After a year of managing a brain cancer diagnosis, dozens of surgeries and relentless medical treatments, Cerriana (14) of Alliance was hopeful the worst was behind her. When she learned her cancer was back, she didn’t know if she had the strength to do it all again, but she knew she had something to say about it.
Cerriana is one of several patients working with Nicole Robinson, MFA, narrative medicine coordinator at Akron Children’s, who uses the creative and therapeutic outlet of writing, journaling or reading to approach topics, emotions or feelings associated with the challenges of illness.
“Narrative medicine allows patients (and their families) to put their thoughts and feelings into words, to give them space to talk, listen or share their stories in their own way,” said Nicole. “I’m not a psychologist or a therapist. I listen and allow the patient’s own words help them heal, manage pain, cope or process what they’re going through.”
Studies have also shown that writing can have a positive effect on blood markers of immune function and lower levels of depression in patients.
Nicole first started writing with Cerriana when she received her first cancer diagnosis nearly one-and-a-half years ago.
“I think our sessions helped Cerriana gain a sense of control when so many things were outside of her control,” said Nicole. “I offered her a lot of reading and writing options – fiction, poetry, nonfiction – and she said, ‘I want to write my story,’ so that’s exactly what we’re doing.”
In person or through MyChart Telehealth, Nicole meets with Cerriana twice a month to listen, talk and document her story. Nicole doesn’t do the writing, rather she types as Cerriana shares her thoughts, feelings and perspective. The 40-plus-page memoir is still a work in progress and, when it’s complete, Nicole hopes to help Cerriana distribute it to her friends and family.
Cerriana doesn’t remember the exact day she started writing with Nicole, whom she refers to fondly as ‘the book lady,’ but she does know that when she talks to Nicole it helps.
“I just talk and she types. It’s not hard for me to say things; I want to let people know how God has helped me through this,” said Cerriana. “I went through so much pain during my treatment that I wanted to quit…I didn’t like my nurses or therapists when this all started because it was all so hard, but they kept coming back to help me and now I love them… My book lets me tell them how I feel about them.”
The narrative themes in Cerriana’s memoir are about faith, love of friends, family, and her care providers, and how being different doesn’t mean you are alone.
“I want people to learn from me, to know that even if you’re different, no matter how many problems you have, you can always pray and find help around you…,” said Cerriana. “We all have different problems, but we can do our best and inspire more people.”
Akron Children’s is believed to be the only pediatric hospital in the country with a full-time narrative medicine position. Nicole works under the auspices of the Haslinger Pediatric Palliative Care Division in The Emily Cooper Welty Expressive Therapy Center, which provides holistic healing through the creative arts (imagery, storytelling, dance, music, drama, poetry and visual arts) to transform the hospital environment and create opportunities for expression, connection and self-identity.
Akron Children’s inpatients can self refer to get an appointment with narrative medicine by calling 330-543-4909; outpatient appointments are only available to palliative care patients at this time. Narrative medicine services are provided for children and families at no cost and do not require insurance coverage.