Deborah Charles, a Washington correspondent for Reuters, has written a powerful and compelling series of stories for Reuters chronicling her experience since hearing from the doctors that she had breast cancer. As with anyone who finds out they have such a potentially devastating illness, this news was completely unexpected. Her story is one that has prompted an outpouring of response from readers who have either personally experienced the same thing, or are going through the same difficult period with either themselves or with a relative or significant other.
After I found out I had cancer seven months ago, the furthest thing from my mind was writing about it. I had extensive surgeries and chemotherapy ahead of me. But as the months went by and my treatment continued, I realized a lot of people had questions about cancer and what happens when you find out you have it.
At Reuters, we recently started a series of "Reuters Witness" stories of first person accounts of Reuters journalists in almost every corner of the globe. These stories usually come from exotic locales and detail some entirely different situations from what I was going through.
So I decided to speak with the editor of the Witness series about my experience. I was surprised by how the idea quickly mushroomed from a single story into a large project complete with video and audio slideshows. Paul Holmes, who was editing the Witness series at the time, thought it was a good chance to try to de-mystify the disease and its treatment. Ultimately, I wrote four stories for Reuters and a photographer took dozens of pictures to illustrate what I was going through. My husband even got into the act, doing a video interview with Reuters TV to talk about how he has coped with this very difficult period.
After 17 years as a Reuters journalist reporting the facts, it was very hard for me to write in the first person and give readers a sense of the emotional and physical struggle of dealing with breast cancer. The first story I wrote -- the one about being diagnosed with cancer -- was the most difficult. My editor sent this first attempt back to me, telling me to drop my regular Reuters reporter tendencies and write with more emotion. Throughout this, I was going through chemo and recovering from surgery, so it was tough at times to focus on writing.
After reworking the first story several times, I got the hang of it. I must say, it was a cathartic experience, allowing all that had been swimming around in my head to finally get out. I'm very glad I did it, and I'd encourage others going through similar experiences to write about them because it allows deeper reflection and more clear analysis of the situation.
The reaction to the series has been very positive. Some cancer organizations have posted the stories, video and photos on their websites. I've received hundreds of emails and phone calls -- from people I know and don't know. And I've received heartwarming notes from colleagues at Reuters and from other news organizations who were moved by my story.
My goal in writing this series is to help those going through cancer treatment -- particularly those with breast cancer who may not feel comfortable talking about the disease and what they're going through. I also hope it might push people who have been postponing a mammogram into getting one, or to do any kind of medical check they've been putting off.
The full package is on Reuters.com here.