That question of identity seems to be a fixation of all the writers. Would writing about cancer, becoming the face and voice of a diagnosis, forever change how they were perceived as journalists? Laura Landro knew she would be always be “that sick girl” after she wrote her WSJ report, but went ahead anyway to show that people could survive, and to show them how. Her cancer has relapsed three times and she is considering a follow-up to her book Survivor.

Jennings, on the other hand, with last year’s release of What a Difference a Dog Makes: Big Lessons on Life, Love and Healing From a Small Pooch, and his cancer in remission, looks forward to moving on. “I don’t want to be a professional cancer patient,” he says.

Sievers also had some thoughts on the matter, too. Realizing the comfort and companionship he gave readers, he once told Matazzoni, the NPR producer, that “My Cancer” was the most meaningful project of his career. Koppel saw it, too. Though Sievers’s spirits remained high during most of their calls—he jokingly questioned the wisdom of starting the seven-volume Harry Potter series—he didn’t always feel like writing. “There were many times when I think he did that blog only because he knew there were people counting on him,” says Koppel. “The reaction of readers was so touching and overwhelming that he thought it to be one of the major responsibilities of his life.” But in June 2006, two years before his disease overtook him, and before he would come to see the impact his blog would have, he issued a journalist’s call of defiance:

In the end, I may very well be best remembered as a cancer victim. That’s strange to me. I don’t think I like it very much. The cancer has changed just about everything. My life, my career, my body. But aside from that, I am still, at the core, the same person I was before. Maybe a little wiser, but the same person.

And so I guess this is the time to say something that I sometimes feel like shouting out loud. I hope I speak for all of you out there who have this disease when I say, “I am not my disease.” We, all of us, are much much more than that.

 

Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.