Poems of Illness and Healing

An evening of hope, healing, and reflection offers a touching glimpse into the creative writing program at the Cancer Center

On November 12th from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in Auditorium G, 4th floor atrium, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Norris Cotton Cancer Center will host the second annual Poems of Illness and Healing for the public. Patients, family members, and staff will read original work, sharing insight into how their lives have been touched by cancer and other life-limiting illnesses.

Focus article photo

Embellished torso casts of women who have experienced breast cancer will be part of a pre-reading reception with artists.

Poems and stories relate to the cancer experience including diagnosis, treatment, and survival.  Other works reflect on broader themes of memory, grief, hope, family, humor, and life's daily moments.

Sculptures on exhibit are torso casts of breast cancer survivors

The evening will include a pre-reading reception on the 4th floor atrium where you may meet the writers and look at an art show curated in collaboration with DHMC Arts and the nonprofit cancer support organization Forest Moon.

The "1 in 8 The Torso Project" is a group of life size embellished torso casts created by women who have experienced breast cancer.

Also on hand will be Margaret Stephens, therapeutic harp practitioner in the Norris Cotton Cancer Center and the Creative Arts Program who will play selections on her Celtic harp during the reception.

How cancer care creates poetry

Works included in the reading were submitted by participants in the Cancer Center's writing program.

Creative writer, workshop leader and teacher, Marv Klassen-Landis has been facilitating individual sessions and small writing groups with cancer patients and family members for the past two years as part of Patient and Family Support Services' Creative Arts Program at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center.

Marv has inspired patients getting chemotherapy or resting in bed during a bone marrow transplant procedure to have fun with words and personal recollections.

People who have never written a poem or put a family memory into words on paper have become inspired to share a story or to explore personal feelings through rhymes, letters, and conversation.

Marv's responds to patient's own words by writing them down on his laptop and reading them back and forth until a work is considered finished.  Sometimes Marv can suggest a form of poetry that doesn't require rhyming or a way to combine two memories into a story.

Nostalgic, humorous or/and insightful poems and stories have emerged on paper to the delight of the patients and their family members. As one woman declared recently to her husband, a patient undergoing chemotherapy, "I never knew you could write so well!"

"Well, neither did I!" he replied.

How and why writing supports cancer care

Expressive writing in several recent studies has been shown to have immediate and long-term effects on the writer's physical and mental well-being.  Possible benefits include a decrease in blood pressure, a lowering of pain and fatigue, and a self-reported decrease in stress.

Writing for relaxation with Norris Cotton's creative writing facilitator offers a person facing a difficult illness the opportunity to dive deep inside themselves to express a feeling or to float playfully along with a memory of haying in summer on grandfather's farm. Marv offers a blank journal to take home and fill  if someone wants to continue writing at home.

Call Patient and Family Support Services at 603-650-7751 with questions or comments or email us at

October 15, 2012