Letter collection offers support
To some, letter writing is a dying art — but 100 women from New Zealand have scripted missives they hope will help others diagnosed with breast cancer.
Tauranga woman Emily Searle had the idea for a collection of letters written by breast cancer patients and the resulting book, called Dear Boobs, was launched this month to coincide with breast cancer awareness month.
The idea was to share wisdom and to assist women facing the prospect of mastectomy.
Tanya Rohloff from Paengaroa is among the letter writers.
Tanya was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago and first met Emily at the Look Good, Feel Better programme. They then made contact through a Facebook group called shocking Pink which is a support group for women diagnosed with breast cancer under 45.
“I chatted to her through that and also a couple of other girls from Tauranga and we just kept in touch,” she says.
When Emily told Tanya about her idea for the book Tanya had no hesitation about wanting to be involved.
“I didn’t really think about what I was going to write, I just sat down and started writing.”
She says even if her letter helps one person, then it was worth the effort.
“It’s a massive journey — I don’t think a lot of people realise what you actually go through. I was 41 with two young kids when I was diagnosed and as a mum I tended to hold everything in to stay strong for my family so writing my letter was a way of releasing all those emotions.”
She says each one of the 100 letters tells a different story.
“But if [newly diagnosed] women can sit down and read it and think ‘oh, that’s how I’m feeling’ it will help them know they aren’t alone.”
In the end Tanya’s contribution was an amalgamation of two letters.
“When Emily wrote her letter, she was just about to have her surgery, whereas I’d already had mine, so I was pretty much writing to the one that had gone. And then I wrote another one while I was waiting to have my reconstruction which I had this year — my other [letter] was to my new boob to be.”
Tanya read out her letter at the launch.
“It was really hard actually going back and reading my letter because, at the time, I was in a completely different place. It was really hard to take myself back to that place.”
For Emily, the idea came from her struggle to understand her emotions. Writing turned out to be both cathartic and the start of a two-year-long project
She put the call out for Dear Boobs letters. Within 100 days she had received 100 intimate replies.
“The women didn’t just address one stage of their treatment, or express just one emotion about cancer, so the letters didn’t fit easy categories,” says editor Chad Dick.
“There is no definite beginning and no end to the book: you can dip in anywhere and immediately discover a range of emotions and issues. Some letters might make you cry, some laugh out loud, and others might make you do both.
“We used every letter we received — nobody’s experience is any more or less valid than any other. And we didn’t pull any punches.”
Emily is distributing the books to clinics, health centres, hospitals and cancer charities.
Copies of the book can also be purchased via the website at www.thedearboobsproject.com, or from Paper Plus with part of the proceeds from each sale going to fund further distribution. The project is ongoing and has its own Facebook page with more information.
I was 41 with two young kids when I was diagnosed and as a mum I tended to hold everything in to stay strong for my family, so writing my letter was a way of releasing all emotions.’ those
Tanya Rohloff from Paengaroa is one of 100 women who have contributed to100 letters written by women to their breasts.