poetry therapy

Changing the World: Cancer Support


Poetry Therapy is Just What
the Doctor Ordered

by Alysa Cummings



Countless poetry books fill the mantel over the fireplace in my living room. Some of the books stand upright; some stack up sideways, titles facing out, to save precious inches of space. Others spill over into colorful woven baskets set on the floor for that very purpose. My pink ribbon poetry collection started shortly after my breast cancer diagnosis in the fall of 1998 and has been growing ever since. Bookmarks and folded page corners mark my favorites, mark the stanzas I revisit regularly to lighten a mood that for any number of reasons may suddenly have turned sour. I treasure these books.

A recent first time visitor to my home, drawn immediately to the pink ribbon poetry shelf, this place of honor in my living room that celebrates survivorship, spoke the obvious aloud, “Good grief. It’s an altar, isn’t it?”

Maybe so. But why not call it “Poetry Therapy?” I do. And, yes, I confess this ritual of reading (and rereading) poems by fellow breast cancer survivors comforts me, reminds me that I am far from alone in my breast cancer journey. Somehow my reactions to a cancer diagnosis make much more sense once I acknowledge that other ladies have experienced many of the same things. My working theory is that poets wordsmith their way right through trauma. Once they get to the other side of crisis, they reach out to an audience. What they ultimately share through their art is the sweet gift of feelings validated.

Reading “cancer poetry” or writing it: the experience never fails to lift my spirits and recharge my batteries. As a “prescription,” I recommend it highly! Over four years’ time, this guilty pleasure, seeking out fellow survivors in print and reading their poetry continues to warm my heart and soothe my soul, moving me closer, day by day, to my own recovery.


-excerpt from Pink Ribbon Poetry



Alysa Cummings is a recently Certified Poetry Therapist who is the Poet-in-Residence for the Abramson Cancer Center’s OncoLink. OncoLink was founded in 1994 by University of Pennsylvania cancer specialists with a mission to help cancer patients, families, health care professionals and the general public get accurate cancer-related information at no charge.  Alysa has published six poetry projects online at Oncolink.  To see more of her work, visit www.oncolink.upenn.edu and type ‘poetry’ into the  Oncolink search engine.  Please email Alysa at alysalcummings@yahoo.com.



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