'This Kiss' writer: I've seen cancer from all sides
August 22nd, 2011
07:14 AM ET

'This Kiss' writer: I've seen cancer from all sides

Editor's note: Beth Nielsen Chapman, besides her own recordings, has written songs for many top artists from Willie Nelson to Elton John and has penned numerous hits such as Faith Hill’s Grammy nominated mega-hit "This Kiss." Beth also teaches workshops internationally on songwriting and creativity and serves on the Honorary Board of Healthy Child Healthy World.

Just a few changes to the Joni Mitchell song, “Clouds,” could sum up my relationship to cancer. “I’ve looked at cancer from both sides now....”

Having lost my husband to cancer in 1994 and then surviving breast cancer myself in 2000, I have experienced two perspectives on this journey no one ever wants to take.

I’m a singer-songwriter, first and foremost. My songs have been an important part of my healing through these big life events. But I’m also a teacher of what I call “Creative Flow.”

In 2009, doctors discovered I had a benign brain tumor, which was fast growing and pressing on my left frontal lobe, the part of the brain whose function includes putting emotions into words - a.k.a. writing lyrics.

I had been struggling to finish a few lyrics for my “Back To Love” CD when I was diagnosed. Waking up from my craniotomy, I had the experience of dreaming that the lines for the third verse to one of the songs I’d been trying to write, were floating over the clouds of anesthesia. Ah, yes. That creative spirit was there all the time just looking for purchase, waiting for the way to come through.

See, the lines to those songs were already “created” but they were just bottled up on the other side of the impasse of that brain tumor, which was, simply put, blocking the nuts and bolts functioning of the language center of my brain. Once that tumor was out of the way the flow was unencumbered once again. Of course there were a few weeks of swelling and the clearing of the anesthesia, but the feeling of being “stuck” was gone and my trust and faith in inspiration returned. The songs were finished not long after.

This experience reconfirmed what I have always taught - and truly believe - about creative flow. Many of us have been disconnected from our creative source. But it never abandons us, and it’s up to us to keep the creative pathway clear.

When I’m teaching one of my workshops there’s just nothing more fun than to see the pilot light go back on in someone’s eyes as they start to feel that reconnection. We are all creative and the flow of creative spirit will always be available to us if allowed to come in.

I believe the same is true for hope. Like creativity, I believe hope is something that does not come from our brains or intellect. If we consider that our brains are like hard drives that store and organize and analyze all that has been input, creativity and hope are like going online. This realm feels much more like an expansive field of endless possibilities. This is where the ability to “beat the odds” lives.

I recently learned of two close friends (on different coasts) who have  stage 4 cancers. Though I am happy to offer advice and comfort to them as someone who’s “been there,” I am still struck by how deeply I am affected as I watch them navigate the fear and grief, hear the hard facts and dance with hope.

With these friends I’m revisiting and cementing what I’ve come to know about cancer. Unlike the clouds in Joni’s song, cancer is just not OK. It's not OK that so much in our environment is toxic. But it spite of this challenge, if we open up ourselves and those we love to creativity, to faith, and most importantly, to hope, we can begin to heal.

soundoff (21 Responses)
  1. maria

    God bless you and heal you.. Heal us all..

    Thank you for these beautiful, inspiring words..

    August 22, 2011 at 09:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Chris

    Hey, remember when musicians used to write their own music? Yeah, me either.

    August 22, 2011 at 10:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Wendy Simpkins

    I'm so sorry about your loss and your friends' diagnosis. Please tell them free help is available anytime, day or night, by calling the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345.

    August 22, 2011 at 10:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Mike

    My wife ws diagnosed with stage 3 hodgkin's lymphoma in January of this year and our infant was diagnosed with stage 4 Neuroblastoma high risk in may of this year so we are battling 2 different types of cancer at the same time. You see it from all sides when you have to try to take care of an infant with cancer when you have cancer too

    August 22, 2011 at 11:43 | Report abuse | Reply
    • D

      My heart goes out to you. Please get support if you don't have any already.

      August 22, 2011 at 13:51 | Report abuse |
    • Karen

      I want to echo D's thoughts. Life is not fair. I wish you support and understanding as you move through this unwanted journey. Keep your sense of humor and remember to find joy in small, unexpected ways because all of you still need that too. Many of your friends and family will be confused as to how to help you. Try to be patient- and be willing to tell them what it NOT helpful too. You will discover your best friends are the ones who are brave enough to hang in with you even though they are scared too. Being present matters. Thinking of you.

