I’ll always remember the day that the pain blossoming in my side, bright and constricting, was confirmed to be from a 13-centimeter tumor growing from my kidney and pressing against my other organs. The day after receiving my diagnosis, I sat on my bed, afraid to move, afraid of the foreign object in my body that really wasn’t so foreign, and that had inexplicably been with me through thick and thin, likely for my entire life. I opened a new Word document on my laptop, and typed out the words “Dear right kidney — it’s been a ride, hasn’t it?”
Motivation with New Purpose
I was lucky in the end. The tumor was miraculously organ-confined, so a nephrectomy was all I needed. I had family and friends that were there for me the entire time. And I had something else that helped me through my recovery: creative writing.
In college, I had abandoned all my Word documents containing half-finished lines of poetry and half-drafted short story ideas in favor of annotated lecture slides and lab reports for my science classes. As a biology student, I let myself fall out of love with creative writing, the one hobby I wanted to keep but lacked the motivation and time to maintain. But after the kidney incident, as my family calls it, I found myself approaching my writing with a new purpose.
Therapy Through Art
I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of entropy, and our efforts as humans to defy it. Against all odds, despite everything the universe throws at us, we are here together, with lives to live and stories to tell. For me, creative writing has been a grounding force as I deal with follow-up scans and doctor’s visits. The very act of writing is my attempt to make order out of disorder, to turn struggles into stories that heal.
Moreover, the therapeutic effects of art and writing can be formally incorporated into patient care to great effect. For instance, through narrative medicine, physicians can help patients reflect upon and tell their own stories as part of the healing process. Johns Hopkins itself allows students to explore the field of medical humanities through the HEART (humanism, ethics, education and the arts of medicine) scholarly concentration. For those who enjoy creative endeavors in their free time, this is a great opportunity to continue engaging in the arts in both a personal and professional sense while also forming meaningful connections with other people.
As for me, I recently went back to the surgical pathology report I’d received, and copied the text into a new Word document. My intentions were simple: turn it into blackout poetry. Take a Sharpie to those lines that had brought me so many conflicting emotions and create something of my own. Make order out of disorder. By the time I was done, words like “recurrence” and “possible malignancy” and “mutations” had disappeared. In between chunks of blacked-out text, the remaining letters spelled out:
I am still here.
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