A woman asked me an interesting question the other day, a question I had, in fact, been considering myself.

“How will you know when to stop writing?” she asked. If I’m writing about my journey through cancer, how will I know when to stop, since it appears that the journey is going to be longer than I initially thought.

When I first started, right after I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, I began writing as a way to cope with the uncopeable knowledge of having in incurable form of cancer.

So, I started writing about what was going on. The things I was discovering about my illness, the steps we could take to combat it, and what the cancer would do to damage my health. It’s hard to admit now, but I really didn’t expect to be writing for that long a time. In the beginning, it all seemed a bit bleak. There was no prognosis, which was how we wanted it, since it would have been little more than an educated guess anyway. And that was fine, but it meant we didn’t know if I would have months or years to live.

I soon came to realize, though, that a journey through cancer, living with cancer, is a lot more than doctor’s reports, medicines taken, procedures followed. It also means living the other parts of your life with cancer as a mostly constant companion. I am a husband, who has cancer. I am a dad, who has cancer. A friend, a former co-worker, even someone you don’t especially care for … who has cancer.

If I was truly going to live with cancer, and journey through having cancer, I was going to have to find ways to keep it right-sized. It couldn’t become the sum total of who I am or the person I hope to become. I wasn’t going to be able to toss it onto the rubbish heap at the back of my mind and leave it there; every day was recycling day.

Writing about it, and sharing some of all that with you became more important, really, than the day-to-day medical bits. Yes, there was my stem-cell transplant to write about, and these stomach issues, which I continue to have. But there was the challenge of getting by, day by day, with what could have been a medical Sword of Damocles hanging over my head.

Then readers began talking to me, writing to me, letting me know what they thought about what I was going through. So many people told me my writing and my observations gave them hope, helped them maintain perspective on the things in their own lives that seemed uncopeable. I didn’t really see that coming.

I had thought that by sharing how I felt about things, big and little, connected to my disease, I might be able to express feelings that others had, but weren’t able to talk about or, perhaps, even get a good grasp on. I wanted to be able to help others by expressing for them what they could not express for themselves.

What I didn’t expect, was the depth and breadth of people’s feelings about me, my wife Sheri, my family and what we are going through. At times, the reaction seemed like too much. Honestly? I’m just a guy who can string some words together and doesn’t mind sharing deep feelings with other people, most of whom I do not, nor will I ever, know. To me, there’s nothing special about that.

In answer, then, to the initial question, the guy I was could stop writing whenever it wasn’t enjoyable anymore. When the main topics were covered, and so many words had been shared about so many different feelings and events … he could have just stopped. Maybe to resume if the cancer flared up again, but maybe not. Hard to know.

But, I feel like that guy has gone. Simply put, too many people have told me that they and many of their friends look forward to reading what I have to offer, talking about it, and being cheered by it. I hope that doesn’t sound like ego because it certainly doesn’t feel like ego. It feels like a real responsibility. A big one.

So, when will I know to stop writing? Well, not today. Also, as long as one person, forced to deal with their fears in the wee hours of the morning, finds any comfort or solace in what I have to say … well, again, it won’t be that day either.

I feel as though we are in this together. I gain comfort from what you have to tell me, and, evidently, you gain comfort in return. So, I will try not to write beyond the time I have comfort to offer or something I think can help me or you get through another day. Promise.

Jim Arnold is a former copy editor for the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. To read more about his journey through cancer, visit his blog, findingthepony.blogspot.com.

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