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NYer Of The Week: Judith Kelman Gives Cancer Patients An Outlet To Tell Their Stories

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Writing your life story can be a daunting task, but this week's New Yorker is helping cancer patients put pen to paper to help them deal with their treatment and discover new talents. NY1's John Schiumo filed the following report.

Judith Kelman understands the power of telling stories.

"They connect us," she says. "They're how we learn about the world. They're how we learn about our history, contemplate our future, deal with difficulty."

Thirty years ago, an idea for a book transformed her life as a mother of two into a career novelist.

"I became completely captivated by the process," she says. "I was struck by the writing bug. And when I see people who similarly are struck by that, I feel a powerful desire to encourage them."

Today, she is encouraging aspiring writers who are telling their stories of cancer as part of Visible Ink, a writing program she founded, and runs, at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

"What happens with a cancer diagnosis is, you're going along in life and you have one sense of what your story is and what it is going to be," she says. "And then, 'Whack.' People have described it to a train wreck. Your story is derailed. It's changed. It's rewritten."

"You have these feelings and these thoughts, and there's this need to get them out, there's this need to make sense of it," said Kathleen Emmets, a patient at Memorial Sloan Kettering. "And the easiest way for me was to write it down."

The program connects patients to professional writers, helping them to develop narratives, poems, plays and memoirs.

The writing can be personal or performed, a momentary outlet for feelings or a lasting record.

"I was afraid I was going to forget the details of what was happening to me. 'I'm sick today. I'm going to die today. I'm never going to make it. I'm going to fight this.' Whatever that story is that you tell yourself is the narrative that drives what your life is," said Michael Solomon, a patient at Memorial Sloan Kettering. "It's important you have that measure of control over what your story is."

So, for empowering cancer patients to tell their stories, Judith Kelman is our New Yorker of the Week.

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