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Four Primary Cancers, and Lots of Pending Books, All Inside One Person …

… And the messages, stories, tips, suggestions, mysteries, suspense, and intriguing characters found in both my publishing and cancer journeys can no longer be separated, even temporarily. So, my posts will now include both, in order to remain authentic as well as informative.

In short, members of the medical community at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City are finding me “interesting,” to say the least. My non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma–first diagnosed twenty-four years ago in 1987–has been in remission (I’m knocking on wood right now) for around ten years. That part of the journey, all by itself, is fascinating enough. But what has really taken me into uncharted waters (uncharted for the professionals as well as for me) is the saga of three additional primary cancers (each unrelated in any way to any of the others) over the past seventeen months, starting with the breast cancer diagnosis in April 2010.

Seven surgeries and a round of radiation later, I am heading tomorrow (October 13) into an 18-week course of chemo to obliterate this latest surprise. The apprehension I’m feeling in advance of the chemo is very real but frankly pales in comparison to the scary days preceding the gigantic surgery four weeks ago to get this thing out of me. Everything is now gone except the microscopic stuff that we need to wipe out because, unlike all of my other cancers (that sounds like such a strange thing for someone to say), this latest bad boy is sort of aggressive. The good news is that, according to my guru oncologist who specializes in this particular cancer (and also according to my breast oncologist who has seen all of the tests and pathology), this “remains a very curable situation.” For that, I’m unbelievably grateful.

But I’m not going to lie. The past seventeen months have been a little rough. And yet, in the midst of all the turmoil, I’ve been surprised to realize that the coping skills required to survive cancer with a smile are not all that different from what’s required of writers trying to find their way to successful outcomes on their various publishing journeys. “You can’t be serious,” you might be saying. Well, yes I am. Serious, that is. Totally. Just think about it for a minute …

For example: First and foremost (other than being equipped with at least a modicum of writing knowledge and talent), writers need to maintain a positive outlook–to believe that “this is really possible,” a belief enhanced by the ability to visualize a happy outcome (a published book; a CT scan free of cancer). And the “positive outlook” needs to apply to the person’s entire life, not just to a singular task or challenge. Some people have more trouble with this concept than others, typically complaining about issues or people they have to deal with in their daily lives and then attempting to turn positive when they’re focusing on their writing/publishing objectives. Generally–at least from my own experience–that dichotomy doesn’t work out very well. Whatever outlook surfaces as most dominant in a person’s life–consistently positive versus pessimistic/cynical/complaining–tends to spill over into a person’s view of the publishing journey at hand (and sometimes into the writing as well). And, just as a negative outlook can affect, as one example, the impression a writer makes on publishing professionals (or even potential readers), I believe that those same gloomy characteristics can actually affect a person’s health, including things like cancer recovery. Our minds and bodies are interconnected in ways we don’t fully understand–and there is true power available to us through training ourselves to “think positive.”

Once the positive outlook thing has been mastered, writers need to have a plan that will bring their idea(s) for their book(s) to life. In a novel, the story needs to have plot points. The characters need to have arcs. The book promotion needs to have organization and goals. And those are only the starting points. Each step along the publishing journey’s path requires a plan that acknowledges challenges and realities, and that includes ideas for circumventing and overcoming obstacles. So, too, is the case with cancer. And there are so many kinds of cancers and cancers-within-cancers (a dozen types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; likewise with breast cancer, etc.) that each one requires a different plan. For example, my breast cancer was not only discovered very early but the type of cancer was indolent in nature. We took a very proactive approach with a double mastectomy and reconstruction (and that process is finally, thankfully, fully complete now), and rather than chemo or radiation, I was put on a drug called Arimidex for a total of five years that is basically siphoning all remnants of estrogen out of my body forever. This new cancer, as I said, though, is more aggressive, and thus the plan this time requires chemo.

