The poems in this collection were written during a series of creative writing workshops with members of the Brighton Breast Cancer Support Group during 2010, funded by Macmillan Cancer Support.
What bought these women, whose ages ranged from 20 to 70, together initially was the fact that they had all been diagnosed with breast cancer, or given the news that they carried the breast cancer gene so were at risk of developing the illness. They shared the experience of being catapulted into an unfamiliar world of tests, hospital appointments and operations, finding their lives turned upside down and under threat.
The creative writing sessions were intended to offer the group an opportunity for self-expression, and the chance to experiment with writing and to learn a little about poetry and poetic form. I hoped it would become a place where they could share their experiences and, by writing about them, perhaps help to process them.
During our weekly sessions I heard about biopsies and bone scans, followed by the long anxious wait for results. I heard what it feels like to undergo mastectomy, chemotherapy, and reconstruction surgery, and to face the ongoing challenges of lymphoedema, pain, and fatigue. I heard many things that will stay with me. But what struck me most about these women was their amazing positivity. Faced with all this, they fought back – teaching themselves about nutrition and alternative therapies, finding out about treatments, sharing advice. They got on with life, determined to embrace it and to appreciate the things illness teaches you really matter: family and friends, and taking time to notice the world around you.
These poems chart the journey these women made from diagnosis through treatment towards healing, and give a flavour of their absolute determination to appreciate and celebrate life. I’d like to thank them all for their enthusiastic and heartfelt responses to the exercises I suggested, and for their willingness to do as I asked them, even when they weren’t sure they could, or even wanted to! This work – produced in just 14 sessions in total – stands as testament to their strength and vitality. Phenomenal women.
Poems by members of Brighton Breast Cancer Support Group, with photographs by Melanie Clark from her collection Abreast of Stress which was shortlisted for the Guardian Student Media Awards.