How a Handwritten Letter Has the Power to Heal
This fall, we’re publishing Dear Friend: Letters of Encouragement, Humor, and Love for Women with Breast Cancer by Gina Mulligan. Here, Mulligan, a breast cancer survivor, shares her path to founding of Girls Love Mail, an organization that provides support to people diagnosed with breast cancer. Read on for her thoughts on how handwritten letters can heal.
If you are inspired to pen one yourself, you can download a letter writing kit for guidelines, tips, prompts, sample letters, and mailing instructions here. If you’re based in Northern California, join Mulligan for a letter writing event at Books Inc. in San Francisco on 10/4, Avid Reader in Davis on 10/22, or Time Tested Books in Sacramento on 10/26.
Letters are sacred mementos we lovingly save in decorative boxes, memories captured to relive again and again. Yet the gentle beauty of a handwritten letter seems largely forgotten in our age of text messages and emails. After working for five years on a novel comprised entirely of letters, I felt connected to what I consider the lost art of letter writing. However, not until I was diagnosed with breast cancer did I understand that a few words on paper are more than a keepsake. A handwritten letter is a gift with the ultimate power to heal and inspire.
Hearing I had cancer was a frightening shock, but what happened in the following weeks changed my perspective on kindness: I began receiving letters and cards from friends of friends, strangers. People I’d never met took time to tell me I was a hero, a warrior, a survivor. Their support filled me with hope and reminded me that I wasn’t alone.
Once I beat cancer, I knew what I had to do.
In August 2011, I set out with the mission of getting handwritten letters of encouragement to women newly diagnosed with breast cancer. My husband and I wrote letters at our kitchen table, and then we roped in family and friends to help. We donated the letters to breast cancer centers who gave them to their patients. As we shared our message, people responded. Hundreds, then thousands of letters began coming in from around the country and then from around the world. By simply asking, caring individuals of all ages and backgrounds wrote heartfelt, beautiful words to encourage you, their friend in spirit.
The idea for this collection began when an extraordinary letter again touched my life. On simple white stationery was a note from an oncology nurse. For over twenty years, she’d cared for women with breast cancer and now she was a patient in her own clinic. Rather than focus on the irony or injustice, she wanted nothing more than to use her diagnosis to make her an even better caretaker. Not only could she answer her patients’ medical questions, but now, for the first time, she experienced their distress.
She felt “blessed” for her understanding, and even while undergoing her own arduous chemotherapy, she set aside time to visit patients, the women she called “sisters.” The best in humanity can’t be ignored. There was more we could do.
The letters in this book were written by survivors and their family members, friends, colleagues, and others wanting to encourage breast cancer warriors. Even though we live in a fast-paced society, I hope the words in the book lift their spirits, help them heal, and remind then that they’re never alone. Through these handwritten letters, we are all connected and together we fight, united.
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