Of note, this post was in response to the Keller’s negative op-eds regarding a breast cancer survivor tweeting her cancer. It is a tongue in cheek letter to them, regarding the topic of blogging/tweeting about your cancer.
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Keller,
I am writing in reference to your recently published pieces about Lisa Adams’ blog. While I read your op-ed Mr. Keller, I will admit Mrs. Keller, that yours escaped me (being pulled for some reason before I had an opportunity to read it.)
I feel humble contacting folks of your caliber Mr. and Mrs. Keller I do, but I felt I must simply write to ask something of you. You see, I too am a blogger who has written many wide-open pieces about my experiences with cancer…specifically the emotional experiences, and whew, with breast cancer there are many! Way back when I had cancer however, social media wasn’t what it is these days (boy it’s big now!) so I didn’t write as much back then. However, after I got five years out, I signed myself up for a blog and began to write.
For me, writing about my cancer was like letting the floodgates open and all those cooped up things that had been making a racket in my head were set free. Of course Mr. and Mrs. Keller, you both being writers, must understand how putting pen to paper helped me organize my thoughts and experiences surrounding my cancer and to confront my ever-present fears of recurrence. Yes, writing is indeed a process, but I always say it helps you process too and I am here to tell you that by golly, there is a lot to process with long-term cancer treatment!
Mr. and Mrs. Keller, I evaluate sexually and physically abused children for a living. Oh, I know you must be thinking like lots of folks do when I tell them that, “Boy! That’s a hard job! How do you deal with all awful stuff?” Well, I will tell you the answer; the secret is to let it pass through me by quickly writing my reports and releasing it to paper. In some odd way, it keeps that awful stuff from sticking inside my head and it allows me to go to work another day. And too, I understand how much what I write affects lives I don’t even know, so I take care to do good work because my opinion is read (and sometimes taken as fact) by many. I also know what it took for each child to trust me and tell me things in confidence. Every time I release it through writing though, I feel free of it. Have you ever had that happen Mr. and Mrs. Keller? That feeling when you just release something awful to the wind that way and get it out of you? That feeling you get when someone trusts you to do the right thing with their words? It sure feels good, doesn’t it?
I am sure you know, writing (especially like your writing) can make you feel important and powerful too; it makes you feel especially important when others respond and comment on what you said, or when you find you have changed something in the world for the better. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that sometimes, when one of my little blogs takes off, it makes me feel good; like I have made a good difference in the world and perhaps helped one soul along a hard path. That makes me happy. Have you ever had that feeling Mr. and Mrs. Keller? Using your writing to make someone feel good? It’s quite special isn’t it?
But one thing I have learned is that words are powerful things. Have you ever taken a hammer, well I am sure you have Mr. Keller being a man and all, but taken a hammer and hit a nail or two into a fence? When you pull the nail out, so no one can see what you did, the hole is still there…it never really goes away, you still see it every time you look at that fence. The fence always has the hole, Mrs. Keller.
Now, I don’t mean to pry into you alls business, but I don’t know if you have children Mr. and Mrs. Keller? I do. I was a single mother of very young kids during the time I was treated and let me tell you, there is nothing scarier than the thought of leaving two young ones motherless. Sometimes, alone in the night you wonder, if you don’t make it, will they even remember you and know who you were/are? So I will admit that a much of my writing is/was about leaving some sort of permanent evidence of who their momma was, and to leave a map for them; a map of how she handled adversity (because breast cancer can run in families you know.) I wrote to teach them how I found my own path and how we each rightfully figure out our own path in hard times and have a right to take it. I wrote so they would have the guts to take their path, no matter what trifle other folks made of it. I wrote to so they would know how to act right as grown ups, much like your writing is going to be your legacy to your kids or family or perhaps even to yourselves.
People of your stature Mr. and Mrs. Keller, writing for the New York Times and The Guardian and all, surely must grasp how important it is to be a good role model. But you know, my blog isn’t to role model to my kids so much that their momma was a warrior, (because I am really too humble to consider that moniker attached to little old North Carolina me and well honest, I cried like a little baby a lot in cancer) but to teach them how to make lemons out of lemonade, how to be a good steward in the world and most of all, and how to use their experiences and voice no matter how small, to lift people higher and to shine a light on their paths. To show them that trouble may come a knocking at your door, but by gosh you don’t have to invite it in and offer it a seat.
