How writing poems about cancer helped me

Lauren, a young person who was diagnosed with Leukaemia, sitting at her kitchen table smiling whilst writing poems about cancer.


Lauren was 22 when she was diagnosed with Leukaemia. During a strenuous treatment process, she found comfort in writing poems about cancer and the emotional strain that comes with it. Through her writing she was able to get out feelings and thoughts that were complicated for her to express otherwise.

In October 2019, Lauren was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia. The physical effects of her opening three rounds of chemotherapy were of course, a big challenge, and Lauren had to face side effects which included blood clots and “horrific headaches”. But as someone who often struggled to express her feelings, the emotional impact of cancer was an equally complicated obstacle. “I’ve always held my emotions in because I didn’t like being vulnerable; I think that comes from being adopted when I was five. Going through cancer was such a massive emotional test and I hated having people help me as it made me feel vulnerable”.

Lauren admits that her tendency to bottle things up was also difficult for those supporting her. She explains that it was “hard [for my mum] when I wouldn’t open up”. This is where Lauren’s release of her creative energies became so important. Among the people who Teenage Cancer Trust organised to come and run activities, Lauren highlights Stac and Belle, who played songs and gave music lessons. “I love music and I’ve always written songs and poems. Stac and Belle got me into writing songs and spoken word poems while I was in hospital, and I’d write them in my hospital bed. It helped me get out all of the things which I struggled to express otherwise”.

For Lauren, putting her thoughts, feelings and frustrations on paper - instead of simply talking them through - opened up a way of communication which she found more effective. She says that sharing her songs and spoken word poems did not feel as daunting as telling people how she felt but “it still got my emotions across [and also] opened up conversations with my mum”.

Though she had to endure an intense period, which included a post-stem cell transplant secondary cancer, Lauren has finished her treatment. But she makes it clear that there are long-lasting effects of cancer. “Some people think: ‘You don’t have cancer anymore, you’re fine’. They think because I had cancer two years ago, I should be over it. But I need their support more now than ever”. How cancer has affected her life post-treatment is something she writes about in her poetry, for example in her poem Forgotten she writes:

PTSD is not just for soldiers
I realise it affects everyone who has fought
Whether you’re fighting for another person’s life
Or clinging on to yours

Lauren, a young person who was diagnosed with Leukaemia, sitting at her kitchen table smiling whilst writing poems about cancer.

As well as helping her to express herself, Lauren’s writing has also fed into important parts of her personal life. “My writing also opened me up. I was more aware of my vulnerability and more accepting of it. I felt ready to find my biological mum and brother. I met her and spent her birthday with her”.

Now Lauren has begun regularly performing live at open mic nights. “I talk a lot about going through cancer, but also the after-effects whether on dating, friendships or other health worries. I express those through my writing”.