Best known for twenty years of initiating and leading expressive writing with cancer patients, my early work was described in my first two books (A Healing Journey: Writing Together through Breast Cancer (2004) and When Words Heal (2006). I was initially inspired by the work of James Pennebaker, PhD and his colleagues to initiate my first writing workshop for cancer patients shortly after my own experience with breast cancer. That was the beginning of a practice that has led me to health conferences, retreats, and regular offerings of my writing programs at four major cancer centers over the years.
During the past 20 years, I’ve encouraged and listened to patient stories of cancer and their medical experiences. But in late 2008, I was rushed to the hospital, put into observation for four days and subsequently diagnosed with heart failure. Some years later, after my husband and I returned to Toronto, I began writing this blog. In early 2020–just before COVID-19 forced us into social isolation, I led my first expressive writing group for heart patients at Ted Rogers Centre for Heart Research in Toronto. The workshops are resuming, but virtually, and to a wider audience. Our first virtual offering begins February 11, 2021.
Since initiating my workshops for cancer patients, I’ve been a featured speaker at healthcare conferences in USA and Canada, including the Omega Institute in Rheinhart, NY, and as a former faculty member of the CURE Magazine Forums. For several years I taught creative nonfiction, memoir and transformational writing for UCLA extension’s “Writers’ Program” and a week-long intensive course in writing for healing at Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. I also had the wonderful privilege to lead a biannual series called “The Writers’ Workshop at Stanford Medical School,” for faculty, staff, medical students and alumni, which, in conjunction with my groups for cancer survivors, gave me a unique vantage point on physician and patient perspectives.
Before I made writing my life, I was a corporate consultant in Toronto, New-York, and Silicon Valley, served as interim and full-time executive director of three Silicon Valley non-profits, and a was part-time instructor at Santa Clara University, CA. I earned my doctorate in Educational Psychology from the University of Toronto in 1987 and a few years later, I immersed myself in studies in creative and transformational writing, subsequently initiating several writing programs for cancer patients and others and teaching creative nonfiction for UCLA extension’s “Writers’ Program” for a number of years.
I have always loved writing, filling diaries and spiral bound notebooks in my youth and through more than a few chapters of my life. Writing has always helped me navigate through painful life events. Since returning to Toronto in 2017, I have been leading “Writing Through Cancer” expressive writing workshops for Gilda’s Club of Greater Toronto, served as an advisory board member and author of a bi-monthly column for the online publication, Cancer Knowledge Network, and become a Patient Partner of UHN, Toronto’s hospital network. I’ve written and published two books on the healing power of writing with cancer survivors, an anthology, a number of articles on writing and health, poetry, and personal essays (even a children’s book when I was a young mother living in Nova Scotia!) Writing is an important way I capture and preserve the memories and stories of my life, a legacy of sorts. Besides, as Jim Harrison wrote in the final line of his poem, “Larson’s Holstein Bull,” “Death steals everything but our stories.”
I hope that this blog will inspire you to write from your heart and about your heart–the lived experience of being a heart patient. Maybe you’ll even want to share something you’ve written on this site…