      August 22, 2011 at 15:11 | Report abuse |
    • Beth Nielsen Chapman

      Dear Mike,
      My heart goes out to you and your family. I cannot begin to imagine the difficulty you must face every day. I will be keeping all of you in my prayers. There are incredible advances in medicine these days. I hope you are able to benefit by these and that your strength continues through this challenging journey.

      :)Beth Nielsen Chapman

      August 22, 2011 at 21:59 | Report abuse |
  5. John

    Dear Beth,
    Your talent dazzled me. However, it is your wisdom, compassion and empathy that truly overwhelm me. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    August 23, 2011 at 10:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Nikki R

    Great post, those of us who have been dx and are surviving need all the positives we can get. God Bless!

    August 23, 2011 at 11:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Catherine

    Having lost my best friend (and man I lived with for 18 years) to cancer I have seen it too, and I appreciate that side of it more than I ever thought I would. Now another close friend is dealing with it and I am there for her, too. I agree with Beth – once you have been through it (from either side I think) you can't help but be deeply affected by cancer when you go through it again with someone else or yourself. And I do mean "go through it" not just watch from afar, but really go through it with that person if you aren't the person with it. I experienced things I never thought I would ever do or see, and I have offered to do whatever this friend needs from me now.

    God Blessings on you Beth Nielson Chapman; thank you for this blog and for your inspiring thoughts. Keep well, and my prayers go up for you.

    August 23, 2011 at 17:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Daymara

      My dad died of cancer 11/22/09I miss him so much. I took care of him aslomt till he passed away. He even said the hardest part of dying is leaving you. This song makes me think of when he said this to me. R.I.P. Daddy I love you

      September 11, 2012 at 14:06 | Report abuse |
  8. Thomas

    It's awful to go through it yourself and to watch others go through it. I should know, I've seen cancer from both sides too. My wife had breast cancer for 6 years and died from it. I had kidney cancer a few years later and was lucky in that I lost 1 kidney but I'm still here 5 years later. No one can know what it's like without going through it yourself.

    Beth has her music to help her cope and get the message out about cancer.

    August 23, 2011 at 19:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Mary

    It's such a terrible disease......I lost my mother and a year later my precious baby brother to cancer. It is such a terrible thing to go through..... My brother was so brave...... I was by his side day and night.....He asked me "what do people do when they don't have anyone to take care of them?......The best thing we can do is just be there and love them......

    August 24, 2011 at 09:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Janet

    I lost my dad to lung cancer when he was 53. My son was just 5. I grieve for the father I miss and the grandfather I wish my son had known. A truly good man, an honest man, who could cuss a blue streak, but loved without saying the words much. Lung cancer is a horrible disease - I now work with scientists that are working on a cure, these people spend their days and nights working on this one small thing, A protein that binds with the cancer cell to stop it from replicating. It won't happen overnight, but it will happen. I have seen it with my own eyes. Prayers and much love - Janet

    August 24, 2011 at 16:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Rosaie Buchanan

    Loved your article! Four years ago I was fighing for my life with breast cancer.

    I had to take a year off a job I loved for treatment and when I was 11 days over a year, I tried to go back to work and no job was available! I had worked 18 years for this company so I was blown away and scared, like what do I do now?

    I have always loved Country Music so I started writing lyrics and now have 23 incredible songs. I was so very lucky to have found a Demo artist that really "got me" I know this was the Lord looking over me, and he does not do anything half way,he found me the very best!

    I have no way of knowing how, or when, I can get these songs heard, but I am certain that will happen, as they came together from so many prayers and they are all unique and wonderful. I have a couple Christmas songs, many military songs, a wedding song, a lot of traditional good Country songs.

    The artists in Nashville that did my demos are the reason I get up in the morning and say, Thank you Lord, help me do what you would want me to with these songs!

    I am in remission and have been since 2008. I credit this to a lot of prayer and my passion for Country Musics!

    August 26, 2011 at 19:22 | Report abuse | Reply
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  13. Kay

    Dear Beth

    After my husband died just over two years ago I used to fall asleep with the radio on at night for company and always fall asleep to the the late show. I was woken one night by your song "you could always touch my heart that way" – I had honestly, I am ashamed to say, not heard your music before. However, that night I listened to your words and cried. Whilst looking on line the next day to find out more about you I was amazed to fine that you were playing here (Newcastle upon Tyne England) just two nights later at the Sage. I felt I had to see you as you had been brought to me and I have listened to your music ever since, I am fine, I have a good family and friends who have been supportive throughout, but you and your music are always there through the darker, lonely times, which are becoming less troublesome – thank you for your talent, for being a good friend, although you don't know me, and hopefully this message will give you strength in your darker times too – with every good wish, Kay x

    May 5, 2012 at 17:42 | Report abuse | Reply
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