Reducing the power of a terminal illness through writing

Posted on: 01 March 2017 by 50connect editorial

Writing about your illness diminishes its hold over you and can be an empowering and liberating experience.

write your legacy

It is said that there is no more certain outcome from life than death. It is true death is inescapable and, sooner or later will catch up with us all. However, accepting death at a sagely age of seven or eight decades can be very different to someone who may have a young family or who has their whole life in front of them. Thinking about your illness and writing it down can be helpful in coming to terms with the journey you are on, and far from being morbid, you'll probably find it an empowering experience.

We share so many milestones through social media, so if it feels right for you to document how you are feeling, what your goals are for the coming months or reminiscences you want to share with your family and friends - do it!

The Oxford English Dictionary defines a memoir as a historical account or biography written from personal knowledge. Increasingly, people with a terminal condition are using memoirs, whether that be through print or blogging, as a means of coming to terms with their diagnosis and as a legacy for their friends and family.

It’s a common reaction to think, 'Nobody will be interested in my story.  I haven’t done anything interesting enough,' but as many historians, and genealogists know, leaving a life story is a valuable addition to any family and it will soon become a cherished part of your family archives.

After David Menasche was diagnosed with cancer and partial blindness following a stroke, he set himself the goal of travelling across the United States. He wrote a book, The Priority List, about his experience and referred to the process as being his 'cure'. Speaking prior to his death in 2014, he explained: "I mean 'cured' metaphorically. Cancer was going to kill me, but the daily nausea that I was feeling because of the chemotherapy was a route I had chosen to take. I realised that I didn’t have to live that way, so I just exchanged quantity for quality. Sure, I could opt for radiation for a month or two, but if that time is spent hugging a toilet, why would I want to live it that way? By the time I had my stroke that took away my vision and the functionality of the left side of my body, I had already undergone six years of treatment. Hey, my body was literally dying right beneath me. I wanted a sense of purpose and fulfilment. So, I decided to write. I quickly realised that all of my best stories came from the classroom I was in for 15 years, but if I wanted the rest of the story, I had to go out and get it. That was the fuel that kept me going."

Still unconvinced? Here are some reasons why you should lose your inhibitions and leave something tangible for your children, grandchildren and friends to find comfort in!

Why write your memoirs?

Tell your family about your world – you’ve witnessed the birth of the Internet, the computer age, man landing on the moon and are part of the baby-boom generation, a generation that will intrigue historians for centuries to come. The world is a completely different place to the world it was 20 years ago, and it will be a whole new world in another 20 years time so share with your children the world as you experienced it.

Psychological wellbeing

Writing about your illness can help demystify it and take away some of its power - you can't alter your diagnosis but you can change how you choose to live with it. Research into memory has shown that reminiscing has positive psychological benefits – just like talking to a therapist. It can help you come to terms with traumatic life events and leaves people feeling that they’ve had the chance to put things into perspective, to see things in a new light, or simply put them to bed.

Learn about yourself

Writing things down about yourself can help you gain the distance you need to be objective. You may learn to appreciate yourself and the things you’ve done in your life and celebrate the person you’ve grown to be.


Don’t let your life choices speak for you. This is your chance to explain why you did what you did, the way you want to explain it. Take a look at this conversation between two philosophers, explaining their motivation for writing down what was happening in their lives.

Szilard: "I am going to write down all that is going on these days in the project. I am just going to write down the facts - not for anyone to read, just for God."

Bethe: "Don't you think God knows the facts?"

Szilard: "Maybe he does, but not this version of the facts."

You have a terminal illness but you are not defined by that illness. Talk about it if you want to, explain it, challenge it and show that it is but a small aspect of your life's journey. Share with those closest to you the things that made you happiest in life, made you the person you are and how they contributed to making you feel better on the days when you were most down. And show them that even though your time remaining is finite, you are at peace with the world.

Marie Curie cares for people living with terminal illness, and their families, offering expert guidance and support to help them get the most from the time they have left. This March, support the Great Daffodil Appeal to help Marie Curie Nurses be there for more people who need them.

Donate and wear your daffodil


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