This week, we honor Gina Mulligan, a Folsom, California, resident who is using the power of writing to help comfort women diagnosed with breast cancer.
Mulligan, who underwent treatment for breast cancer herself in 2009, says she was touched when she received hundreds of handwritten letters during that time in her life, many from people she had never met. Deep into writing a novel of letters called From Across the Room at that same time, Mulligan was fascinated by the art of letter writing and inspired by the kind words she was personally receiving from others. That is what inspired her to start Girls Love Mail, a national nonprofit that collects hand-written letters of encouragement and gives them to women newly diagnosed with breast cancer. The letters are distributed to centers around the country and have reached over 75,000 women so far.
1. Talk about what the letters you received while you were undergoing treatment meant to you.
When I got diagnosed and became a patient, I received nearly 200 letters, mostly from friends of friends. It was so uplifting. I’d come home after radiation and read letters that told me I was a survivor and that I was going to be fine, and I believed them. I met so many wonderful women through treatment. We started talking and you think everyone has a support system, and not everyone does. So that’s how all of this came together.
2. What do you think is so special about a handwritten letter?
There’s just such personality in letters and it takes more time. People always say, “Oh, my handwriting is bad.” It doesn’t matter. In this age of text message and email, we’ve forgotten that something handwritten has so much personality. Your one letter goes to one person. It’s very personal.
3. What advice do you have for someone who wants to write a thoughtful letter for someone in need?
Be honest. It’s okay to say “I don’t know what you’re going through.” Don’t try to make something up. Just be thoughtful. Quotes are wonderful and a great launching off point. Just a few careful lines that say “I’m thinking of you” can go a long way. You took the time to write a letter, and that’s really all that matters.
4. How do you feel that your work is moving humanity forward?
I feel like kindness is something we all can do. It doesn’t take giant acts. It takes small acts, and I think that’s where letter writing comes in. It doesn’t change the world, but it changes perspectives. So many letter writers don’t have a lot of time or money, but this makes them feel like they are helping others, and that’s the point. This is something anyone can do.
5. What are your goals for the future?
We want to get more letters out there. When I started five years ago, I wanted to get a letter to every woman diagnosed with breast cancer. That’s 250,000 every year in the U.S. I’ve also emailed quite often with people wanting us to reach other countries. I’m also doing a book for Girls Love Mail. We’ve pulled out 100 unique letters and it will be released next October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Gina Mulligan is a true Architect of Change. She is creating a more caring, conscious and compassionate community. To learn more about Girls Love Mail, go here. Proceeds from the sales of Gina’s books, From Across the Room and her debut novel Remember the Ladies, about women’s suffrage in the Gilded Age, benefit Girls Love Mail. Further details about the books can be found on ginamulligan.com.