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Legacy Writing

Older Woman Writing Journal

Legacy writing is form of documenting shared moments, experiences, connections, and values that are special to you and your loved ones. It’s an opportunity for you to tell your story—through your lens.

Living with cancer can be an overwhelming experience—at the cancer center, we have found that legacy writing is a beneficial way to help make sense of the impact it can have on one’s life.

It is also used as a powerful coping and learning tool. It can help contribute to the future of your loved ones and also act as a keepsake for them to remember you by.

How to Get Started?

Writing an essay can be challenging. Feel free to find a safe space to reflect. You can begin writing your story from anywhere at any time. If writing is not you thing, you can always find other ways to tell your story—like creating a video or dictate. Your legacy project can take whatever form you give it. It’s a process of transforming thoughts into action. It’s the act of sitting down and taking time to purposefully create something for yourself and others. It’s helpful to decide on what kind of writing you wish to do. Here are several of the Legacy Writing Tools that many have used for direction.

Legacy Writing Tools:

Legacy Letters: Letter writing is a terrific way to let others know your thoughts during your treatment process. These letters can be very meaningful for parents with young children. The letters can be held for the for them when they become adults. Being able to read a letter from mom or dad about the process, knowing they were thinking about them as a child/teen, can be very helpful when they read the letters years later—as adults. Certainly for those who have advanced disease, having a way to communicate your love and care to your children, spouses, family in the event of your death, can be comforting, for the writer and the recipients.

For example, a young mother whose cancer became terminal found it helpful to write letters to her children to be opened later on during important milestones in their lives, when she realized she might not be present. And so she wrote letters and cards, for graduations, marriages, births. Writing these letters became helpful ways for her to share important values and messages of love and support. In this example, when the oldest son later married, he and his bride were given a letter from his mom, who had died when he was 16. It became a powerful moment of support and blessing.

Reading these personal letters, as well as writing them, is a treasured experience. These letters can be given to someone for safe keeping, with instructions as to when they would be shared.

Life Review: This is a structured expression of one’s life, which helps to integrate positive and negative memories into one’s life story. Life reviews can be guided experiences with a reviewer, or can be self-directed, using expressive writing tools. You can reflect on as many parts of your life as you wish. For example, some life reviews reflect memories and stories by developmental stages (i.e. childhood, teen years, young adulthood, middle adulthood, older adulthood). Other life reviews focus on crossroad choices in one’s life (i.e. decisions about faith, career, family). Still other life reviews offer a collection of‘favorite life stories’. These can include funny and colorful memories as well as sweet and precious memories.

There are online services, like StoryWorth, if you want to pay for a service that enables a year of writing culminating in a published book. 

About This Blog

The Focus on Cancer blog discusses a variety of cancer-related topics, including treatment advances, research efforts and clinical trials, nutrition, support groups, survivorship and patient stories.

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