Writing Through Cancer

Her blogs have appeared in the New York Times under such headings as: “Sex After Cancer,” “Living With Cancer: The Lure of Alternative Remedies,” and “Lessons on Dying from David Bowie and my Friends.”

Susan Gubar, American author and distinguished Professor Emerita of English and Women’s Studies at Indiana University recently spent time visiting patient Emma Douglas-Roberson at IU Health Simon Cancer Center. As she walked the hallway to the patient’s room, Gubar commented that the visit brought back memories of her hospital stay. Diagnosed with ovarian cancer in November 2008, Gubar remains in the care of IU Health’s Dr. Anna Maria Storniolo.

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month a time to remind men and women of signs, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment. For years, it has been called the “the whisper” because symptoms were not thought to develop until the cancer had advanced. However, recent studies have shown this term is untrue and that the following symptoms are much more likely to occur in women with ovarian cancer than women in the general population.

The most common symptoms are bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, trouble eating or feeling full quickly, and urinary symptoms such as urgency and frequency.

IU Health CompleteLife music therapist Emily Caudill met Gubar at one of her writing workshops. Caudill who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2011 had read one of Gubar’s books about her ovarian cancer diagnosis “Memoir of a Debulked Woman.”  After her recent doctor’s appointment Gubar joined Caudill for a music therapy session with Douglas-Roberson, undergoing treatment for Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia.

Gubar, is widely known for the 1979 book “The Madwoman in the Attic,” co-written by Sandra Gilbert. The book examines Victorian literature from a feminist perspective. In all, Gubar has authored 20 books including two about her cancer diagnosis.

Sitting at the patient’s bedside, Gubar signed a copy of her book “Reading & Writing Cancer” and wished the patient well. Gubar donated several copies of the book available to patients through the Cancer Resource Center. In the book’s cover, author Joyce Carol Oates is quoted: “In the intimacy and forth-rightness of her prose, Susan Gubar provides a model for writing that is therapeutic for both the writer and the reader.”

In her books about her diagnosis, Gubar talks about the importance of journal writing as an alternative form of therapy.

“Writing can help all kinds of patients especially cancer patients,” she said. “It’s a great way to remember and go back and reread thoughts. It gives people a sense of monitoring what they are doing and to recognize that it’s not all a nightmare. There are moments of levity and human contact.”

— T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org