The Art of Translation: Finding the Right Words About Cancer by Sarah Safford

When I first was asked to comment on the connection of my work to another one in this journal I didn’t know where to begin. How to choose? All of the pieces spoke to me in some way and I was so happy to have found a community of like-minded souls, searching for meaning and beauty in stories of illness. Then I came across “Translate” by Mario de la Cruz and realized how deeply the heart of my work connects to his spoken words, as I too am looking for “…the power to translate/from my lips to your ears/from my thoughts to your thoughts/my interior to your exterior…” using language to shed light in dark places.

Sarah Safford is a lyricist and an educator, currently employed at the Brooklyn Adult Learning Center. She has a Masters in Public Health and is an alumnus of the BMI Musical Theater Workshop. Listen to her songs, “I’ll Try Anything” and “Wake Up” which appeared in the Spring 2015 Intima.

Sarah Safford is a lyricist and an educator, currently employed at the Brooklyn Adult Learning Center. She has a Masters in Public Health and is an alumnus of the BMI Musical Theater Workshop. Listen to her songs, “I’ll Try Anything” and “Wake Up” which appeared in the Spring 2015 Intima.

My first impulse in writing lyrics about cancer was to get these words out of my system, the detritus of many bad and sad memories. Over time as I witnessed more and more friends and family battling cancer, the songs kept coming and the idea of a musical developed. I thought it might be the right form to tackle this ugly subject matter, and wanted to give voice not only to the cancer patients, but to their caregivers and doctors too. Muddling through my own discomfort I wanted to open the dialogue, to hear people singing about things that were unspeakable.

I had the privilege of working with two amazing composers from the BMI musical theater workshop, each of whom had their own relationship to the subject matter. First with Jonathan Monro (Wake Up) and then a year later with Natalie Lovejoy (I’ll Try Anything), I experienced the thrill of hearing my words translated into music in ways I had only barely imagined. The songs came alive and went in directions that were surprising and yet seemed exactly right.

All artists create work with hopes that it will strike a chord, ring a bell, invoke a sympathetic response of some kind with others. We want to explore uncharted, taboo territories, break barriers and maybe even affect some kind of social change. In my collaboration with other artists on this project we have been striving to find commonality and emotional truth, “…When word and feeling (and music) become one/In a marriage orchestrated by authenticity/And presided over by empathy….” searching for the right words to move the audience, to connect my stories with their stories and, as de la Cruz says, “bring our worlds closer into each other.”


Sarah Safford is a lyricist and an educator, currently employed at the Brooklyn Adult Learning Center. She has a Masters in Public Health and is an alumnus of the BMI Musical Theater Workshop. Listen to her songs, “I’ll Try Anything” and “Wake Up” which appeared in the Spring 2015 Intima.

© 2015 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine