When I was diagnosed with cancer, I had several people tell me that I should keep a journal. They said that it would help me to express my feelings, both good and bad, and would be therapeutic. I wasn’t surprised by their suggestion, after all, I was writer. I had spent several years creating clever copy for commercials, heartfelt narrative for fundraising videos and promotions and had even written and published a few plays and short stories. I taught my love of the written word to students in middle school and in high school. I loved crafting a sentence to elicit an emotional response and always looked forward to discovering another way to play with nouns.
Words brought me joy, so I thought that journaling would be a perfect way for me to chronicle my cancer journey. I bought several spiral notebooks and placed them around my home. One in the living room, one in my bedroom and one in my home office. I was ready to write! I kept a small notebook in my purse to jot down ideas if I was on the go. I had read books written by survivors, and I knew that this was the way I was going to survive my cancer. Journal it.
Then I got sick. I had back to back surgeries to remove all of the cancer. I threw up – a lot. Finally I was feeling better and ready to begin chemotherapy. I dusted off my spiral notebooks and took them with me to chemotherapy. Three hours in a chair having toxic drugs pumped into me – a perfect place to ‘talk’ about cancer.
Funny thing happened on the way to my journal. I lost my nouns. Literally. Chemotherapy made me a head case. I could look at an item, know what it was, but couldn’t say the word. Cup, I know that’s a cup, why can’t I say the word cup...and then I’d forget that I was trying to say the word cup. My writing read like a junior high essay – full of delightfully vague references to items – so he goes, I’d like that thing, and would you put some stuff in it. My husband became adept at filling in the blanks. Our conversations would start with ‘Honey, I’d like some...and I’d stare at him like our dog stares at us, hoping we can read his mind. Unlike our dog, I would oftentimes add pantomime gestures, hoping to get my point across. Unfortunately, my husband is not a fan of charades and would sometime just fill in the blank. Coffee? Blanket? Toaster oven? After a few months, he would just tell me what I wanted. I couldn’t remember anyway so it worked out.
So, here I am, a writer who can’t write. A teacher who can’t teach. An actor who can’t speak (I almost said who can’t act, but I’ll leave that to the reviewers). Anyway, I started to feel sorry for myself. Poor me! Cancer has ruined my life! Whine, whimper, pout. And then, I thought – I can still see. I can still use my hands. I’m suppose to be creative,so come up with another way to express that creativity. Hobby Lobby to the rescue!
I went shopping and found little birdhouses. I took them home and started painting them white with pink roofs. I covered the roofs with hearts, painted flowers on the sides of the birdhouse and even added climbing roses to the front of the birdhouse. Then I gave the birdhouses away to newly diagnosed patients. Somewhere along the way, I stopped feeling sorry for myself. It’s hard to be sad when you are painting birdhouses with pink roofs. It’s also hard to feel sorry for yourself when you are doing for someone else.
So the chemotherapy continued. I continued to struggle with my nouns, but the sweet little birdhouses sang my journey. I don’t have reams of paper ready to convert to a best seller, but I know that there are
many happy little birdhouses sitting on table tops in the homes of other survivors. Birdhouse – that’s a noun isn’t it?