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Archive for the ‘breast cancer’ Category

Well … What Do They Say About Two Out of Three?

Okay … I know that more than a few days have passed since I promised this post. But I’m here now with my heart in my hands and my thoughts well organized (I hope). During the last ten months (just counted them and absolutely cannot believe it’s been that long), I’ve had to defer or cancel a lot of plans and commitments that were important to me. And I’ve always found myself apologizing, which seemed to make me feel even worse. So I’m not going to do that anymore. I love my blog and those of you who’ve been with me since the beginning, as well as those of you who’ve stumbled upon the site and subsequently found some level of interest in what’s going on around here as time unfolded. And I think it’s enough for you to know that not a day goes by without my thinking about all of you and this blog. Hopefully, the writing will begin flowing again with some regularity. There won’t be any schedule that I’m holding myself to, though–at least not for awhile. I’m just grateful to be here in this moment, focusing on this post.

So, you ask, what the heck has been going on? Well, the cancer is what’s been going … and on, and on, and on … like a bug you keep squashing but, when you lift your shoe, the damn thing is still moving. And one more annoyance that’s been taking up space is a rather intense case of the blues–something that’s very uncharacteristic for me.

In a few earlier posts, I’ve explained that I worked very hard for the first two years of this blog to keep everything on this site closely tied to the original mission: tracking the “journey from publishing obscurity to somewhere else.” Whatever was going on in my life outside of the writing and publishing elements was not germaine. Yet, at some point last year, the lines between the blog’s mission and the rest of my life had become so blurred–and “the rest of my life” had so impacted my writing and publishing plans–that I finally caved in and began sharing some of the details. Now I believe that a more thorough update is in order, first because of my extended silence, and second because a key component of this blog’s mission has always been to offer information that would be helpful to others. Hopefully, the thoughts that have been rolling around in my head and that are now emerging in this post will hold at least a small amount of value for someone reached in the Web-o-sphere after I press “Publish.”

This new post–“Mortality, Cancer, and the Inevitability of a Writer’s Words”–encompasses three vast subjects that have been consuming an inordinate amount of my thinking. All three are now inextricably entwined for me–a writer who’s been a long-time purveyor of odd thoughts, fun fiction, characters, and conundrums. And after more than fifty years of putting words together, no obstacle or impossible set of odds has ever been able to make me stop my writing. Not until recently. Not until the very real possibility began encircling me that, within a relatively short span, I might not be here anymore to capture and massage the imagery and plots coming out of my head. Frankly, I think the fear I was generating for myself began to paralyze me.

This cancer problem actually began twenty-five years ago when I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. That “issue” was found super early and, although the progression did get a little dicey in the late 1990’s, great health care and a new drug managed to put the beast back in the box. Now (and I’m knocking on wood all over the place), the lymphoma has been in remission and not making a pest of itself for more than ten years. This current situation, however, began very recently, in the spring of 2010. We started with breast cancer (immediately labeled as my second primary cancer since there was no connection to the lymphoma). Again, the little demon was found very early in a routine mammogram. I proceeded with an extremely proactive plan of action that included a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction. While the process was painful, scary, and unbelievably inconvenient as I was trying to bring my second novel into the world, I felt very fortunate. Then, over the next year, things became wildly bizarre in short order. In another routine checkup in late fall of 2010, before my breast reconstruction was even finished, a third primary cancer was found in yet a different part of me. (The statement, “You have to be kidding me!” is the most vanilla printable version of what I said to that particular doctor.) Cancer number three was also an early discovery, which we ended up treating with radiation. And then, in a follow-up exam for the third cancer about six months later … yup, you guessed it … a fourth primary was found. (If I can’t print what I said upon hearing of the third one, imagine the degradation of my words upon hearing of the fourth!) I had become a walking, talking petri dish. And that fourth cancer was the first one to be aggressive. We’ve been dealing with the bad boy ever since.

