I’m starting my first day of residency for an MFA in poetry writing through the University of Nebraska-Omaha, and it’s all breast cancer’s fault.   

I guess I should explain. I started pursuing my undergraduate degree in journalism 31 years ago and eventually got a degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. During that time, I took a couple of poetry writing classes for fun. I had loved reading and writing poetry since I was a little kid. In college, I got a handful of things published and enjoyed it. One of my instructors said I should be pushing myself and going to graduate school.

But I went from coasting to drifting away from poetry completely. I never wrote it and barely read it. But when I was diagnosed with DCIS in 2008, poetry started speaking to me again. First I started reading it again, then I stared writing it. Now, as before, I’ve gotten a handful of things published or accepted for publication over the coming months. The difference now is I do want to push myself. I want to get better at my craft.

I can’t say I might not have arrived at this point without breast cancer, but I honestly doubt it. No matter how early stage it is when it shows up, cancer is a wake-up call. It makes you wonder what it is you plan to do with this life you’re so lucky to have.

Some of us in the breast cancer blogging community seem to have arrived at a crossroads. Katie is tired of fighting and of losing friends, and wondering just how much you can say about breast cancer. Marie is taking a medical break. I’m going to have to devote time to poetry, likely at the expense of my breast cancer social media activity and blogging (unless I can figure out how to give up sleeping).

It might feel like you’re giving up if you don’t continue to fight for the friends you’ve lost, and we’ve all lost too many. But I also feel very strongly that if we don’t live the life that matters to us, we’re doing them an even bigger disservice. We owe it to them to make every minute count.

I don’t plan to walk away from breast cancer advocacy completely. The community I’ve found online means too much to me. I may not be blogging as often and instead of focusing on breast cancer, I may want to share what I’ve learned in case anyone wants to try their hand at writing as therapy. My friend Pam was a big journaler and helped other women with cancer learn how to journal. Maybe the best thing I can do for her memory is to do the same with poetry.


15 thoughts on “Residency

  1. Oh Jackie, I am so excited for you and this wonderful opportunity to follow your heart when it comes to writing poetry. I can’t wait to see what you produce and what direction life takes you in next. Lots of love and encouragement…. Marie xxxx

  2. That’s just such a wonderful idea – to share what you learn and help encourage writing therapy. And as for taking time for the MFA, WOOOHOO for you! Very exciting, and I hope (and would bet 100 dollars) that you’ll find it an extremely satisfying adventure.

    Good for you for focusing on the important stuff. The stuff that just feels right. Personally, I look forward to reading the great work that results from your course.
    Happy studying!


  3. Jackie – I can definitely relate to your comment about how life’s wake up calls push you to what you really should be doing. You are a tremendous asset to the breast cancer community and I do hope that you continue to participate. However I will be looking forward to reading anything that you post or publish, especially if you can teach me a few things! Knowing that you will be focusing on something that makes you so happy will make the words even more special.

  4. Oh, this is great, Jackie!!! I finished my undergraduate degree in the Adult Degree Program at Vermont College, which used to be part of Goddard College, and I got to spend the entire last year of it working with a great writer and writing teacher on a novel. It was like getting an M.F.A. in writing along with the B.A. in liberal studies. I used to write a lot of poetry and still love it. This is such a grand opportunity for you. I know you’ll make the most of it.

    I’m at a crossroads myself. I feel like I’ve written everything I want to say about breast cancer three times over on the blog. And right now, I’m finally feeling like I have a chance to wrestle back some physical vitality. I think both feet are finally out of the ditch, and if I don’t stumble, I think I can capitalize on this without falling back in again. That means less blogging and more jump-roping and hula-hooping. 😉

    It’s so important to let ourselves follow the right twists and turns on our own individual paths. Good luck to you and I look forward to reading your poetry.

  5. You certainly are an inspiration and I want to wish you lots if luck on your new endeavor …… i am a friend of Mary Zgoda’s and she sent me your book.

  6. Pingback: Guilt 101 | Dispatch From Second Base

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