Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s ‘Visible Ink’ Writing Program Gives Voice to the Experiences of Cancer Survivors



On April 3, 2017, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York celebrated its ninth year of live performances of the cancer experience written by survivors participating in the center’s Visible Ink writing program.


It is remarkable the effect positive affirmation and support provided by the program’s writing mentors has on the participants. We give them a place of comfort and safety to tell their story and express their emotions, and the experience is empowering for survivors.
— Judith Kelman

The evening’s performances were the culmination of months-long preparation by the program participants to hone their writing skills under the one-on-one mentorship of teachers, writers, and editors from the fields of education, publishing, television, stage, and film. In all, over 300 written works were considered for presentation at this year’s event, and 15 made the final cut. Four of the performances are illustrated below. All of the performances reflected the conflicting emotions and uncertainties cancer survivors face following their diagnosis and throughout survivorship and were presented by professional actors, singers, and dancers. 

More Than 60,000 Pages

Since its launch in 2008 by the program’s Founder and Director Judith Kelman, Visible Ink has enrolled over 1,500 cancer survivors and produced more than 60,000 pages of written work, some of which have been published in Visible Ink’s annual anthology and in online and print consumer publications, including Salon, The Daily Beast, Huffington Post, Newsweek, and The New York Times. The writing program is offered for free to all cancer survivors.

“We’ve seen remarkable outcomes in the program participants,” said Ms. -Kelman. “We have survivors who are newly diagnosed, living with cancer as a chronic illness, and those at the end of life, and what never ceases to amaze me is the courage and creativity they find within themselves during this process. It is remarkable the effect positive affirmation and support provided by the program’s writing mentors has on the participants. We give them a place of comfort and safety to tell their story and express their emotions, and the experience is empowering for survivors.”

A randomized clinical trial developed by MSKCC’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences is now underway to compare the effectiveness of a standard psychosocial intervention with a writing intervention in older patients with cancer.

To learn more about the Visible Ink writing program, visit www.mskcc.org/experience/patient-support/activities/writing-visible-ink. To make a donation, visit https://giving.mskcc.org/visible-ink. ■

1.“If I’d Known I’d Survive…” by Kathleen Emmets. Performed by Catherine Augier.

2. “An Invitation” by Teresa Levitch. Performed by Catherine Augier and Karen Wexler (foreground), Lucy Martin and Bart Mather (background).

3. Cast and Crew of the 2017 Visible Ink Live Performance. Back row, left to right: Actors Len Cariou, Paten Hughes, Bart Mather, Susan Spain, Lucy Martin, Tony Travostino, Kathryn Mowat-Murphy, Joe Ricci, Bryna O’Neill, Catherine Augier, ­Rebecca E. Covington, and Karen Wexler. Bottom row, left to right: Hiroyuki Matsuura, musician; Andre David Sotomayor, music director; Greg Kachejian, director; Nathan Madden, ­choreographer; and Karen E. Popkin, musician.

4. “I’ll Take the Chance” by Barnett Serchuk. Performed by Tony Travostino and Kathryn Mowat-Murphy.

5. “The Window” by Karl G. Merchant. Performed by Len Cariou.

All photos of the performances by Rick Dewitt



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