After a gigantic six-hour surgery in September 2011, I began eighteen weeks of chemo in October (the day before my birthday). In December, mid-way through the treatment, a CT scan was done and showed a new lymph node that was bigger than it was supposed to be. But we kept on going with the treatment anyway, and I completed the six three-week rounds of chemo in early February. The requisite end-of-treatment CT scan was performed shortly thereafter, and the “new lymph node” was a little bigger than in December. So they did a biopsy, which showed that the node was actually the cancer I’d just undergone four and a half months of chemo to eradicate. Seriously? I felt as if the cancer growing during chemo was tantamount to flipping me the finger. Ugh! And now what, by the way?

My team of doctors took my case to the “tumor board” (at Sloan-Kettering in New York where I’m being “handled”), and the fabulous surgeon who did such a phenomenal job with my September surgery said he wanted to operate to take out the lymph node. After an appointment with a great radiation oncologist, they agreed that they also wanted to do interoperative radiation, where they would actually give me radiation in the operating room. (Amazing stuff!) I thought their plan sounded like a terrific idea! But first … my surgeon wanted to do an MRI to get a clear picture of where the node was in relation to blood vessels, etc. Okay. And then … uh oh. The MRI showed two more lymph nodes. Excuse me??

That news came on a Wednesday. The surgery/radiation combo immediately came off the table, and I was back in chemo, with a different drug, the following Monday. The protocol this time has been three full chemo days in a row followed by a fourth trip into the city on Thursday of chemo week for a shot (called Neulasta) that keeps my white blood cells from bottoming out. After a total of three weeks, the cycle repeats. Unfortunately, the combination of all the drugs plus the shot was totally flattening me with lots of pain and a low grade fever that would not let up. That dismal situation went on for the first three rounds–a total of nine weeks. And that was the period of time when a deep-seated case of the blues took over with gusto.

Fighting cancer has been part of my life for twenty-five years. But, with the exception of intermittent surgeries and/or treatments, I’ve always been able to continue living my life while I was fighting. Bringing out my second novel, for example, was a top priority that was methodically woven into all the breast cancer surgeries. This time, however, I was unable to do anything. And when the body isn’t able to do anything, the mind goes into overdrive, especially when a tough cancer is part of the mix. Then suddenly the critical ability to fight begins to feel compromised. And that’s when things can really get scary. So I was determined to find a way to get up and moving again.

At the start of the fourth round (three weeks ago), I had a long conversation with my oncologist and a doctor who works with her about all of the difficulties I’d been having. To make a long story short (too late for this post, I know … 🙂 …), they came up with a plan that involved my taking something as simple as ibuprofen (a drug I’d been told not to take previously) beginning the morning of day four, following the three days of chemo but prior to receiving the big shot. The ibuprofen was supposed to continue every 5-6 hours through day eight. Well, I’m here to tell you that, after adhering to those instructions, I’ve had only a couple of small problems that were easily remedied. I’ve been up and around since that first weekend, slowly regaining my strength. And now, three weeks later, I’m almost back to normal in terms of my schedule. I still get tired by early evening, which is normal with chemo. But otherwise, my life is getting back on track.

Additionally, the CT scan performed four weeks ago showed that the cancer is stabilizing. Nothing new showed up this time, thank God! And now the plan is to do another CT after round six (in August). If that still shows the situation to be stable, they will put the surgery/radiation combo back on the table. Meanwhile, I cannot tell you how grateful I am to be feeling more like my old self. And imagine my (and my family’s) surprise that such a huge difference could be made by something as ordinary as ibuprofen. (Apparently, there are recent studies that show the benefits of administering the Neulasta shot in conjunction with ibuprofen. Wish I’d known about that before I spent the better part of nine weeks being such a mess!) One other piece of good news is that I will have an extra week of reprieve this round. Normally, I would have started round five on Monday, July 2. But since this treatment involves three consecutive days and a fourth for the shot, I would have been hooked up all day on July 4. Consequently, round five will begin on July 9–seven extra days to feel wonderful!

