Breast cancer memoirs

What motivates breast cancer survivors to write memoirs? We chat to Gail Gilbride Bohle and Dr Frances le Roux to find out where their inspiration came from and how writing helped them in their own breast cancer journey.

You can listen to this article below, or by using your favourite podcast player at

Gail Gilbride Bohle (67) lives in Hermanus, Western Cape with her husband and furry family. They have one adult daughter. Gail was diagnosed with Stage 3 triple-negative breast cancer in August 2019. Her treatment consisted of neoadjuvant and adjuvant chemotherapy, surgery and radiation.


Cat Therapy came about as I blogged about my journey on a weekly basis. Writing down what I was going through was a way of processing what was happening to me. I also chose to see the journey through the eyes of our feral tom cat, Archie as I didn’t want it to be a doom and gloom account, so Archie livened things up with all his antics. I hadn’t planned to turn it into a book, but after being interviewed by John Maytham on Cape Talk, there seemed to be a lot of interest in my story, so I decided to publish it in book form.

Archie, the muse

My book is a little memoir about my 13-month journey with cancer. It coincided with the COVID epidemic, lockdown and the world in total panic. I write about all the treatment I chose, including complementary therapy. It’s called Cat Therapy because Archie came onboard and offered his own compelling therapy. Animals can be immensely helpful, and their love is so unconditional and accessible. We tend to underestimate what they do for us on so many levels. They don’t overthink things and act on intuition. Sadly, we’ve blunted our own intuition in this fast-paced modern world.

Making sense of it all

Blogging about my journey helped me make sense of it all. I do believe that we need to take care of our emotional and spiritual health, as well as looking after our physical needs. Writing gave me a way of taking control of my own health and at the same time, lean heavily on my doctors and specialists. I took an integrative approach, so not an either or, rather all and everything.

Remaining in the driver’s seat

Speaking the truth means accepting the diagnosis, deciding on the path forward and remaining in the driver’s seat. There is no one to blame. It is what it is. I knew that I wanted to live, and I was prepared to do whatever that took. I kept fanning the flame of life in my chest and reminding myself of my 100th birthday cake. Death by chocolate cake at 100 years old is my goal.

Cat Therapy is available at Exclusive Books (R260).

Dr Frances le Roux (67) lives in Simon’s Town, Western Cape. She has one daughter and three grandchildren. Frances was diagnosed with HER2 positive breast cancer in June 2015. She had a mastectomy then chemotherapy for 15 months which included doxorubicin, paclitaxel and trastuzumab.

A desire to heal and inspire others

Writing a book was the last thing I wanted to do. However, when I had recovered and started to support breast cancer patients, my desire to heal and inspire others made it easier to go back and reflect on my breast cancer journey. I remember just after my last chemotherapy, visiting Portugal where a spiritual director encouraged me to write a book. But I felt I still needed time for emotional regulation. A few years later I was ready for the task and it’s a privilege to write for others. The task creates a deep gratitude.

Son en suurlemoene

In my book, Son en suurlemoene, I talk openly about my breast cancer journey. Inside each journey a secret harvesting is at work.
It gives you a mirror and you learn the truth about yourself. You pick up practical tools to get through difficult times. I learnt the value of a healthy upbringing, the tremendous network of kind people, and trust in your oncologist’s map of the road ahead. And that my own interest, field of music as medicine, is indeed very powerful medicine, especially during a cancer journey.

I explain the dilemma of the sudden diagnosis and treatment while still running a busy physiotherapy private practice, how I slowly become part of a cancer network even in my own practice, but with more empathy than before.

The book gives insight at how art surprised me and connected me to deep emotions and healing.I had to find courage by overcoming my fear of chemical treatments and then the mystery of meeting inner resources I didn’t know exist.

The book is more than showing the recovery path after breast cancer, it’s an inspirational book about my experience as a physiotherapist and many years of research on music in healthcare. It will benefit those that want to find meaning after suddenly facing a strange new world. It’s a book of hope.

Releasing beauty in you

A story exists of layers of external happenings that influence behaviour and actions, but it also connects you to the world of your subconscious mind, soul and imagination. Writing a story is releasing beauty in you that opens up your own identity. Writing this book brought to me emotional growth, understanding, acceptance which all go hand in hand with maintaining a physical healthy lifestyle.

The truth sets you free

There is a saying: the truth will set you free, but first it makes you miserable. That is so true, but finally it brings more maturity and you learn from your mistakes.

Son en suurlemoene is only available in Afrikaans at Wordworth Books, or you can order a copy by emailing [email protected] (R260 plus courier service).

Laurelle Williams is the editor at Word for Word Media. She graduated from AFDA with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Live Performance. She has a love for storytelling and sharing emotions through the power of words.

MEET OUR EDITOR – Laurelle Williams

Laurelle Williams is the editor at Word for Word Media. She graduated from AFDA with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Live Performance. She has a love for storytelling and sharing emotions through the power of words. [email protected]

Header image by Adobe Stock