The Project

Whistle Words uses writing to help women in and post cancer treatment  reclaim their sense of self. Writing is our tool, and not our goal.

It's about building a community of women on parallel paths.

It's about regaining our voices and reconnecting with our lives.  

Workshops are designed for women who have never written and those who have always written.

 A documentary film and anthologies are being created from our work.

We hope you'll join us.

Filmmaker Betsy Cox and Poet/Professor/Survivor Charlotte Matthews created Whistle Words.

Filmmaker Betsy Cox and Poet/Professor/Survivor Charlotte Matthews created Whistle Words.

In 2016...

one of filmmaker Betsy's oldest and dearest friends was in treatment for breast cancer.  From miles away, she witnessed profound shifts in her friend's life - overwhelming worries for family, emotional and physical fatigue, reordering of priorities - all of which were difficult and exhausting to put into words....especially when the person on the receiving end of that conversation met each revelation with questions of their own. 

Betsy and Charlotte knew each other from years of practicing yoga at the same studio.   So one night, Betsy read Whistle What Can't Be Said cover to cover.   Reading Charlotte's words was intimate, moving, painful and beautiful.  She could feel Charlotte's own release through those words, and felt as a woman and friend that she was being given insight into her friend's struggles and how she might better support her. When she closed the book, she immediately reached out to Charlotte, who had long wanted to offer writing workshops to women impacted by cancer.  In the time it took to text and reply, the two hatched the idea for a larger project - one that could offer writing as a means of expression and empowerment to women with cancer, build a community of support without judgement and share their story through a documentary film.  Whistle Words was born.

Betsy's friend spends a quiet moment with her daughter,  Maddie , who found strength and comfort in writing during her mom's treatment.

Betsy's friend spends a quiet moment with her daughter, Maddie, who found strength and comfort in writing during her mom's treatment.


Writing workshops are the heart of Whistle Words. Led by Charlotte, we  use writing to reconnect with our lives and each other.  Cancer is what brings us together, but does not define us.  Learn more.

We’re not always in tune with our heart, or soul....Charlotte gives you the tools so you can be real. No pretense.
— Jocelyn

THis is us - and here's our story.

It all began in 2003...

with one woman's battle against stage 3 breast cancer.  Her name is Charlotte.

In the passive role of diagnosis and treatment - including a radical bilateral mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation - Charlotte felt she had lost all power. When she picked up a pen and started to journal, she began to regain it.

Reading through her notebooks months later, she realized the power of documenting this life altering experience.  Those free flowing thoughts would become the inspiration for her third book of poetry, Whistle What Can't Be Said, and ultimately the impetus for this project.

Meet Charlotte:  a poet and professor at the University of Virginia who has led writing workshops for over a decade.  

It makes me feel heard in a world that does not always listen.
— Elizabeth


This is the best I could do

I've been talking about traveling over

glaciers and remembering love.

I want to magnify her warmth, their capabilities.

I want to remember everything.

I'm just trying to make sense of my dreams.

Here I am with no intention of giving it away.

Here I am unaided.

-Group Poem, Olivet Workshop Group


Our first book - Truth: Voices of Women Changed by Cancer - was published in 2018. This beautiful collection includes a selection of writing from the first eighteen months of the project, as well as writing prompts and journal pages.



A documentary film, based on the workshops and the writing that results, is being produced by Red Spark Films.  The film will follow the workshops and a few of the women’s journeys (a short sample of the documentary in progress will be released later this year).

Watch this two minute film based on one of Charlotte's poems and produced to introduce the project.  Join a workshop. Become a founding friend.