When I was first diagnosed with cancer I made the decision to share my story with strangers. I started a blog called Boo Cancer, You Suck as a safe place for me to process what I was going through. Every new day seemed to bring up a new and unexpected challenge for me so it was wonderful to have a place I could to get it all out. It was also nice to have a place where my family and friends could see what was going on in my life. It can be a little emotionally exhausting to have to recount the same, often traumatic stories over and over again, even to the most well-meaning of loved ones in our lives.
Ever since I was a child I remember feeling like art had the power to save me somehow. There are many forms of art, and I believe that writing is one of them. A lot of people choose to go to a therapy session or a support group to deal with what they are feeling, but for me, at the time, having a place to vent was priceless. I think it saved my life. It helped me get through my treatment better than I would have if I had not had an outlet at all. I was surprised at the number of people who started following my blog. Many of them did not even have cancer! Some had loved ones who were just diagnosed and so they were scared, some wanted to help their friends or family member who was going through treatment, and some people were just really incredible human beings who read my story and felt connected to me somehow.
The amount of love and support that was given to me through the blog was incredible. I am still overwhelmed by it to this day. I couldn't believe that so many people would want to hear about what I was going through. I mean, it wasn't exactly pleasant most days. Cancer isn't really something that's "fun" to read about. The images I was posting weren't exactly easy to look at. There were pictures of me crying, pictures of my hair falling out, pictures of me injecting myself with needles. Not exactly a happy quotation over a nature background like some of the images floating around in the blogosphere!
One person who tuned into my story was Matt Creed, the director of Lily. Matt was a guy I would see at a coffee shop here in town from time to time. We'd chat casually while I waited for my coffee, and one day I mentioned my blog to him and told him a little about what I was going through. What surprised me later on was that every time I saw him after that he would ask me really detailed questions about something I had written on the blog. He was reading it!
I know it sounds funny to say that I told someone about the blog and then sound shocked that they read it, but, again, cancer. Not exactly fun to read about. Matt mentioned that it might be cool to turn some of my story into a short film. At the time that sounded like a great idea, but I was also about to start chemo and so that idea was temporarily put on hold. Round about the time I was getting into my radiation treatment Matt and I met up and started brainstorming what it was that we wanted to say in our story. We had decided we would make a film together because we both agreed about the importance of art as a way to heal. You see, even Matt was going through something tough at the time. He was coming out of a relationship and was in a fragile place himself. You might think that is not a fair comparison. Cancer vs. relationship ending, but let's get real. Our pain is our own and it's no less intense or painful that he had lost someone he loved that what I was going through. At least that's how I see it anyhow. You don't have to agree with me on that one.
Matt and I thought that it would be interesting to not focus on the chemo part of treatment. For me personally, I thought that what I wanted to focus on the most was how hard it was to be finishing treatment. At the time when we were writing I was, in real life, coming to the end of my own treatment and it didn't feel as amazing as you might think it would. I felt uncertain. I felt lost. I felt like I was no longer myself because how could I be? How could I go through what I had been through and come out the same? And if I had what would have been the point of it all?
Cancer had changed me. But what exactly that meant was something I was still working out on my own. We started writing a script based on a character who was coming to the end of her treatment and who now faced the uncertainty of life after cancer. Yes, there was life… but what to do with it now? That was the question.
Writing the script with Matt was a good way for me to start to close the door on that particular period of my life. I was coming to the end of a journey and what better way to bring it full circle than to write about it (again) and then turn it into another form of art—cinema! And I trusted Matt with my story. That to me was the most important part of the equation. I knew that not only was Matt a fellow artist, but that he was very familiar with my journey and would honor it the best that he could. Collaborating with him on a film was the best kind of therapy I could have asked for. And it was free! Making a film that hit so close to home was nothing but a truly terrific experience. One of the best I've had so far. A large part of that is Matt just being Matt, and a large part of it is him as an artist with a vision and a sensitivity to a very intense subject matter which he knew he would turn into something wonderful. And indeed he did.
Lily was one more way to talk about cancer. It has been incredible to explore so many artistic avenues when it comes to having a dialogue about a very serious disease. Art heals. Art is a release. Art is communication. And art is so, so important in my life. Moving forward I continue to write, create, and put new things into the world every day. I don't know what the future has in store for me, but I do know that whatever it is I have a lot of healthy ways to deal with it.