But there are other elements to “the plan” besides just the treatment options. There are issues to deal with such as the loss of hair, which has turned out to be a really big deal for me (and I’m sure for most other women as well). So, I put together a plan that I hoped would help me manage the trauma associated with the “vision” of my long hair being gone. The initial step in the plan was a “wig party” I hosted in my apartment for members of my family and close friends. A consultant from a wig company came over with several samples of potential “new hair” that were selected to look like pictures of my own hair I had emailed to the organization. We all had pizza and wine while I tried on a variety of selections, some of which were pretty hysterical. (At the end of this post, I’m including a few pictures of the “samples” for your enjoyment. Rest assured that I did not go with the “mermaid” option. 🙂 )

Two options were selected that night, and subsequently I found a second source where I found even more fun stuff and where I ordered further options so I’d have a variety. In my real, normal life, I wear my hair lots of ways–down, up, in a ponytail–and, in order to feel as much like myself as possible once my own hair is gone (within two weeks of the first treatment tomorrow, I’m told), I need to have a similiar variety. (Just like writing/publishing: acknowledge the realities and challenges and then make a plan to overcome the obstacles.) In addition, instead of waiting for my hair to come out in the shower, in clumps on my brush, or all over my sheets at night, I’ve decided to have the long locks buzzed off on Saturday (the 15th). I’m incredibly nervous about that appointment, but my replacement hair will already be in hand, and I’m hopeful that the transition will not be as traumatic as I’m sometimes imagining. (I’ll have a little champagne with me to assist with that hope.)

Writers need to remain flexible with their goals, shifting and reworking their projects and objectives as new ideas emerge or as new knowledge causes a change in approach. Similarly, my goals have shifted to accommodate the chemo’s l8-week schedule. I’m pulling back from a lot of my outside activities and will plug that time into my writing. The new goal is to have two books out of my head (the nonfiction book on breast cancer lessons, and my third novel, which will be a sequel to the now award-winning Separation of Faith http://tinyurl.com/3wk8c57 ) in at least a preliminary draft format by the time the chemo course is over in February 2012.  If I can keep my act together, I’d also like to have the nonfiction project in enough of a final draft form to give to an editor. Toward those ends, I’ve decided to try a 26-day plan for the nonfiction book and a one-month plan for the novel, the blueprints for both being found in Writer’s Digest books:

  • The nonfiction project will follow Write-A-Thon–Write your book in 26 days (and live to tell about it), by Rochelle Melander (http://writenowcoach.com/).
  • The novel will follow Book in a Month–the fool-proof system for writing a novel in 30 days, by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Ph.D. (http://tinyurl.com/3d2umls).

Write-A-Thon can also be used for novels, by the way. The first half of the book puts the writer into “training,” and the second half launches the 26-day calendar. I’m still in training and will keep you posted on my progress. My target is to start the actual 26 days of writing no later than the first of November.

So, as I ready myself for the first chemo session tomorrow (my daughter will be going with me)–and now that this post is “on paper”–I find myself sitting here amazed at how intrinsically connected my publishing and cancer journeys have become. Both are sort of weird, frankly, and the characteristics required to survive one are remarkably applicable to the other. But I have a plan for both, and I will blog through the tough moments as well those that are easy (starting with a post I’ll write tomorrow during the chemo). Hopefully–as is always my hope–there will be something of value for others in what I write. This is especially true now that my words are intended for cancer patients as well as writers. Who knew the world could become both smaller and larger at the same time?

Have a great fall weekend ahead! Treasure the moments.

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Lessons from the Trumpet Vine, by Jeri L. Glatter, is a beautiful inspirational book that has now been launched. I was privileged to be the editor on this project, and I’m sharing vicariously in the release of this exceptional effort!

Take a look at the amazing video book trailer at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-LsQhJ6NA0; and check out all of the other information about the book and author at www.LessonsFromTheTrumpetVine.com.

All the best,

Cheri

P.S. I’m doing great, by the way, following huge surgery last Saturday. Hope to go get my nails done tomorrow. 🙂 Will visit a guru oncologist at Sloan-Kettering on the 26th, to whom I’ve been thankfully assigned. Meanwhile, I’m edging back into my writing and blogging. Need to get three new books out of my head by next spring! Stay tuned!

