o say I have always loved to write is an understatement. When in elementary school our class was punished for our behavior by having to write the same sentence 500 times, I would actually look forward to it! My parents would notify the teacher that it wasn't exactly "punishment" for me, as I was in my room at that very moment relishing in the writing of swirly y's, loopy l's and mountainous m's. She would have to find some other way to chastise me, that didn't involve writing.
When I was fourteen years old, my family, who had been close knit and relatively happy, disintegrated in a matter of months after my father abandoned my mother, sister and I. This threw us into a painful separation and divorce that took the three of us many years to overcome. My mother, sister and I moved to another town to start anew.
During this time, the shock of such a change transformed the relationship I had with my mother. She was going through her own nightmare and feelings of abandonment. Sometimes, she seemed to be in a trance. Rather than share with her my deepest fears of an uncertain future, I turned to my writing, to my journal, which, interestingly enough, I had begun to use three months before the divorce.
Yes, I had always loved to write, but as I wrote my heart out in my hard covered journal, I had no idea how my silent friend, who guarded my innermost thoughts, would help me cope with this and other tragedies to come.
It never occurred to me that something that was as simple as writing in a journal could be such a powerful source of comfort, inspiration and strength. Now, I know that as other adolescents of my generation coped with life's ups and downs through alcohol and drugs, I was always escaping through writing and, of course, reading. Reading biographies about women like Helen Keller, among others, who had overcome huge obstacles in their lives made my circumstances seem insignificant by comparison.
Later, during my own divorce after thirteen years of marriage, after having long abandoned my journal writing for a job outside the home and for the everyday demands of being a wife and mother, I remembered the strength my journal had provided me when my family's future and mine seemed uncertain and bleak. So, I returned to the beckoning pages for comfort and self-expression.
This is when I began to research the impact and power experienced during different stages of people's lives through the process of writing. I began to read books such as " Writing as a Way of Healing" by Louise DeSalvo, Ph.D., and "With Pen in Hand" by Henriette Anne Klauser, Ph.D., who shared precious insights about the power of healing writing presented to them in their own lives. Not only that, but they wrote about how writing could transform adversity into a new life direction. I thought I had already learned this last lesson. However, I didn't know that my most difficult test was still ahead of me.
I had been working as an elementary schoolteacher for nearly ten years when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a great shock to me as I was the first in my family to be diagnosed with cancer. I underwent a lengthy operation for the removal and reconstruction of my left breast, followed by nearly a year of chemotherapy and a few months of radiation. I was, to put it lightly, overcome with grief and confusion.
I took a year off work and wrote in my journal nearly everyday. It was witness to my feelings of despair and fear, my newfound delight in gardening, when seeds sprouted into tiny stems and then blossomed into delicate flowers under my care. My journal was also witness to endless days of reflection and the difficult but eventual forgiveness of my father's abandonment so many years before, which I thought had already been resolved but which I knew needed to be readdressed.
With each year that passes, I am so thankful that I have chronicled and charted the steps taken through my life experiences, my healing of cancer and my past emotional burdens. I can see now, as I revisit long ago written pages by that fourteen year-old girl those forty years ago (whose journal I still have), what a wonderful friend awaited me. Silent but ever present, and guiding me through each page, line by line, my life has been transformed. I cannot deny that I was given the strength to become the person that I am today with the help of a very real participant and mentor.my therapist, my journal.
Leah M. Cano is a teacher/writer living in Laguna Beach, California and has written for Transitions Abroad Magazine, MAMM Magazine and is featured in the Experiment for International Living and Vermont Studio Center websites. She is also a contributor to the recent Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Survivor's Soul anthology. Her email: firstname.lastname@example.org