The Blue Sky Faded

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The poems in this collection were written during a series of creative writing workshops with 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 was the fact 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 disease. They shared the experience of being catapulted into an unfamiliar world of tests and operations, finding their lives turned upside down and under threat.

The writing sessions were intended to offer them a place for self-expression, and the chance to experiment and explore poetry. I hoped it would become somewhere they could share their experiences and, by writing about them, maybe help to process them.

During our sessions I heard about biopsies and bone scans, and anxious waiting for results. I heard what it feels like to undergo mastectomy, chemotherapy, and reconstruction surgery, and face 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, researching 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.

These poems chart the journey these women made from diagnosis through treatment towards healing, and give a flavour of their determination to appreciate and celebrate life. I thank them all for their enthusiastic and heartfelt responses to the exercises, and for their willingness to do as I suggested, even when they weren’t sure they could, or even wanted to! This work – produced in just 14 sessions – 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.