Louisville taught me to write my way through breast cancer

I knew the results of the biopsy before my doctor said a word. The giant box of tissues she carried with her into the consulting room broke the news before she could. But I didn’t cry when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. After understanding the words “invasive lobular carcinoma”, I simply pulled out a notebook from my bag to jot down notes on the plan of attack.

Lumpectomy, five months of chemotherapy and 36 cycles of radiotherapy – this is the active treatment I underwent from February to December 2020. But I knew it would not be enough.

I knew I had to write.

I will tell everyone who will listen to me that I wrote my way through cancer. But what most people don’t know is that the city of Louisville taught me how to do it.

I was born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, but Louisville is my heart’s hometown. Armed with two journalism degrees, I moved to Louisville in 2005 to work at the Courier Journal, the same place where I cut my teeth as a journalist as an intern. It takes a village to raise a writer and the village that raised the writer in me was found in the river town among the CJ editors and reporters who helped me hone my craft and find my voice .

As a journalist, I spent my days telling other people’s stories. But it wasn’t until I started writing a bi-weekly column for Velocity, the Courier Journal’s arts and entertainment weekly, that I saw the power of my own story.

I left Louisville in 2009 to return to Birmingham but brought my love of storytelling with me. When a cancer diagnosis in January 2020 shook the earth beneath me, writing kept me grounded.

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First, I needed to tell myself my story. I’ve been obsessed with journaling since the day I wrote the words “Dear Diary” in a little pink notebook as a young girl. But as an adult, my journal has become more than a place to vent teenage angst or confess my latest crush. My journal has become my space to process my emotions, dream my wildest dreams, and sketch out plans to make them come true.

Of course, during my cancer treatment, I had a lot of feelings to sort through. I used journaling to process my frustration with the side effects of chemo — my constantly uncomfortable stomach, my aching hands and feet, my heart always racing even when I sat still. When the pain from the radiation burns kept me awake, I wrote all night, turning the words into a soothing balm.

I kept a journal to deal with the dark thoughts that kept me awake at night too. I often wondered if life would ever be beautiful again. But through journaling, I realized that whether life after cancer was worth living was up to me, not cancer.

Journal Javacia Harris Bowser

Writing a column while working in Louisville taught me that I needed to share my story. So I started sharing my cancer journey with others too, through my blog and social media. I have written essays for various publications and conducted media interviews. I was even quoted in an Oprah magazine article.

Eventually, I also wrote and published a book called “Find Your Way Back”. It’s a collection of essays that show how I’ve used writing to cope with cancer and all that life has thrown my way. I’ve included writing prompts throughout the book because I think you can write your way through anything too.

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Once I started sharing my story, I realized that it also takes a village to beat cancer. After people learned of my diagnosis, they showered me with love and support. My village sent me cards and letters full of words of encouragement. They sent blankets for the cold chemo room, mint tea for nausea, and even money for medical bills. Many of these recovery gifts have come from friends I met in Louisville. Even though hundreds of miles separated us, that didn’t stop them from reminding me that they are still my people.

Sharing my story has also given me the opportunity to help others. People have sent messages that seeing me battle cancer with courage and grace has helped them find the courage to overcome obstacles in their own lives. Some women shared that my story motivated them to have the mammogram they had delayed. Other cancer survivors who thought their diagnosis was a dirty secret have told me that I helped them shed the shame and tell their truth.

Cancer – and cancer treatment – ​​can make you feel like you’ve lost control of your body and your life. But with each person touched by my story, I felt like I was taking my power back.

Whatever battle you face, don’t go it alone. Let people in. And know that one of the best ways to cultivate community is to simply share your story.

Javacia Harris Bowser

Javacia Harris Bowser is an award-winning freelance journalist and essayist based in Birmingham, Alabama, and she is the founder of See Jane Write, a community and website for women writers. Javacia has written for USA Today, Heart & Soul, Good Grit, HerMoney.com and a host of other outlets. She is the author of Find Your Way Back, a collection of essays that explore how she used writing to cope with cancer and all that life threw her way. Find Javacia on Instagram and Twitter @seejavaciawrite.

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