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Transforming from survival to growth

By Ryan Blenkiron

As my hand sweeps the new page with a smoothing pressure, I’m more nervous than excited. It’s newly 2021 and I’ve chosen now to start growing instead of merely surviving. This starts with a method I learned through YACC’s programming — daily expressive writing. In a real, paper book with a real, wooden pencil! It’s not a new year’s resolution, it’s been a long time coming, but the timing has matched up and I’m flowing with it. 

I have sat with accumulative fear, fatigue, and feelings of failure since my lymphoma diagnosis in 2017. While I’m blessed with sweet visits of peace, self-acceptance and beautiful inspiration, it’s all been too overwhelming to face head-on. Before cancer, I faced trauma as it dappled my adult life and I believe I handled it with gold-star resilience. It’s very different now — my cancer experience drained me until I became the perpetual patient, always feeling less than fit physically, mentally, and emotionally, wondering when I would feel better (or be better), and sinking into the safety of a victim’s vantage point.

This is all part of the cancer experience and lives within us as grief (I still don’t understand what kind of grief, as there are handfuls to choose from). As the last couple of years seemingly trudged along and the complications from a cancer diagnosis piled on, I would take one step forward in recovery only to then get pushed two steps back by something beyond my control. 

Leaning into my grief on purpose like this is actually terrifying. It means entering a world of pain I have felt only sporadically since 2017. It’s not a comfortable move and it’s essential if I want to outpace my victimhood. 

My courage to work through my grief comes from the fact that I’m not even close to alone in my mission. Luckily, I’m part of a community that makes space for grief and growth. YACC has my back and I’m using tools they’ve gifted so many of us over the years to help me move forward. The Big Cancer Hook-up had a video compiled from the community about what word or intention each person would like to set for 2021; I chose “focus.”


And as I had done before with Sharon Bray, an expert in expressive writing as therapy and friend of YACC, I used just one word and a 15-minute window to write. Below is the result:

A sound that starts behind me

A breeze that brushed against my hands

The far away split of dark in the sky;

A foreshadowing I’ve missed a thousand times before.


With quiet attention I can move my hearing

Charge my skin, and

Sharpen the edges of a flitting songbird.


I can lean into how the sounds trick me spatially,

If I give them enough attention,

The moving air can cause a sudden sense of scale

And a small bird can be all I see

If I just focus.


Time disappears here, where details

Grow bigger than giants

I immerse into just one calm existence instead of

My earthside three–survivor, woman, mother.


In solidarity, YACC is a community that strives for post-traumatic growth. We put in our own work, but we don’t have to do it alone. I am three years into remission and I still rely on all sorts of supports and strategies. I find almost all of them at YACC and you might, too.

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