Founder Spotlight: Laura Rubin on Surviving Breast Cancer and Starting AllSwell Creative

Founder Spotlight: Laura Rubin on Surviving Breast Cancer and Starting AllSwell Creative

Reviewed by Jasper Clinical Board

Last updated 5/24/21

As a lifelong journaler, Laura Rubin knows firsthand the power of the pen-to-paper practice. Since receiving her first journal at the age of 8, she has leveraged the accessibility of this creative modality to process, express, and unearth her inner voice. 
After receiving an aggressive breast cancer diagnosis at 31, she rediscovered the practice’s therapeutic and grounding benefits during a period of immeasurable and unpredictable trauma. 
Though she regards her survival as a stroke of luck—she humbly and empathically notes that her will to live was no greater than that of her fellow cancer warriors who didn’t survive—she acknowledges the support that her journaling practice offered during treatment, and has continued to give her every day since. 
For Laura, founding AllSwell was a passion project fueled by her survival. Her aim is to help all people encourage their creative self-expression and live the lives they want to lead. Read on to learn more about the power of this simple, creative act, and how Laura’s journey as a cancer survivor helped to inform her business. 

What inspired you to start your company, AllSwell? 

Journaling has provided me with so many benefits, not least of which has been the ability to connect with my own voice. I also recognized that journaling suffered from a bad PR problem. Until recently, keeping a journal was often associated with images of teenage girls writing “Dear Diary” and recording the gossip and events of the day rather than the legitimate mental health modality that it is.
I then realized that I could help shift the cultural conversation around journaling with the launch of a gender-neutral product that was designed to fit in a diversity of environments.
Of course, the brand and community has since grown to be much more. But that was the seed from which it all germinated. 

The popularity of your lightweight notebooks prove that people are hungry for creative experiences—now more than ever. What is about drawing and journaling that is so attractive to us, especially during the digital age?

In the seven years that I’ve been having this conversation around journaling, the intensity of our digital connectivity has only increased. As a result, the craving for authentic, analog experiences has only grown stronger. 
Today, we’re so overly connected to prompts asking us to react, respond, and comment that there's very little space left in our lives to authentically tune into what we believe is true for us. What outlets remain for us to cultivate our own experiences without any judgment, likes, or comments? 
Fewer and fewer, it seems, but the ritual of putting pen-to-paper does just that. For those of us longing for a way to tune into our personal voice—which is something that we all have—journaling is an incredibly accessible modality. 
You don't need anything special to do it. You don't need a special outfit, equipment, or specific time of day. There's also a very low-cost barrier. And really, there's no way to do it wrong. It's all about making sure that you do it on a consistent basis, even if it's just a few minutes a day. 
For people who are just beginning their practice and don't know where to start, I tell them to follow the four-by-four-by-four structure: Try to journal for four minutes a day, four days a week, for four consecutive weeks. If you fall off the wagon, it's fine. Just get back on and keep going. There's no need for journaling-guilt here. There's already way too much guilt bound up in this whole gestalt of self-care. We want to take that off the table for people and just let them know that this is a safe place for them to express themselves.

Can you tell us more about your cancer experience? Did journaling or other creative endeavors play an important part in your journey?

At the time I was quite young to have the form of cancer that I did, and it was a period of time during which I wasn't journaling frequently, and I wasn’t particularly tuned in and connected to myself.
Of course, I want to be clear that I don’t believe in any way, shape, or form that I developed cancer because I wasn't journaling. But if I'm going to be really thoughtful about it, I recognize that it wasn't a time of my life where I was putting pen to paper very much, and I was pretty disconnected from myself as a result.
When I did receive my diagnosis, I thought back to the teachings of mind-body connection pioneers Louise Hay and Bernie Siegel on the importance of journaling, and I realized that journaling was going to be a very important part of my impending healing journey. And it's something that I participated in throughout the various stages of becoming well again.

Research has shown that therapeutic journaling can have a myriad of health benefits for post-traumatic stress and trauma survivors, as well as for those with chronic pain, insomnia, and cancer. How, if at all, did this science come into play when designing your product line?

Before I started AllSwell, I was aware of the holistic voices who spoke about the importance of journaling. But it wasn't until I began to design our line of products and subsequently dove into the scientific data that I realized how much evidence there was on the subject.
Personally, none of it surprised me, because I'd already experienced the benefits of journaling in spades. But when I discovered the wealth of empirical research that pointed to what I knew in my gut, that was a big moment. Finally, I could reference scientific studies that demonstrated that journaling on a consistent basis can decrease anxiety, improve mood, increase wound healing, treat PTSD, and boost T lymphocytes, the backbone of our immune systems.
I always knew that journaling could make me feel better, but now I had the research to prove it. 
What’s more, my intent with starting AllSwell was fortified. There are a lot of practices out there that are unfounded in science, but this is one that has complete legitimacy. And my hope was that by continuing to reiterate the scientific efficacy, people would better prioritize the simple act of putting pen to paper.

How did your identity as a cancer survivor help shape your business?

I had a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer, and I was very, very fortunate, in that from the time I received my diagnosis to before I finished chemotherapy, a new drug called Herceptin was rushed to market—turning what had been one of the most fatal forms of breast cancer into the most curable form of breast cancer.
I was very lucky. And yet, when you live or something like that, especially at such a young age, it's supposed to change you. 
I recognize that some of the people that went through treatment at the same time as me didn't make it, but that doesn’t mean that they didn't fight any less hard. They didn't want to live any less than I did. Some were mothers who had families. I was single. And so, I feel this urgent need to do the best I can to live fully now. Not just for myself, but for them as well.
I believe the work that I'm doing spreads joy, health, happiness, and that it helps people wake up to their true nature and create a life that they love—a life that they feel called to lead. That's the bar that I set for myself because I'm very fortunate to be here, and it's informed by having been ill.

What wisdom can you share about your experience for other patients and survivors?

Be gentle with yourself. When I first went into my treatment, I expected it to be a quiet and contemplative period. I thought, well, I’ve never read The Russians so now will be my time to do that. Unsurprisingly, none of that happened. I was lucky if I could make it through one People magazine. So I learned to be gentle with myself and remove any judgment around the process.
I would also invite them to the page to see what they might uncover. But don't feel pressured to heavily document your cancer experience either in the pages of the journal or on social media.
As an extroverted introvert, I feel lucky that social media didn't exist when I was going through treatment. Now, there’s a lot of pressure to have “great pieces of wisdom” revealed to you while you're still in the process. And if that happens, that's great. But if that doesn't happen until much later, that's quite normal. Because when you're in it, you're sort of in a tunnel, and all you can focus on is getting through it. 
Finally, “going back to normal life” can be an extremely disorienting time—and that’s absolutely normal. In fact, that's when a lot of the work begins. It’s when we begin to process the emotional brunt of what has occurred. It’s when we shed the armor we wear during treatment. When we take control of the habits that have a tremendous impact on our wellness. It’s also a time when we start to shed the toxic people and experiences out of our lives to invite healthier, more nourishing experiences into our daily routine. And that's when journaling can be an invaluable and extremely powerful resource.

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