My own momma (who died of cancer) raised me to be kind. And to not judge people unless I lived at least a good stretch of time in their shoes. She taught me to understand that my solution to a problem isn’t always someone else’s solution. She taught me that to insist on my way isn’t right and that no one likes know-it-alls. She taught me the meaning of MYOB. She taught me that if you did not have something nice to say, to say nothing at all. And she told me to never assume anything because you know what that does! (heh-heh.) Isn’t it funny Mr. and Mrs. Keller, how we can look at someone’s outsides and make up all kinds of crazy stuff in our heads about their insides?
Here I am writing to ask you for a favor, and instead am going on and on about my momma. I will try to get to my point here, but I wanted you to realize one last thing Mr. and Mrs. Keller, that I understand you are paid to say important things and perhaps as they say in these parts, to poke the skunk a little. As my momma taught me–Who am I to question you and your lives and how you choose to live them? I just know that for me at least two things are true: I would have trouble sleeping at night if I hurt or tricked someone and second, I sleep better knowing I used my suitcase full of stuff God sent me down to earth with to lift people higher each day. I like to think my momma is proud. I wonder Mr. And Mrs. Keller, do you think your mommas are proud?
It would be impolite Mr. and Mrs. Keller, to not mention that I see that you folks too had your own brush with cancer and I’m real sorry. I don’t know how hard you all got hit with the brush, but will say my brush involved 15 months of chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. In cancer and illness, we all find our own way to tread water successfully through what seem like endless hours in the treatment pool, so I am sure you know that what doesn’t help Mr. and Mrs. Keller, is to have someone put rocks on your head. But you know what did help me the most Mr. and Mrs. Keller? As silly as it sounds, people, literally or in cyberspace, standing on the sidelines cheering, saying, “You can do it Lauren! One more minute, Lauren, keep it going!” Especially when I was real tired and felt like giving up. So many people got me through it, a minute at a time. They kept me afloat, and kept their eye on me and boy I am grateful. Heck, sometimes, just knowing someone was looking at me made me act better and swim harder, that was part of why I blogged! What got you through your brush Mr. and Mrs. Keller? Cause as you know, there is no one way to skin a cat and maybe I could pass your tips on along to help others?
Well, here I go again yacking away about my cancer, but I wanted to say that I understand one simple fact when I wrote my blog Mr. and Mrs. Keller; that no one had to read it, heck, mine is just a teeny thing with a handful of faithful readers so no harm anyway. But when people did read it, well, what I became was a bit of a bedraggled Velveteen Rabbit, more real because people out there picked up my words and cupped them in their hands like precious things, and loved me back. It is a wonderful buoyant feeling indeed, particularly when you are feeling like you are becoming invisible. I am sure you know that feeling Mr. and Mrs. Keller, that mutual thing that happens when you put your kindness out to the world and get kindness back? When you reach out for a hand and feel a big ole lift from someone? When you use your talents to make other’s breathe easier and to raise other’s higher? When your words made someone feel more real? When you put your words out there and someone protects them? It is why we are here after all, isn’t it Mr. and Mrs. Keller?
Oh, I know I have become long-winded Mr. and Mrs. Keller, as we writers often do when we amble with our thoughts, and I have taken you half around the world to get to the point of my correspondence and query. Last week, I was riding with my teenaged daughter as she was learning to drive. She took a different route home than I usually do and I questioned why she was going that way and she said to me, “Mom! Just let me do me!” Yes, teenagers these days are full of themselves, but it really was a big moment for me. I was reminded of how often we judge people for not doing things our way or for not taking the exact path we would choose. I was reminded of how often we want to jump in with not just one but both feet to criticize or correct others for not doing things our way. Boy did I learn a lesson from my girl that day! I realized that my words of discouragement to her served no one, no not one little bit; a big old hole in the fence they were. But, I was also plum happy to realize that she had learned from her momma that there are indeed a million ways to rightly solve a problem and million paths to take to find our way home and that she absolutely has a right to take and chose the one that works for her. I wonder if she learned this from reading my blog! Now wouldn’t that be something!
So Mr. and Mrs. Keller, I am writing to tell you that I am a thin-skinned sort and tend toward hurt rather than anger when someone picks at me. No sir, it doesn’t take much to take the wind from my sails. While I really doubt that you would ever read my little blog, (I know I am kind of crazy for imagining you would do so) I am writing to respectfully inform you that I would be hurt if you somehow took a hankering to focus your writing on my work and made poor assumptions about me to the world, because you know the saying, “If you read it in the Times, it must be so.” And like I said, lots of people take important folks opinions as fact, so we must be careful now shouldn’t we?
And Mr. and Mrs. Keller, finally, the favor I am asking. I am writing to respectfully ask you that you let me do me, and I will let you do you. I imagine we can both do that without hurting one another now can’t we?
Most Sincerely and Respectfully,
Lauren A. Rockwell