On Being Real and Honest with Myself


A year ago, I wrote a 2,000 word memoir essay about my journey to come to terms with a reality I did not want to accept.

Writing the piece was an eye-opening experience. It forced me to get real with myself – that is, if I wanted to write an emotionally honest essay.

And I did. I wanted to be real on the page. I wanted to write from the heart. I wanted to share the truth of my experience.

This meant I had to face some tough truths about myself about: the person I used to be, the sacrifices and decisions I made on the cancer journey, and the toll it took on me.

How it began

Originally, my plan for the essay was to explore several traumatic events that unfolded in early 2008, beginning with the terrible news that my husband’s brain tumor had returned, after years of remission.

I wanted to write about my internal struggle to come to terms with a new reality that was so unexpected and happened so quickly, that I didn’t have time to process one difficult event before the next one happened.

As I was organizing the piece, I kept returning to the question: why was I so surprised by the MRI results that revealed the cancer was back?

In reality, I shouldn’t have been. There were signs that something was wrong with Jim. Others saw it. Yet, I was stunned when we got the news.



When I realized I wasn’t getting anywhere with my original topic (which I plan to return to in the future), I decided to focus on the MRI results.

Trying to answer the nagging question took me down a path I hadn’t expected.

The big deal about being surprised

For seven years, I was on top of everything related to Jim’s brain cancer and his overall health.

As his spouse and his primary caregiver, that’s how I coped with the fear, uncertainty, and the sense of powerlessness that came from sharing my life and my loved one with a Glioblastoma – the most common and most malignant type of primary brain tumors.

My surprised reaction seemed out of character. I should have been on top of what was going on.

But I wasn’t.

The “being honest with myself” part

The truth is, deep in my heart, I knew something was wrong with my husband. I just didn’t want to face it. Because it meant facing my biggest fear – and my worst nightmare.


I don’t want to give away too much of what’s in the essay. To find out more, I want you to read it.

The point I want to make is this:

To understand why I struggled to face this reality, I had to be real with myself. To write an emotionally honest piece, I had to examine the impact of the cancer journey on me and the larger story of my life.

I had to open myself up, go inward, and explore who I was back then. In the process, I had to take responsibility for the decisions I made and the actions I took during those years. There were parts of my journey that I needed to take ownership of, not only to write the essay, but to heal and move forward.

I’ll be honest: it wasn’t an easy thing to do. In fact, I resisted for a long time.

But it was something I needed to do, and writing the essay helped me do it. The more I let the inner journey unfold – without fighting it – the deeper I went. And the more powerful and honest my writing became.

And the more I healed.

Being honest with myself helped me see that the cancer journey was my journey as much as it was Jim’s. I grew up during those years to become the person I am today.

That was a powerful realization. It helped me heal my pain, move forward with my life, and own my story.


The memoir essay is called “The Day the Brain Tumor Returned.”

You can download it for free, along with two other short form personal essays about the cancer journey, at writingalife.net/archives.

If you connect with the essay, please send me a note and let me know. You can reach me at michele [at] writingalife [dot] net.

* Photo credit: Image from Flickr by Pank Seelen