Judith Kelman is… On The Couch
For those of you who read and enjoy my blog and my writing, you can thank this amazing woman for encouraging me and providing a forum and outlet for my work, and for those who don’t, you can go ahead and blame her too!
I am so happy to introduce Judith Kelman, the founder of Visible Ink – a free writing program for cancer patients at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC). Judith is an accomplished, published author, and her husband is a physician at MSKCC. Very quickly after I was diagnosed, in fact while I was still grappling with the Stage 4 diagnosis, I was desperately looking for an outlet to process and share what I was going through. For me, writing was a natural and incredibly healing way to express myself and put a narrative to the psychological and physical trauma of my cancer and complications.
From my laptop on my good ol’ cancer couch, I came across this program that was free to patients at MSKCC – well “free” for the small price of having cancer – and immediately called Judith to enroll. She was so kind and encouraging and completely “got” why this was so needed and helpful for people dealing with a cancer diagnosis. For me, this was as vital as anything else I was doing to treat my illness. I was fascinated and so impressed to learn that she started this venture herself, one person, after having this brilliant idea – and it has blossomed into such an amazing program. I realized, that is pretty much exactly how anything starts – with one person, one idea, and a ton of passion, commitment and energy. So without further adieu, I’m so pleased to introduce Judith Kelman:
“My inspiration for Visible Ink was the death of an 18-year-old friend when I was 17. Throughout his terrible illness, no one would utter the word “cancer,” and it went without saying that no one was to speak of death. The silence and stigma surrounding the tragic early loss of this wonderful young soul stuck with me.
Visible Ink is open to all Memorial Sloan Kettering patients, regardless of writing level. Participants may write about anything they like, in any form. The writing need not be about the experience of illness. This program pairs each participant with an experienced writing mentor. It also uses assistive technology to facilitate expression in participants with cognitive or physical limitations due to cancer or its treatments.
Visible Ink is free of charge to participants, supported solely by grants and donations. In just 6 years, this incredible program has grown to include over 1400 participants enrolled to date, ages 7 to 95 plus, from all over the world. There are over 200 mentors, including Emmy Award-winning TV writers (e.g., Bill Persky), Tony Award-winning playwrights, bestselling novelists, world class journalists and poets.
Over 60,000 pages of written work (poems, essays, journals, blogs, stage plays, screenplays, photoessays, comedy sketches, fiction, articles, legacy pieces, lyrics, and letters) have come out of this program to date. Visible Ink has received media coverage by CBS, Fox News, WPIX, NY1, Heritage Radio Network, Voice of America, Citizen Magazine, Cure Magazine, Cancer Today, and many other print and online media.
Studies have been published in the Journal of Palliative and Supportive Care and there is ongoing research about the impact of writing through illness with the Department of Psychiatry.
Visible Ink publishes an annual anthology, in which I was honored to be featured last year, and they produce a performance of select works by participants at their Spring showcase.
Being a part of this program has been so helpful to me in creating a structure for my writing and providing a wonderful editor, Heather Laing, that helps whenever I need her. It has given me encouragement and validation and allowed me to feel a part of something. I am so grateful to have had this outlet during this really difficult time. As Kim DeYoung explores in her podcast – The Alchemy of Choice – the power and choices of one person, and the ripple effect it has can be exponentially life-changing and powerful! This foundation, which I believe is truly helping to change the landscape and narrative of breast cancer and research to include and focus on metastatic breast cancer, and which I also believe will contribute substantially to bringing an end to this illness and ultimately save not only the 40,000 lives a year that are now taken from metastatic breast cancer in the US alone, but 40,000 x however many years humans are in existence after this is cured – is the result of one choice this one little person made with the help of all of you amazing people.
I challenge all of us, as we prepare to head into a new year, to think of Judith the next time you have a great idea that can help others and add something positive to this world. One person, with one idea, who makes one choice to change something in the world that they feel passionate about, can make a permanent and lasting change in the lives of so many others.
Remember The Power Of One.