 

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Hi! Well, Saturday I had my big surgery at Sloan-Kettering for endometrial cancer–my third primary cancer in sixteen months. (Nope. No idea why this phenomenon is happening yet, but you can be sure this is going to turn into another book!)

At any rate, the surgery (a modified radical hysterectomy) was performed laproscopically using robots, and I was literally upside down for the entire six hours. My face, needless to say, was sort of swollen afterward, but I’m pretty much back to normal now. The technology and skill they used defies description!

Late this afternoon I’ll be going home already, and then I’ll start preparing for the chemotherapy portion of this journey. Much of my energy will be focused on my writing during that time, so there shouldn’t be any excuses for my not finishing a couple of books by spring.

Just wanted to keep you updated, as promised. More when I’m back in my home base.

All the best to each of you.

Cheri

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… With a New Perspective on the Concept of Strength

Since I launched this blog on November 4, 2009, my routine (until recently) has been producing a new post approximately once a week. Sometimes the posts have only been separated by a few days–and I think the most time elapsed between any of the posts, in a worst-case scenario, was two or three weeks. Now, however, we’re sitting at almost two months since my last post, and I feel as if I owe an explanation to those of you who regularly follow my blog.

Of all the elements stitched together to create my own version of a social media process/network, this blog has been (and remains) my favorite–the little niche of the cyberworld that I somehow managed to create (unknowingly, at the start) to house the soul of my writing and the diagram of my dreams. And because the posts are published rather than held secret and close to the chest, I’ve tried from the beginning to strike a chord of familiarity, kinship, and the sharing of information with other writers on their own journey. Happily, that connection does, in fact, appear to have developed, as I’d hoped, although I’ve probably lost some of you lately. But I’d obviously like to increase the scope of readers reached (a goal shared in common, I’m sure, with just about every other blogger on the planet). Perhaps that will be easier once this post is finished and there’s an understanding between you and me of what’s been going on.

There’s a clearly defined mission here in this blog–not just for me but for anyone who simply stops by, or who follows me with a fervor, or who falls somewhere in between. My objective has been to create a place where everyone who’s on some sort of writing/publishing journey–no matter how fresh or seasoned the journey, no matter what level of complexity might be inherent in the writing projects–will find at least one item of immediate value (and hopefully a couple points of interest) embedded within each post.

In order to accomplish this plan, my blog posts needed to be published with a predictable, dependable regularity. And I believe that most bloggers would agree with me when I say that, of all the areas we might neglect from time to time, the regularity/dependability/predictability of blog posts is the last one we want to ignore. So, I’ve really been beating myself up over the distance between the ever-moving “today” and my last published post. There have been many posts drafted but not completed, and even more constructed fully in my head but never transferred to the computer during this long stretch of silence. Of course, none of you could possibly have known that.

One reason for this frustrating development is that I’ve been very careful about muddying up this blog’s clear mission through the inclusion of personal stuff. That pattern was broken a couple of times–once when the “hurricane without a name” hit our part of New Jersey in March 2010, sending me and my family (and thousands of others as well) out of our homes and into a hotel for several days. Pictures on those blog posts justify (for me, anyway) the momentary diversion from my publishing journey intricasies to a focus on basic shelter and food. Another brief detour from this blog’s mission involved intermittent references to my breast cancer (diagnosed on April 1, 2010) and the subsequent treatment. Prior to diving into the creation of my third novel, I’m in the process of writing a book inspired by the breast cancer experience. The book is intended for a target audience of women who are newly diagnosed with breast cancer, along with their family members and friends. My hope has been to have that book available to help those women and the people close to them by the end of this month (August 2011).

