so radiant (and I love your -new?- sunglasses) and that picture of your Nate and Mitch is too much.
    Thanks to all of you for sharing your special light and love.
    Sending you all big hugs and so much love. — J.

    • Naomi says:

      Thanks, Jb! I love that pic of Nate and Mitch too. (And Nate is wearing his stripes for you!) The sunglasses are not new, but I haven’t worn them much recently – although it’s beautiful and sunny today so I busted them out for my walk to an appointment at the hospital.
      Sending love and light your way too. Let’s talk soon.
      xoxo

  3. Wow, you are awesome, Naomi, for writing so honestly, openly and with such heart (and skill!) and just because you are awesome. Thank you for sharing your inspiring thoughts/feelings on this here internet – the world feels like a better place for it. ❤ robyn

    • Naomi says:

      Thanks, Robyn. So lovely to see you commenting here. It’s been a long time. I hope you are loving life, and it’s loving you back. xo

  4. Andra says:

    When you said “cottage” I pictured sunbathing and spring flowers… those pic’s are a winter wonderland shock! Nevertheless, the three of you look great…and that Nate sure does steal the show! Naomi, your insights and honesty are a model to us all. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Meriah says:

    What a brave thing to do, thanks for sharing your experiences.Sending lots of love your way.

  6. Chocho T says:

    Beautiful writing Naomi! Glad to see happy smiles from your faces:-) All the best!!

  7. Julia Paulson says:

    Hi Naomi,
    Thanks so much for posting your blog to facebook. I remember you!! We only met once in Berlin, but it was so lovely to meet you then and it is so inspiring/tearful to read this honest and generous account of life for you right now. Sending you and the family lots of love and good wishes – and congrats on presenting at the Toronto conference! Your work is so great and clearly the rest of your spirit is too.
    xx Julia

    • Naomi says:

      Thank you Julia. I remember our meeting well! It was lovely to meet you and I’m glad we’re back in touch (although wish it was under different circumstances). Receiving the good wishes and sending some back to you too. xoxo

  8. Anna Swanson says:

    Sending you love Naomi. Thanks for the writing and the photos – I’m glad to know how you’ve been doing, and to hear your articulate and very present way of writing about it. Also happy to get to see all the photos of Nate since I’ve seen so little of his growing up so far! My parents said they got to see you when they were there, and you’ve been in my thoughts a lot. xo

    • Naomi says:

      Hi Anna, thanks for commenting. It was nice to see your parents. Next time you’re in TO, let me know, and you can give Nate a squeeze in person. Hope all is well with you! Lots of love. xo

  9. Veronica says:

    Wow, Naomi. Big hug to you! This is an incredible blog. Thank you SO much for sharing with us and through your openness giving us some insight on what you have been going through. Know that I will have you in my prayers and looking forward to your updates. Will be thinking of you especially as your surgery approaches. X Veronica

    • Naomi says:

      Thanks, Veronica! It doesn’t seem so long ago that we were celebrating in Vancouver. I suppose things change quickly sometimes. Thank you for sending good thoughts my way! I hope everything is going well with you. xo

  10. Isabelle says:

    Wishing you all the best Naomi! Isabelle

  11. Tami king says:

    Hi Naomi, you should never ‘second guess’ your writing because to me, everything you say sounds so perfectly composed. Some people just naturally have that gift and I think you are one of them. I am sorry, I don’t call as often as I should, but I want you to know that I think of you almost daily. I am so sorry to have missed Sarah’s visit, I heard you shared some special moments together:) I am still hoping to make it out there for a visit sometime soon. Sending lots of love your way today and always.
    Xo
    Tami

    • Naomi says:

      You were missed too! Just knowing that you’re thinking of us and sending good thoughts gives me lots of strength. Miss you, and we’ll catch up soon. Much, much love.
      xo

  12. Alyson van Raalte says:

    Hi Naomi, wow I’m sorry to hear that you are going through this. I guess I fall into the category of an acquaintance from the past, or better a friend if only for a short while. But I found your post very touching and beautifully written, and wanted to send my positive thoughts your way.

    • Naomi says:

      Hi Alyson, I’m so happy to hear from you! It has been a long time, but I still remember our French language sessions in Tokyo! 🙂 Thank you for sending positive thoughts. I am accepting them with open arms and sending some back to you too. xoxo

  13. Elizabeth says:

    /claps
    This made my day. And also, I agree completely. With everything. I too have felt torn between wanting on one hand to connect with people, and on the other hand wanting to retreat into my hermit cave with my co-hermit. And writing honestly, especially about painful things, is hard. And by this I mean: I am so glad you decided to put this out there. I think about you a lot!

  14. Mike says:

    We love you and wish the best

  15. Vince says:

    Always love reading your posts, Naomi!

  16. Jared says:

    Hi Naomi. I went to school with Mitch and met you once or twice — always a radiant and warm soul. I just wanted to share a quote with you that has helped me during tough times. It comes from Marcus Aurelius who grew up in poverty and studied philosophy, but soon found himself adopted into an aristocratic family and, eventually, became emperor of Rome. He realized that his perspective was unique: emerging from the depths of dispair to become the most powerful person in the land. And, as a philosopher is wont to do, he kept a private diary of his observations from this unique seat.

