Write to Fight Cancer Workshop Gives Tools to Face Disease

David Tabatsky

By Juliana Bunim

Attendees at the Write to Fight Cancer workshop at UCSF’s Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Art for Recovery Program were young and old, women and men, in active treatment and in remission. But they all had a story to tell, a story of how their lives were transformed by cancer.

Patients, survivors and others affected by cancer gathered Nov. 16 for two interactive workshops presented in partnership with Genentech to learn how to transform their feelings into words and stories.

Led by David Tabatsky, co-author of “Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Cancer Book,” guests gathered to share their personal experiences and broach writing as another meaningful tool in their fight against cancer.

Tabatsky stressed the importance of active listening and detail throughout the workshop, emphasizing how a story can change when you take a moment to stop and say it out loud. “The language we use changes how we tell stories,” said Tabatsky. “Sometimes you can be so busy writing that you forget to listen.”

Observing the fine points is what creates the bigger picture, according to Tabatsky, and personal voice is often in telling the details and motivations of characters. Tabatsky instructed the group to start paying attention to who the characters are, “how they communicate and respond to other people and what makes them tick.” 

“More often than not, the majority of people who would write first person journaling, memoiring, blogging…these tools are the central elements that will make that as big an experience as it can be,” he said.

The workshop concluded with participants tasked with writing a scene of dialogue between two people, either with a realistic or dramatic purpose. Tabatsky pointed to the real-life value this technique can have in preparing for doctors appointments and important interactions as well.

“It’s the idea of dialogue as control,” he said. “Writing down scenarios, questions and follow up questions in advance would make me more prepared.”

While some participants chose to write dialogue between themselves and their doctor, others chose to write their scenes with their kids, friends or a random person they saw crying in the lobby.

“I’m not normally comfortable writing dialogue so it was an interesting exercise for me,” said one participant. “The dialogue I wrote was between my family and me, and explaining to them what these holidays will mean to me.”

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