But that date is slipping, which brings me to (a) the reason for my extended posting absence, to (b) the heart of this post, and ultimately to (c) my re-evaluation of what we, as writers, might view as “strength” from time to time. Here’s the situation: For some reason that the good folks at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhatta can’t yet figure out, I have now been diagnosed with three types of cancer in the last eighteen months. None of the three cancers is a byproduct of any of the others, and they’ve tested me for the potential immunodeficiency things that might be making me vulnerable to a situation like this. Those tests have all been negative. I’ve had six surgeries in fifteen months, the most recent two of those occurring since June 30. And there will be another major surgery required in September. The latest pathology isn’t back yet, but my surgeon suspects that this one is also being discovered very early, as the others have been. And, if his suspicions are correct, any subsequent treatment should be fairly easy to manage and work into my life. So, assuming the pathology (due early next week) ends up being what we anticipate, I’m actually very blessed. In the past many months, I’ve met a lot of wonderful people who are in a lot worse shape than I am.

Needless to say, the whole story is sort of long (perhaps the understatement of the decade) and will be addressed as an addendum in the new book I’m writing rather than as a blog post. But there are a couple of relevant points I do want to make here as I wrap this up. The first point is on the subject of strength. Until recently, I’ve been feeling immensely “un-strong,” concerned beyond words about readers of this blog and the fact that I was letting them down–concerned about the beautiful fans of my two novels who will be waiting for some time yet for the next story from me that will hopefully transport them again into the worlds I create filled with mystery, messed up families, illicit love, suspense, survival, and surprise plot twists.

The truth has been, though, that I haven’t really known what to write in the past few months, especially in this blog. I have lots of updates to share about the two novels I’m trying to market, along with a collection of writing tips I’ve been gathering as I craft my nonfiction project and my next novel. And yet none of those words would come together for me in a blog post, despite the many hours I spent thinking about them. Furthermore, because I’d been so adamant (to myself) about not bringing elements of my personal life into this blog, I didn’t feel comfortable reaching out to explain why I haven’t been writing to you. Consequently, what you’ve been receiving from me is nothing–and that hasn’t been making me feel very strong at all. Quite the contrary!

Over the last couple of weeks, however, I’ve started to acquire a different perspective on the concept of strength. Now I’m beginning to believe that, as writers, we’re stronger sometimes if we don’t say anything. Instead of “don’t just stand there, do something,” turn that around to say, “don’t just do something, stand there.” Perhaps simply publishing a post with a bunch of words because we’re “supposed” to publish a post with regularity isn’t nearly as strong as waiting a considered amount of time until the words we’re going to write are the best we can make them, designed, above all, to be of help to someone else. Sometimes we’re stronger if we fight back a little against the the guilt of not adhering to the crazy schedules we often set for ourselves. Perhaps strength sometimes means pulling inward for a little while rather than spreading ourselves all over the blogosphere like shapeless, directionless amoebas. And I’m convinced, in retrospect, that any blog post I might have written during the last six or seven weeks would have, indeed, come across as shapeless, absent of any direction, and of absolutely no value to anyone else. My prayer is that the post I’m writing at the moment is turning out to be at least a cut above that bleak description. 🙂

The second and final point I want to make as I wrap this up is that I am going to be just fine! I’m in great hands, in a great place–and the good people at Sloan-Kettering are not only going to figure this out, but I believe we’re all going to learn things from my situation that will eventually benefit others down the road. And now that I’ve explained things to you, I’ll be more comfortable about updating you regarding my health progress as well as my publishing progress–because I now understand that, from here on out, at least, the two elements have become, and will remain, inexorably entwined. (They’ve undoubtedly been that way all along. But I must have been thinking subconsciously that keeping them segregated would enable them to operate independently. If one wasn’t working, the other one still would. That might, in fact, be possible, with plenty of practice. I’ll let you know.)

A couple of additional blog posts will follow in close succession to this one, so I can update you on my promotional activities/accomplishments/status and share a few of the tips and ideas I’ve been collecting for you as I’ve been working on my new projects. After that, we should be rolling again on some sort of posting schedule that will remain undefined but certainly frequent enough to be of value.

I’m very happy to be back with you again, and I’m looking forward to hearing from you, if you feel like responding.

Hope you’re all having a fabulous summer and that your own writing Journeys are perfectly on track!

All the best to each of you. –Cheri

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