Could writing help you process a breast cancer diagnosis?

 Love or hate the whole pink ribbon thing, here we are again!!!

 A constant reminder to be vigilant about our breasts, our health and our lives.        

Both Carla, founding member of Shine Retreats, and our Retreat author, Aga Lesiewicz, join forces to create an opportunity for you to see into their lives and cancer stories. 

Could sharing your story be a powerful tool for connection, processing and healing?

It’s no secret that writing can be therapeutic. Research shows that women with breast cancer who chose to write about their experience reported fewer symptoms and had fewer unscheduled appointments with their doctors. A recent study found that one 20-minute writing session is enough to change the way people with cancer think and feel about their illness.

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Retreat Writing Teacher, Aga Lesiewicz, is a London-based fiction author and screenwriter.

Aga, as soon as she could return to her laptop after her surgery, immersed herself in creative writing. 

"For me, as a writer, it was a natural thing to do. It was a way of escaping the scary and unpredictable reality of being a cancer patient into a world I could control. I’d been doing it for years in my books: weaving narratives where I was the puppet-master. Now my writing had a new purpose: it turned the chaos and bleakness of life filled with hospital appointments and fear into a story I was in charge of. It helped a lot. Of course it did, our brains love a good story, they are ‘story processors’ that turn our seemingly random lives into plots that make sense. 



Researchers differ in their explanations of why putting pen to paper can be so therapeutic, but let me offer my guess: writing is healing because writing is storytelling. And storytelling is what makes us human. We experience our lives in story mode – stories are us. To quote Will Storr, the author of a brilliant book The Science of Storytelling, ‘Story emerges from human minds as naturally as breath emerges from between human lips. You don’t have to be a genius to master it. You’re already doing it.’

  And then I realised what was so scary about this new life: it didn’t make sense. The shock of the diagnosis, being suddenly transformed from a self-reliant adult into a patient whose life depended on the decisions made by others - doctors, nurses, therapists - it all seemed alien to me. But gradually I got used to the new regime, punctuated by hospital appointments, treatments, and excruciating waits for test results.  

            With time the mastectomy scars have healed. After the all-clear from a lovely radiologist who instructed me to ‘go and enjoy life’, I was so ready to do so! Except… my old life didn’t exist anymore. The old me didn’t exist anymore. Because, no matter how strong and resilient you are, the moment you’re told that you have cancer changes your life irrevocably. My self-worth and confidence plummeted, my sense of security got undermined, my hopes for the future were compromised, and, most of all, my trust in my own body was shattered.



How do you dig yourself out of this hole? Well, it’s not easy. It takes time and a lot of effort. In my case it meant turning to my writing again and using my skills as a story-teller to regain control of the narrative that was my life. I followed the words of my fellow writer, Chocolat author Joanne Harris, who got diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after me, in 2020. She openly talked about her experiences of dealing with 'Mr C’ on social media: a bold and generous gesture that helped many. She turned her fear into a superpower and treated her cancer as a fictional ‘monster’ during her treatment. To use her own words: ‘I turned him [Mr C] into a character so I could destroy him. Because that’s what I do.’ 

And so, you slowly regain the sense of mastery and control that you were denied during treatment. By writing about it, you put the experience of cancer in its right place: not by forgetting about it, pretending it didn’t happen, or denying its power, but by using it to your advantage. This is your story to tell.

SR Susan writing 1

Whether it’s letters, journaling, emails, social media posts, blogs, memoir, poetry or fiction, writing helps us understand ourselves and our lives. It helps us process our feelings, it lets us share them with others, and it heals."

Aga Lesiewicz

We welcome you to what wonderful possibilities has come out of this process:

Beautiful, Precious ME Retreat
May 1st - 8th 2024

A retreat that sees our resident writer Aga Lesiewicz and one of our founders Carla Octigan, bring their personal experience of breast cancer to a week of acknowledgement, writing and joy. 




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