NEW HAMPSHIRE SUNDAY NEWS
BOSOM BUDDIES: Healing through writing
by Stephen Seitz
Sunday News Correspondent
Published November 7, 2004
HANOVER – Call it catharsis. Call it expression. Call it closure, if you must.
They’re calling it “Bosom Buddies.” For the breast cancer survivors who meet once a week with theatre professional Leah Carey and her teaching partner novelist Jodi Picoult, learning to put their experiences down on paper – with an eye to performing their writing in December – has proven helpful and therapeutic.
“This class has encouraged me to dig deep,” said Renee Russell. “I’ve come to understand that I’ve been missing the compassion and understanding that can only come from other breast cancer survivors. Here is a simple statement describing what is important about overcoming illness or adversity: ‘It’s not how you fall. It’s really about how you manage to stand up and live your life again.’ She [classmate Carole Cheney-Webber] said that is so simple, so true. That’s what this class has done for me. It’s helped me to heal through the words of others.”
“Some of them are masterful writers,” Picoult said. “I’ve had at least one great piece from everybody.”
Bonnie Ladeau said the class brought out feelings she didn’t know she had.
“I didn’t know it at the time,” she said, “but I still had some deeply rooted issues surrounding my own breast cancer. I also wanted to take the class because of Jodi and Leah, and writing has been a long-time passion of mine. I’ve secretly wanted – hoped – to one day be a part of a performance.”
Picoult said she had long been interested in conducting this sort of a workshop.
“I’ve seen this process before, but I never saw women perform their own work,” she said. “It’s empowering.”
Carey said that breast cancer is unique, not only because it’s so pervasive among women, but also because it threatens all women.
“It’s something that interested me as I watched friends of the family go through it,” she said. “It attacks not just your body, but your identity as a woman. even if it’s not in your family, every woman is afraid of getting it.”
“It cuts across all socio-economic boundaries,” Picoult said. “We have a woman diagnosed at 26, and she had two kids, and another one who had so many other problems this was just a bump in the road.”
Betsy Duany is the woman diagnosed at 26, now eight years ago. At the time, she was a producer for a local television station. She said she joined this class because she didn’t want to be part of a support group.
“Everyone in a support group has always been so much older than me and at such a different point in their lives. Therefore, I avoided them,” she said. “Our first night of the workshop was intense. Many emotions flooded back into my life. I couldn’t sleep. The whole group felt the same way.
“It’s been nearly two months now, and I have moved on in such a positive way. Jodi and Leah have given us all a new outlook on life,” Duany said.
Picoult, a best-selling novelist, understands.
“Some women need to put it behind them,” she said. “Some want to own it.”
Some have approached the performance aspect of the class with trepidation, but are learning to embrace it nonetheless.
“One of the things I told myself, when I found I had cancer, was to seize every opportunity,” said P.J. Hamel. “So I learned to play the piano. And I decided to learn to stand up in front of people and act. Heck, maybe it would make me more comfortable at work, where I occasionally have to speak in front of large groups, something I’ve always dreaded. I took the plunge.”
The women will perform their work at the Bernice A. Ray Elementary School in Hanover on Dec. 7, 9, and 11.