Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Power of Poetry to Heal

The following story appeared last week in my local newspaper. This girl lives one town over from where I live. I was touched by her story of courage and determination. I was also once again stunned by the power that poetry has to make our lives better. Please read Meghan's story and send her your good thoughts.

Meghan Gambichler shares her story of battling cancer in Roseland, NJ
Published: May 28th


Pictured on the left is Meghan Gambichler, 17, shown with Sharon Burton Turner, chair of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, at her speaking engagement at the New Jersey Governor’s Mansion for the Poetry Out Loud state finals.

ROSELAND – Seventeen-year-old Meghan Gambichler was a guest speaker at Drumthwacket, the New Jersey Governor’s Mansion, at the ceremony for the Poetry Out Loud state finals in March, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and The Poetry Foundation.

Poetry has been a significant part of the teen’s life, particularly as she has battled T-Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma for the past two years with the help of the Valerie Fund Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s Hospital of New Jersey (CHNJ). CHNJ is part of Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and an affiliate of the St. Barnabas Health Care System.

“Going through chemo was definitely the hardest experience of my life,” Meghan told the audience of nearly 200. “I often felt like I wouldn’t be able to make it another day. However, I found many outlets that helped me escape the reality of my new life. One in particular, was poetry.”

Poetry Out Loud encourages the nation’s youth to learn about great poetry through memorization and performance. Students compete in school-wide competitions, advance to regional and state competitions and ultimately to the National Finals. Gambichler won at the high school level, representing West Essex Regional High School, North Caldwell, at the North Regional competition and, while she did not win on the regional level, she made an impression on the judges and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. In an unprecedented request, they asked her to be a student guest speaker at the state finals and share her personal story.

Gambichler was 14 when she was first diagnosed with lymphoma. She has spent countless days in the Valerie Fund Center at CHNJ, at first on an every day basis and more recently every other week now that she is in the maintenance phase of her treatment. The high school junior has continued her education through home schooling.

The challenge of being a young teenager who was suddenly a cancer patient changed Gambichler’s life, but the special relationship she has always had with poetry inspired her to get better, brought her strength and a positive outlook. In spite of her personal struggles, she continues to find ways to raise awareness of childhood cancer and the special needs of children undergoing treatment by raising funds for CHNJ’s Valerie Fund Center.

The Valerie Fund Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at CHNJ offers comprehensive care for children and young adults with cancer. The center provides medical and psychosocial care at the time of diagnosis, during treatment and long-term care after treatment in its facility.

Gambichler says speaking at the Governor’s Mansion for “Poetry Out Loud” was “an amazing experience.” Her mother, Joanne Magliaro, concurs, describing her daughter’s address to the audience as “very brave and heartfelt.” The audience gave the young poet a standing ovation at the conclusion of her remarks in which she said:

“My wish for all of you here today is that poetry will bring to you as much as it has brought to me,” she said. “It has helped me meet my challenges, given me fond memories, hours of enjoyment, and lessons learned. Although I know I will always face challenges to overcome, I now know that no matter what I am going through, poetry will always be there to help me through it all. For me the words of poet William Ernest Henley ring clear – ‘I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.’”





4 comments :

  1. Thank you for sharing Meghan's story, which spoke deeply to my own experience of how you can, as Kim Rosen has written, be "saved by a poem". Writing poetry became my way through the experience of my late brother's cancer. It gave me back the voice I needed to go on when he could not.

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  2. Thanks for this. Great to hear how poetry IS important and the power of words can and do make a difference.

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  3. Thanks, Maureen, for sharing a bit of your story. I know you're not alone. Poetry lets us say what's unspeakable. And yes, Melanie, it is indeed important.

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  4. It's true--when times get hard, people turn to words, poetry, prayer, silly songs they sang when they were kids. Words keep us alive and give us courage and hope.

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