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Cancer patient teaches healing through journaling

Lisa Hirsh-Wax (Photo Credit: Jodi Rogul)

People are often moved to express their thoughts and emotions in journals, with the goal of strengthening their personal wellbeing. Lisa Hirsh-Wax has been battling metastatic pancreatic cancer for the last three years. An educator, author, wife and mother, the 48-year-old Toronto resident uses journaling as her creative medicine.

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world,” said Hirsh-Wax. “Writing helps me to release what I’m holding on to, whether it’s grief, sadness or anger. It has really helped me to focus on the good.”

The community is invited to attend a workshop, called “Writing as Therapy: How Journaling Can Help You Cope Through Challenges,” hosted by Chai Lifeline Canada on Dec. 10 at the Prosserman Jewish Community Centre in Toronto. As part of the workshop, Hirsh-Wax will provide valuable tips on how to use journaling to navigate through a crisis and bring joy into your life.

Hirsh-Wax loved her job of 25 years: teaching children with special needs. She had taken a leave of absence to prepare for her son’s bar mitzvah and to celebrate with the family in Israel. But two weeks before the simcha in 2016, Hirsh-Wax fell ill.

“One of the reasons I am still here today is that I was able to have what’s called Whipple surgery,” she said.

The Whipple procedure, also known as pancreaticoduodenectomy, is a complex operation that removed her gallbladder, as well as most of her pancreas, parts of her stomach and intestine. The surgery was successful – though she did develop Type 1 diabetes, one of the side effects of this particular operation. Hirsh-Wax recovered and was stable for nine months, before the cancer returned.

“We discovered that the cancer had metastasized, spreading to parts of my stomach and intestine,” she said.

“In August 2017, I began chemotherapy treatments again and continue to have treatment every two weeks, together with radiation. Every time I have to go back for chemo, I have anxiety … every single time. I know how bad I am going to feel and I know how terrible it is. Do I want to continue? No. But I need to continue because there is value in this fight.”

Hirsh-Wax turned to journaling to cope, and to transform her feelings of emotional turmoil into mental and emotional clarity. She writes a blog to keep friends and family informed and recently published a book, A Life Still Lived.

“I have a gratitude journal that I write in every day, and that could even be one sentence. I always ask myself what beauty or joy is there in this moment,” said Hirsh-Wax. “I want my family to know I am fighting for every moment of time with them.”

Her husband, Matthew Wax, and children, 16-year-old Jakob and 10-year-old Ava, cope by remaining positive.

“For them (the kids), I call it ‘life with cancer,’ ” said Hirsh-Wax. “They have learned to manage their expectations as far as when I will feel well enough to do certain things. I am very lucky to have Matthew.”

Chai Lifeline Canada supports families with a parent or child who has a life-threatening or lifelong illness. Since her diagnosis, Chai Lifeline has provided invaluable help and support to Hirsh-Wax and her family.

“My daughter has a big sister (through Chai Lifeline). They have sent us meals, tickets to see shows, drives to medical appointments when Matthew has to be with the kids,” said Hirsh-Wax.

“The purpose of the Chai Lifeline learning series is to take the expertise that exists in Chai Lifeline Canada and share that knowledge in a practical way that is relevant to anyone – not just people affected by illness,” said Mordechai Rothman, the executive director of Chai Lifeline Canada. “In this case, journaling can be very therapeutic to anyone going through the regular daily struggles of their day.”


To register for the workshop, visit chailifelinecanada.org.

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