How to write about writing when you’re not writing

The dreaded blue cancer folder
The dreaded blue cancer folder


So I took the week off writing thinking that I would get this new book in order (in my head at least) and of course that hasn’t happened.

But here’s a few cool things that did happen:

  1. I got a piece published by It’s my first foray into nonfiction and the fact that it’s Jane Pratt, of Jane and Sassy magazine fame is pretty exciting. Sixteen year old me is basically convinced that I have reached the highest possible publishing high imaginable. You can read it here.
  2. Many thanks to Stephen at Dead Snakes for taking these poems.
  3. And to Dissident Voices for publishing this How To Be An American poem.
  4. And speaking of the How To Be An American book, my publisher sent me some pdfs and the proofs are on their way and guys, seriously, the cover is by the amazing Oscar Varona (here’s some of his work!) and I just love it. I’m really excited about this book. It’s been a really interesting experiment in privilege (assumed and real) and paying attention and really listening to how people perceive the way Americans think and act. The good and especially the bad. The book should be out soon and I’m interested in putting together a reading so my fellow NYC poets, CALL ME! We can do this together. It’ll be a party!
  5. And finally, now that I have dipped my toe into nonfiction writing I’ve got another idea brewing and I need your help!

Here’s what I posted on facebook, twitter and the YSC (Young Survivors Coalition website – which is an amazing group of women, under 40, with breast cancer)


So I want to write a “thing” (article? blog post? I don’t know yet) on the cancer self-blame/other-blame thing.

Things I’m looking for from you guys would be stories that you personally experienced as a caregiver or a patient, or a family member, or a friend etc. Nearly everyone I know has in some way been touched by cancer so I know you’ve got some good stories.

For example that knee jerk reaction that most people have when they hear that someone got lung cancer to ask if they were a smoker.

Or comments about eating the wrong things, not using suntan lotion, not having kids, drinking, smoking, oral sex (looking at your Michael Douglas), whatever you’ve got.

My story: When I saw my surgeon for the first time, I had to fill out an intake form. One of the questions was how much did I drink. My surgeon immediately latched onto this. At a very vulnerable time, 2 days after diagnosis, the seed was planted that this was my fault. That I caused my cancer. A year and 2 months out, I’m still trying to dig that out my head.

Share your stories with me. Cancer has a wicked blame stigma (much like HIV) because it’s this boogeyman that everyone grew up with. I want to talk about this stigma.

If you don’t feel comfortable leaving comments, then message me or email: ally dot malinenko at gmail dot com

And please SHARE this with anyone you think might have a story to tell. Let’s change things.

Thanks guys!

So there you go. Susan Sontag wrote about this blame/shame/game in Illness as Metaphor. If you’ve got a story or experience please let me know. So far people have shared really amazing bits – comments nurses have made about organic eating…patients who have demonized their past and convinced themselves that they have thrown off the trajectory of the life they were supposed to have…. a patient being told that her husband’s smoking caused her cancer, etc. And it’s not that people do this because they are mean or judgmental, it’s just that cancer is scary and so very misunderstood. When people hear that someone has been diagnosed, especially someone young, they immediately need to draw the line between them. What did person X do that I’m doing? How can I save myself?

The line of thinking is somewhere along this: “Oh you smoked, That’s why you got lung cancer. Oh your eating was bad? That’s why you got (fill in the blank) cancer.” But that discounts all the healthy people who get cancer – the ones who never smoked or drank or ate bad food or got fat. It can’t always be explained away so easily. In fact more evidence is pointing towards bad luck. I think the car analogy in that piece is especially telling.

Anyway, I want to talk about this. So if you’ve got a story (even if it’s about another illness) then please share. You can comment or email me (in the about page) whatever works.

In the meantime, remember, a little empathy goes a long way.

Peace, Love and Starbursts,


By Ally Malinenko

I live in Brooklyn which is good except when it’s not which is horrid. I’ve been writing for awhile, and have some stuff published and some stuff not. I don’t like when people refer to pets as their children and I can’t resist a handful of cheez-its when offered. I have a burning desire to go to Antarctica, specifically to the South Pole so I can see where Robert Falcon Scott died. I like to read books. I like to write stories and poems. I even wrote some novels. You can read them.

1 comment

  1. Ally this is a very good post and important. Thanks for writing it. And kudos on your latest literary successes!

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