Stories Matter


Life can be difficult. I just finished a class at Integrative Medicine at Mayo Clinic where my writers tapped into dozens of stories– the story of a woman who had the courage to leave her wheel-chair bound but abusive husband, the story of an award-winning engineer who was unexpectedly laid off, the story of a mother’s suicide and a daughter’s sex change, the story a drunk driver who took the life of a young fiancé, and the story of a birth mother who recently contacted and reconnected with her own kind-hearted birth mother.

These were all hard stories, and sooner or later each one of us realizes we, too, are faced with a challenge. I still remember the day of my cancer diagnosis. Steve was a thousand miles away on a business trip. After a robot-like radiologist read my diagnosis, I drove home in a zombie-like state.  The doctor’s words echoed in my brain like a death sentence. Within minutes of arriving home, I was curled up in a fetal position on the cold tile of kitchen floor, rocking back and forth and feeling trapped in an undertow. It was after 6:00 pm and the last rays of sun were disappearing from the winter sky. The darkness engulfed me.

The next day I walked, I prayed, I talked to a friend, and I went to my local bookstore where I bought my bright red “I have cancer journal.”  I began to scratch out my story. The words were halting at first. The thoughts were frozen and needed time to thaw. Later I recall scribbling loudly across the page that I did not want cancer for a story, but if it was my story, I was going to write my way forward. The story would not define me. In coming weeks as I made the trek from surgeons to radiologists to oncologists, I wrote this story. Slowly. And later I would rewrite it.

As I began to help other cancer patients and community writers to write and release their stories, I came to understand that I had always been a storycatcher—and perhaps you are as well. Storycatching embraces listening to a story wholly in the moment—the emotions, the images, the perspectives, and insights. If it is a painful story, you can give this story a new frame to hold it. You can rewrite and even re-vision it, finding the new possibilities. Perhaps you can transform your story and allow it to become the new story it needs to be. My cancer story became the framework for my current research, writing, and workshops on story.

What a gift to watch students find and rework and reframe the power a story has on them. At the end of my last class, Michele shared her beautiful poem on story. It is an honor to share it with you—


A Story Set Free

By Michele Lee Sefton


They whisper and wait,

the stories that exist inside of me.

I write about what once was,

to release them, to set them free.


Elusive details captured on a page.

My blank messenger conspires with me,

coaxing the story out of hiding,

and snaring it for other eyes to see.


No longer is the story mine, I am setting it free.

No longer does the story have power over me.


The words and emotions transferred from

me to you and from you to them.

My story becomes your story,

because you understand where I’ve been.


My story released; my mind can now expand.

Cloudy perspectives and timeworn pathways,

no longer weigh me down or slow my pace.

An open mind now ready to explore new lands.


No longer is the story mine, I am setting it free.

No longer does the story have power over me.


There once was a time when I told myself,

that silencing our stories gives us strength.

Not sharing our stories highlights courage

and defines how we conquer moving on.


I now know that lie was just a trapped story,

convincing me that it should stay hidden,

in the dark and under the bed.

“Sweep around me,” it said, “but don’t ever bend.”


A believer, I was, that a shared story

might spend too long dwelling on the past.

“Don’t look too closely,” it whispered,

“For I might provoke pain, sadness, or regret.”


I now know the truth about the stories,

hiding in the crevices of my mind:

walking with the shadows is uncomfortable,

but it is there where freedom is found.


No longer is the story mine, I am setting it free.

No longer does the story have power over me.