A Story that Started Right Here: Journaling About Cancer

Writing is something I have always enjoyed (well, with the exception of required research papers.) But a busy lifestyle as a teacher and mother hadn’t allowed time for much more than an annual holiday letter these past years. Being on a medical leave during my breast cancer treatment brought my fingers to the keyboard, though.

The intention was to share with family and friends how my days were going. Many wanted to know, but didn’t want to call and bother me. CaringBridge offered a place where people could get information on how I was doing. It allowed me to keep the facts straight, with my perspective on what I dubbed a bumpy road trip.

Writing the entries became one of my solaces during the months of chemo and radiation. And CaringBridge allowed family and friends to participate in the difficult recovery process. As an elementary teacher, I also wanted to educate others on the impact such a diagnosis can have on individuals and their families. I didn’t enjoy the cancer treatment, but I found joy in applying the strategies I teach my students for writing effective narrative stories. There is more to it than simply saying, I feel like crud.

As far as writing, I never thought of myself as anything out of the ordinary when I was young. I’ve had small nudges toward honing my writing skills as an adult, though, and the audience on CaringBridge brought this gift to light in a new way. I’ve been told my words have made people laugh and cry, right along with me. The journal style brought about a better understanding of the emotional and physical challenges as they unfolded one day at a time. People found my entries real, entertaining, and inspirational. It was with their encouragement and support that the journal became my first book, What About the Hair Down There? Chemo Chuckles and Treatment Tears.

Abby Brown is a 25-year veteran educator in a little elementary school on a hill perched above the St. Croix River in Minnesota — a teacher who has been beloved by two generations of school children in the small town upon which Garrison Keillor largely based his fictional Lake Wobegon. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, the entire town took to her CaringBridge website to support every step of her discovery and recovery, which in turn inspired her to publish her first book, “What About the Hair Down There”.

  • laura

    Hi Janet,
    There isn’t any permission needed to take your journal and make it into a book. CaringBridge does offer a service that takes your journal entries, guestbook posts and photos and puts them into a book for you. I would suggest reaching out to the CaringBridge Customer Care team for more information and details.

  • Abby

    NO – they do offer this option through their site – but my entries were edited and adapted for the book. 🙂

  • Janet Guilbert

    Hi Abby,

    Did you have to get Caring Bridge’s permission to make your journal into a book ?

    Thanks, Jan Guilbert