Writing About Cancer

Bob Riter is the retired Executive Director of the Cancer Resource Center. His articles about living with cancer appeared regularly in the Ithaca Journal and on OncoLink. He can be reached at bobriter@gmail.com.

A collection of Bob’s columns, When Your Life is Touched by Cancer: Practical Advice and Insights for Patients, Professionals, and Those Who Care, is available in bookstores nationwide and through online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. All royalties from the sale of the book come to the Cancer Resource Center.

When I began writing this newspaper column about cancer, I wondered how long it could last. After all, how many story ideas about cancer could there be?

Seven years later, the ideas keep coming and I’m still writing.

I’ve decided that writing about cancer is writing about life. Cancer is a lens that makes life appear in greater focus and with added intensity.

Walking through an oncology office exposes one to fear, uncertainty, pain, and celebration. All of life’s emotions are exposed and on the surface.

We all experience this sense of intensity – in a good way – when spring first arrives. You suddenly smell the grass, hear the birds, and feel the warmth of the sun on your face. For a moment, you’re aren’t thinking, you’re just experiencing.

When cancer patients look back to the beginnings of their cancer journies, they remember that burst of intense experience.

Perhaps they remember sitting in the waiting room of a doctor’s office with their stomachs knotted and jaws clenched. Or maybe they remember their first glimpse at the chemotherapy suite. It all seems so surreal at first, and one’s gut is reacting even when one’s brain is overwhelmed.

We all think that we have complicated lives, but everyone’s life becomes more complicated when they’re diagnosed with cancer. But I marvel at the ability of people to adapt and to move forward the best that they can.

That’s why there are so many stories related to cancer. It’s intense and complicated, but it’s all about life. Cancer just takes away the pretense and provides insight as to who we really are.


Reprinted with permission of the Ithaca Journal.

Click here to see all of Bob’s columns

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