Student Corner: Chaya Murali

After attending a lecture at BCM by photographer Rick Guidotti, who strives to break down perceptions of people with genetic conditions through his work, fourth-year medical student Chaya Murali was inspired to use creativity in another way to impact people with genetic diseases.

She launched Get it Write, a program that uses creative writing to help people with genetic disorders express their feelings and share their experiences. Until recently, the Get it Write workshops have focused on children. But last month, Murali held a Get it Write workshop primarily for adults.

The workshop was part of a regional support meeting for people who suffer from Basal Cell Carcinoma Nevus Syndrome and their family members. The disorder, also known as Gorlin syndrome, is a condition that affects many areas of the body and increases the risk of developing various cancerous and noncancerous tumors.

Working with adults is a bit different than with children, she notes. For one thing, adults need less encouragement to express themselves through writing. She gave them several topics about which to write, including “Write about a time you were brave,” “Tell me about who you admire,” and “How has having the syndrome affected your life.”

By the end of the session, everyone in attendance had shared something they wrote with the rest of the group.

“One of the pieces shared aloud was written by a man whose wife has Gorlin syndrome, and he was at his first support-group meeting. He wrote about how he was scared of coming to the meeting because he didn’t want to hear about all the bad things that could happen to his wife. But he did it to support his wife. Everyone stood up and gave him an ovation, so that was very touching.”

One woman wrote about her tendency to make people she meets feel like family, and how having the syndrome brings out that quality in her. She wrote about how she was in her dermatologist’s office and was asked to talk to another patient, a boy, who had been recently diagnosed. She felt her nurturing quality was enhanced by having dealt with the disease herself.

Like children she has worked with in the past, Murali feels adults can benefit from writing about living with their condition.

“They all have different lives that they probably have difficulty explaining, and to do it through writing provides a positive outlet,” she said. “For me, the writing program makes me feel like I contributed the world and helps me connect to people. Writing in general is a great way to stay grounded.”

Murali hopes to pursue a residency in pediatric genetics.

Read more about Murali’s work on Momentum, the BCM blog.