Jan knew that sooner or later, everyone will enter “the fellowship of suffering.” She was insightful, compassionate, resilient, and stubborn—all traits required for those who dare to find purpose, peace, and support in their trauma. Jan used the very thing most people run from—the public stage—to play out her personal drama. Her stories, first in her newspaper column and then later in her book, demonstrate how to find satisfaction by writing about one’s trials. She also showed how to give and receive support to and from others, even while suffering. I do not suffer from cancer, but I do have chronic pain. Everything Jan wrote about her cancer suffering applies to my fibromyalgia, my arthritis, and my life.
Jan’s book will help those newly diagnosed with breast cancer by walking them through the diagnosis and treatment process. Her stories demonstrate how to reach out for help (for example, announcing her diagnosis on Facebook while asking for prayer). Especially during COVID, texting became her greatest tool for connecting with others. She showed how hope and determination, by positively imagining future events (like her grandsons’ graduation or visiting them in New Zealand) can help a person grow steel in her spine. Some events, like those graduations, did not happen for her; others did, such as visiting her family in New Zealand. The spiritual disciplines she describes in her book will help all readers, but particularly those who may be seeking ways to get through treatment. It may be useful to develop the “gratitude list” Jan suggested early on, and then lean upon it on difficult days.
I think that Texting Through Cancer may surprise those who have battled cancer a long time. Jan showed how maintaining relationships and if possible, serving in small ways, can lend cheer and self-esteem. Jan’s practice of detachment helped her as she entered the final stages of her disease, and she teaches us all that the art and practice of letting go can bring peace. Jan also learned how to accept help from others, allowing them to nurture her and feel useful. There comes a time when a humble attitude makes life easier for all involved. Jan also revealed how prayer and her view over the long haul strengthened her along her path. A read through her book demonstrates how to live out her philosophy that “all will be well,” even in the face of life-threatening illness.
My niece Julie emailed me with this thought:
Mom found beauty in everyday life, from reading, writing, kayaking, or simply sitting in her living room and watching the birds visit her bird feeders. She loved participating in a cancer support group, a writing group, and a group that supported refugees. She was able to visit her children in New Zealand, Colorado, and Philadelphia. … While she had pared down her commitments, Mom was still actively serving her community until the last week of her life.
Family members and friends of cancer patients can benefit from reading this book. They will learn they are not alone, and they truly are appreciated even if their loved one cannot or does not express their gratitude. They will find spiritual disciplines work as well for themselves as for the one with cancer.
Even those who have lost loved ones to cancer long ago can draw comfort from Jan’s philosophy of living and dying. As my neighbor read the book, she kept a list of quotes from it that she found especially inspiring. She recently sent me this moving message:
Although it's been over 21 years since she [my sister] passed, I often think of how much I loved her and yet felt so helpless during her battle with cancer. One of many things Janet says in her book that resonated with me is, “Cancer is one thing not even love can fix.” I've found comfort in reading this, just knowing I’m not alone in this thought.
Marilyn Watrous Emanuel is the twin sister of Jan Watrous Woodard, author of Texting Through Cancer.
Read more about Jan Woodard:
I could not have found The Upper Room Moments of Prayer (on Facebook Live) sooner. For it is during these moments of centering spiritual practices, meditating on the words of scripture, praying with and for the world, that I find moments of transcendence, hear whispers of peace and hope, see glimpses of truth and justice, behold visions of love and beauty amid all the stark realities that are around me.”