    That diary (called the “Meditations”) is where you can find the quote. It goes like this:
    “Be like the rocky headland on which the waves constantly break. It stands firm, and round it the seething waters are laid to rest.

    ‘It is my bad luck that this has happened to me.’ No, you should rather say: ‘It is my good luck that, although this has happened to me, I can bear it without pain, neither crushed by the present nor fearful of the future.’ Because such a thing could have happened to any man, but not every man could have borne it without pain. So why see more misfortune in the event than good fortune in your ability to bear it? Or in general would you call anything a misfortune for a man which is not a deviation from man’s nature? Or anything a deviation from man’s nature which is not contrary to the purpose of his nature? Well, then. You have learnt what that purpose is. Can there be anything, then, in this happening which prevents you being just, high minded, self-controlled, intelligent, judicious, truthful, honourable and free — or any other of those attributes whose combination is the fulfillment of man’s proper nature?

    So in all future events which might induce sadness remember to call on this principle: ‘this is no misfortune, but to bear it true to yourself is good fortune.'”

    I’m sending you and Mitch and Nate all the positive thoughts in the world. 🙂

    • Naomi says:

      Thanks, Jared. So much of this experience has been about trying to reframe the bad so that I can understand it as good, or at least not-so-bad. Thanks for sharing this passage.

      xo

  17. jaredbreski says:

    Hi Naomi. I went to school with Mitch and met you once or twice — always a radiant and warm soul. I just wanted to share a quote with you that has helped me during tough times. It comes from Marcus Aurelius who grew up in poverty and studied philosophy, but soon found himself adopted into an aristocratic family and, eventually, became emperor of Rome. He realized that his perspective was unique: emerging from the depths of dispair to become the most powerful person in the land. And, as a philosopher is wont to do, he kept a private diary of his observations from this unique seat.

    That diary (called the “Meditations”) is where you can find the quote. It goes like this:
    “Be like the rocky headland on which the waves constantly break. It stands firm, and round it the seething waters are laid to rest.

    ‘It is my bad luck that this has happened to me.’ No, you should rather say: ‘It is my good luck that, although this has happened to me, I can bear it without pain, neither crushed by the present nor fearful of the future.’ Because such a thing could have happened to any man, but not every man could have borne it without pain. So why see more misfortune in the event than good fortune in your ability to bear it? Or in general would you call anything a misfortune for a man which is not a deviation from man’s nature? Or anything a deviation from man’s nature which is not contrary to the purpose of his nature? Well, then. You have learnt what that purpose is. Can there be anything, then, in this happening which prevents you being just, high minded, self-controlled, intelligent, judicious, truthful, honourable and free — or any other of those attributes whose combination is the fulfillment of man’s proper nature?

    So in all future events which might induce sadness remember to call on this principle: ‘this is no misfortune, but to bear it true to yourself is good fortune.’”

    I’m sending you and Mitch and Nate all the positive thoughts in the world.

  18. David says:

    Hello amazing friends,

    I can read this over and over again. I truly am thinking about you guys on a daily basis. I love all the pics of Nate – nice boots duuuuuuudddee! I am sending you all the strength in the world for the road ahead. Hugs and Kisses from here.

    • Naomi says:

      HI David, Thanks for the kind words, and for sharing on Facebook!
      Accepting the strength you’re sending, and sending some to you too.
      Much love,
      xo

  19. Duff says:

    Naomi,
    Your writing is well crafted and insightful… your energy is of course even more fantastic. I think its great that you are being so open. It is inspiring.

    I am glad you got away to cottage country and hope you are rested up for your surgery.
    I wish you the best of luck and speedy recovery this week.

    I hope to catch up over the phone whenever you are feeling up to it.

    Love to you Mitch and Nate.

    Duff

  20. Virginia says:

    ….so I have a blog too! I love that you do too. It is a funny thing sharing online so publically…I think about it often and when I was working full time was almost paranoid one of my work friends would find out my secret mommy blog….but it is so nice to have as a record I think. Loved reading your thoughts on this topic xoxo

  21. Holly says:

    I guess I’m one of those people who fall in to the “we lost touch” category after grad school. I’m here via facebook and I’ll champion your writing and you on what I imagine is an incredibly difficult journey. I don’t want to be one of those people who say they can understand or imagine what you’re feeling, cause I can’t. You’re living through in my mind what would be a nightmare – one of my worst nightmares. Right up there with losing a child. A battle you’re waging that must use up nearly every ounce of energy you have.

    The world needs more people like you, Naomi. The world needs all the intelligent, thoughtful, loving and articulate people it can get.

    Sending you all of the positive energy I can conjure because every little bit matters. You’re gonna kick this shitty cancer.

  22. Naomi says:

    Hi Holly! Thanks for reaching out. Yes, it is a nightmare – in so many ways. I’m glad Nate is so young and can’t quite understand what’s happening (although I’m sure he understands some things, at least at a basic level), because all I want to do is take care of him and protect him. As a mom yourself, I’m sure you know this feeling. Thanks, again for posting a comment. I hope you keep following, and keep sending positive energy. I’m sending some back to you too!
    xo

  23. Pingback: This Blog is a Love Letter | Everybody Hearts

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