16. Redefining purpose through writing

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Ilene shares her journey as a 7-year metastatic breast cancer endurer and how picking up the pen and paper to write again has, in more ways than one, helped her continue to live beyond the statistics.

We covered so many big and small topics during our conversation, but there were two things that really stuck with me even after the recording.

First, it was so powerful to hear Ilene explain how defining herself as a writer helped her live. I myself appreciate how therapeutic writing can be – I’ve actually done some journaling to process my dad’s death before I started this podcast – but what Ilene explained was way more profound because it wasn’t just about writing being therapeutic, but that it gave her a new identity which led her to make connections, build community, and find opportunities to give back. I know Ilene prefers to be called a cancer endurer, but that to me is thriving.

Second, I was so struck by what Ilene’s husband referred to as the “longest goodbye.” I even said so during the recording but couldn’t quite put into words on the spot what I was reacting to. So I reached out after to see if I can get Craig to share what he meant, and this is what he wrote back in an email:

“I live with the uncertainty of waiting for her health to deteriorate and ultimately when she won’t be with me anymore. It’s hard to watch the person you love and who’s your partner go through so much pain and so many treatments only to ultimately have them fail her. It’s also difficult to make future plans any further out than a few weeks. It’s as though she is packing for a trip without me, but may never return.” 

I’ve never met Craig, but it’s as if he was explaining what it was like for me to say goodbye to my dad.

  • Ilene’s blog is called Cancerbus
  • You can find her on Twitter @ilenealizah
  • You can find out more about the about the wonderful retreat she went to at the Commonweal Retreat Center
  • She also mentioned the book The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully by Frank Ostaseski and the podcast On Being.

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