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What a Young Writer’s Brush with Death Taught Her about Life & Writing

Guest post by Jacki Crooks

We’d like to introduce you to Jacki, who has been helping us at The One Year Adventure Novel for the past few months! I (Tineke) asked Jacki to share how her experience of fighting cancer impacted her writing—admittedly a pretty hard question to answer, never mind in under 1,000 words! But it’s a huge part of who Jacki is today.

Jacki writes:

Just over two years ago I found myself lying in a hospital bed, waiting for the doctors to bring me news that could only be bad or worse.

After three months of struggling to breathe, the fight getting harder ever day, I had finally gone to an urgent care center. I got an X-ray. Followed immediately by a CT scan. And then a lights-and-sirens trip to a larger, better-equipped hospital. I underwent countless CT scans and tests, and met more doctors than I can remember, and four days later, I was still waiting for a final diagnosis.

Large B-Cell Mediastinal Lymphoma.

Don’t bother looking that up. The gist is that I had a 12-cm mass situated directly on my heart, and it had grown to the point of cutting off my airway and main blood vessels.

My doctor prescribed treatment, and began explaining what the next months and years would look like. Finally, my mom asked the question we were all thinking, but were too afraid to form into words: If we hadn’t come in, how long would I have had?

Two days. Maybe three.

Tineke asked me to write about how my brush with death affected my writing, but the truth is, I can’t. My battle with, and eventual victory over, cancer didn’t just affect my writing, it affected my entire worldview. My writing is different, but only because I, myself, am different and my writing is an extension of me.

I have no formula for how to change your life, or how to add weight and meaning to your writing. Even if there were such a thing, I couldn’t give it to you because, frankly, I don’t have it yet, and however much my journey has changed me, it hasn’t ‘fixed’ my writing, or automatically made it more effective.

What it did teach me is how much our choices mean, and how much our lives mean. What we do with what life gives us—or throws at us, as the case may be—is what changes our lives—but only if we let it.

Facing choices that had no possible right answer, with no one to make them but my own eighteen-year-old self, I looked the terrifying truth in the face and I forged a pathway into the unknown. I looked at the options, weighed the consequences, and made the best decisions I could.

The path I walked—actually, “walked” is a generous term! The path I stumbled down—was long and dark. It was exhausting. I spent days curled up in my room, wondering what I was going to do. How it was all going to turn out. Then I spent days wishing that no one would ask me what I wanted to do. Ever. But they did. Every day, someone asked what I wanted for lunch, or what sounded like fun to me, or when I wanted my next doctor’s appointment to be.

There were sunny meadows on my journey, and picnicking with friends; but there were also rocks and trees across the path, complete with angry hornet chases. The only thing that remained constant was that hiding from the truth wasn’t an option. Hiding from the truths the doctors brought to me would have killed me.

Hiding from the truths we face every day is no different.

As authors, it is our job—our responsibility—to face the tough issues in our lives. There are enough books out there telling sugar-coated, fairy-tale version of the world. We don’t need any more of them. We need honesty, and we need truth.

Life has beautiful moments, and we need to capture and portray those as honestly as we do the harsh, painful ones. Without darkness, light is meaningless. There is nothing to compare it to. If the sun never set, we would soon grow tired of the constant heat and sunshine.

By ignoring the harsh realities of life, we diminish the effect of the beauty in our lives.

If I had to pick only one thing to say that I learned, I would say that it was to appreciate the happy moments, however small they may be; to soak in the warmth of the sunshine, even when the clouds are rolling in.

What is the most difficult challenge you have stumbled through, and what did you take away from it, as a writer? Share a comment below.

About Jacki

Jacki Crooks’s love for writing developed while homeschooling on her family farm in southern Wisconsin. She prefers to write about real-life adventures, and gains much of her material from her experiences as a youth leader in her church, as well as life on the farm, which is never boring!

This Post Has 3 Comments
  1. I haven’t had many big struggles in my life (yet; I’m sure they’ll come along at some point). I like what you said about darkness giving light more meaning. As for my writing, I tend to observe the lives of people around me. I also do a lot of “What if-ing”: what if this happened to me? How would I feel or react?
    Thanks for sharing your experience.

  2. Wow Jacki! That really got be thinking. I also live on a farm and prefer to write about real life. Your story really impacted me because I lost an uncle to cancer, and in one of my books, my main character battles it. Keep writing, the world needs more people like you.

  3. Priscilla: So sorry to hear of your loss. I’ve lost several of my family members to cancer – it’s never easy. Thanks for the encouragement. 🙂

    Katie: “What if-ing” has been one of the most effective tools of writing that I have found. Also, talking to family and friends that have been in a situation that you’re trying to write is incredibly helpful. I’m currently working on a story that is loosely based on my brother’s experience in the US Army National Guard, and his assistance on the military aspect has been the number 1 thing that is making it worth reading.

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