Between the Lines: Writing Through Cancer

Jan 27, 2017

Fleda Brown
Credit Fleda Brown

Fleda Brown is a cancer survivor. Being a writer, she wrote her way through her illness and found that doing so gave her the strength and courage to get her through the journey back to wellness. Her book is called My Wobbly Bicycle: Meditations on Cancer and the Creative Life (Mission Point Press, 2016).


Brown’s tenth book, a collection of poetry called The Woods are on Fire: New and Selected Poems (University of Nebraska Press, 2017), is due out in March, and most of Brown’s published work is poetry. She was Delaware's poet laureate from 2001 to 2007. But Brown's ordeal with cancer turned her toward prose.

Brown says writing about her cancer treatment as it happened, “Was a pretty darn important part of the treatment. I write all the time anyway, and I had a blog that I had started almost a year before the diagnosis. It had been mostly about writing. I didn’t write about the cancer at first, but after surgery, I decided it was so much the center of my life then that I might as well.”

The blog gained many followers and Brown turned her posts there into the memoir, My Wobbly Bicycle. She found that writing about her treatment helped her cope. She described her experiences with chemotherapy and radiation therapy; dealing with hair loss; and the fears and hopes that rose along with a new realization of her own mortality. And she described her recovery.

Credit Mission Point Press

“This became my most important writing,” Brown says. “I would lie in bed at night thinking about how I wanted to word something.”

As a part of her experience as a cancer survivor, Brown says she has a deeper understanding and acceptance of the cycle of life and death. She also gained a deeper empathy for those who live with a serious illness.

“I probably have more empathy in general,” she says. “I’m very much aware that I’m going to die. We all know we are going to die, but we know it kind of intellectually. To know it in your gut is different.”

Brown’s work has appeared twice in The Best American Poetry and has won a Pushcart Prize, the Felix Pollak Prize, the Philip Levine Prize, and the Great Lakes Colleges New Writer’s Award. She has twice been a finalist for the National Poetry Series. Brown published a previous memoir, Driving with Dvorak, in 2010. She has also won awards for her essays and creative nonfiction.

Fleda Brown lives in Traverse City. She is on the faculty of the Rainier Writing Workshop, a "low-residency" MFA program in Tacoma, Washington.

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