Cancer sucks. You don’t have to be a survivor of the disease to know this. But as awful as something like breast cancer can be, believe it or not, good things can actually come from a bout with this devastating illness. When you’re diagnosed with breast cancer you become a member of a club you never wanted to be a part of, but your new sisters are some of the best people you’ll ever meet. Pye Pajewski is one of those people.
Pye and I met through Wildfire, a community and magazine for women who were diagnosed with breast cancer under the age of 50. Eventually, Pye joined the See Jane Write Collective and began to wow us all with her writing. With the same essay or poem, Pye can make you weep and laugh out loud. So it’s an honor to recognize Pye as the January 2023 See Jane Write Member of the Month.
Catch Pye’s guest appearance on the January 11, 2023 edition of Wildfire Magazine’s podcast “The Burn,” reading and discussing her poem “Ink.” Listen on your favorite podcast platform.
Read on to learn more about Pye and her blog For the Girls.
Tell us about your blog For the Girls and what inspired you to start it.
A few years ago, blogging wasn’t anywhere on my radar; then again, a new occurrence of breast cancer after 22 years of being cancer-free wasn’t either! After my first diagnosis, a friend encouraged me to write about it. With two small children, and as a stay-at-home mom, I didn’t make writing a priority at that point, although I could have done so.
The second bout with cancer was different. It was during the COVID-19 lockdown. I wanted a way to share my thoughts with the girls in my life: my adult daughters who were now living hours away, my nieces, and my friends. A blog seemed to make sense, but it meant vulnerability; I’m a relatively private person with a unique name. I could have made it a private account, but then friends I hadn’t yet met wouldn’t be able to read it.
In addition to my stories, the blog contains shout-outs to people or organizations making a difference, reviews of books related to the cancer experience, and short explanations of medical concepts. There are also occasional humor pieces; in the book A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle, Mrs. Which tells the children, “The only way to cope with something deadly serious is to try to treat it a little lightly.”
How has writing helped you cope with your cancer diagnosis?
Writing helps me to think through things. I have always journaled my way through life’s challenges, so it made sense to put a journal section in my giant three-ring binder that held all the paperwork related to my treatment.
Writing is a way to pose questions we dare not ask, voice prayers we dare not speak, and process emotions we dare not own. Our concerns can look very different when we see them in writing. Having journal entries to look back on can help remind us that the emotions we felt were real, not just something we imagined.
You can go through cancer treatment and move on, but that doesn’t change what you went through; that experience shapes your life in ways you can’t imagine. Even two years later, I still fight back tears when I read certain passages out loud.
Writing is a way to pose questions we dare not ask, voice prayers we dare not speak, and process emotions we dare not own.Pye Pajewski
What advice would you give to someone who wants to write about a traumatic experience but they’re having trouble doing so because of the emotional impact?
It may be painful, it may feel risky, but start by journaling. You need to be honest with yourself about what has happened and what you are feeling. Your English teacher is not going to read it; no one is going to check your spelling. It’s okay to have tears blurring your ink, it’s okay to write so violently that your pen rips the paper – however, I do recommend restraint if you are typing on your computer. (Hello, computer repair service? This is going to be hard to explain…) No one else needs to read what you have written unless that is what you want.
There may be a time in the future when you decide to share, and it may be beneficial to someone else. You will know when the time is right; trust yourself in this. Remember, there was a time not so long ago when women had to go through many life events in emotional isolation. Let’s not go back to that paradigm.
What do you do full time and how do you manage to make time for writing and blogging?
I divide my working hours between homemaking and being employed part-time at a public library, where I handle reference duties and interlibrary loans. Libraries are alive and well and it’s exciting to see the learning that occurs and the benefits they bring to their communities.
Just like for anything else, I have to set aside time outside my working hours for writing and blogging. I love the SJW Collective weekly check-in/write-in sessions. It seems strange at first, being in a Zoom meeting with no one talking to each other, but it provides a designated time to write.
Goal setting is crucial. I chose to launch the blog on a significant date – one year to the day after I completed active treatment. I have set the goal to post every week, which has been quite a challenge for me. It’s not for a lack of things to say; having something coherent enough to present weekly is the tough part.
What are your future writing goals and plans?
I said goal setting is crucial but I didn’t say I was good at it! Unlike many of the Janes, I did not grow up wanting to be a writer. My educational background was in STEM, way before we used that term. I took only the writing courses that were required because the rest of my time was spent wrestling with equations and conquering lab experiments.
A year ago I didn’t consider myself a writer; being part of the SJW community has helped me to look beyond that limiting thought. Getting accepted for publication in Wildfire Magazine (a magazine and writing community for the women “too young” for breast cancer) has also spurred me forward.
My first time around I didn’t linger in Cancerland. This time I feel like I have something to offer, so I keep writing. My vision is to share stories, to encourage others to share their stories, and to help connect my readers either to resources or to other people.
Why did you decide to join the See Jane Write Collective and what do you like most about being a member?
I am someone who enjoys companionship in whatever I’m doing – working, playing, or even making traditional ethnic foods for Christmas. Writing is a solitary pursuit and it is easy to doubt yourself along the way. I need encouragement ranging from gentle nudges to looming deadlines to stay on track, and I joined hoping the Collective could provide that structure.
I love the camaraderie of the SJW Collective! At our virtual gatherings you can find a group of friends, many whom have never met in person, laughing or crying happy tears, celebrating large and small victories in our varied writing pursuits. It’s a wonderful experience. They have convinced me, despite my doubts, I am a writer!
Follow Pye on Instagram @blog.forthegirls.