This blog post has been forming in my mind for a long time, and hopefully I’ll be able to start posting more frequently again now that the flood gate has opened. I’m also ready to resume work on my third novel, which will be a sequel to my second (Separation of Faith). Since I’m always the happiest and most content when a new story is coming together, I’m anxious to see/feel those words pouring out of me.

And that brings me to the lesson learned from all of this. Cancer is certainly a big meanie and shoves mortality flat in your face. Yet mortality is something we all have to deal–some of us just sooner and more graphically than others. Meanwhile, we all have life to live and joy to discover. Much of that life and joy, for me, comes through my wonderful family and amazing friends. But, again for me, writing is what helps keep the blood flowing through my body. And giving birth to a novel comes from a deep passion that is almost impossible to explain. So, it’s true–one day I won’t be here anymore. Hopefully, that day will be far off in the future. If I let this cancer (or any other obstacle) silence me, though, my words will be history way ahead of schedule for the rest of me. That train of thought means there wouldn’t be a third novel–and that means some of my readers would thus want to kill me. 🙂

Therefore, I hereby resolve that, even if no one ever reads a single thing I write, my words are going to keep flowing despite the challenges. And if the blues show up again, I’ll simply write straight through them! Some things that are inevitable are good. Let’s celebrate those!

My best to all of you! “See” you soon!

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Hi! First let me apologize for being away so long! I’m working on a post that will bring you up to date on where I’ve been and where I think I might be headed. Hopefully, that new post will be published within the next couple of days.

Meanwhile, I wanted to get word out about this interview. Last year, when I was dealing with the breast cancer (the second of my now four primary cancers), I began writing a book geared toward women who have been newly diagnosed with the illness. Dr. Mehrara was my breast reconstruction surgeon, and he kindly, graciously gave me an hour of his valuable time to answer my questions. The plan at that point was to include the interview as part of my book.

But then two additional primary cancers intervened, one right after the other (I know! Whoever heard of such a thing?), and all of my plans (for just about everything) came off the tracks, including the breast cancer book. Yet this interview with Dr. Mehrara is too important to hold. The information and perspective he provides through his answers needs to be in the hands of women who are facing a breast cancer diagnosis and the many decisions that must be made in a short period of time. So, since he gave me permission to use the interview in any way I choose, you will now find the entire conversation on Scribd: http://tinyurl.com/cbkkzx5, where the access is easy and free.

Please let me hear from you if you choose to check this out. And please help spread the word by forwarding the interview’s link to any woman you know who’s been newly diagnosed with breast cancer and/or anyone close to that woman who will be supporting her.

In closing, I promise you that I’ll be back within a couple of days with that update posting. Take care. Hope you’re all having a good week!

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Hi! Before I turn in on this Saturday evening, I want to get the word out that I’ve created and posted a new video for YouTube (and beyond). This one is very personal, in which I give my own demonstration of how women can fix their eye makeup to look very natural even though chemo has taken (temporarily) their eyebrows and eyelashes away. And yes, I actually start the demo with my bare face, for those of you who are curious. 🙂

This is the first step in my plan to start giving back, in the wake of my rather extensive cancer journey over the past two years. (You’ll find lots of posts on the subject in this blog, if you missed them, to give you more information on that journey). And before too much longer there will be another book, this new one falling into the nonfiction category (a very different experience for me than my novels) and designed to be of immediate help to women who’ve just been diagnosed with breast cancer. I will continue to keep you current on that book’s development and publishing progress, both of which should start zipping right along now that my chemo treatments are complete.

But the main thing I’d like to see happen with this new video is for everyone who views the film, and wants to be of help, to forward the video’s link to women they know are going through chemo or are about to do so. Forwarding the link to loved ones and friends of those women would also be useful. Missing eyebrows and eyelashes will not be a big deal for every woman undergoing treatment, but I’m hopeful that those who would like a little help will find at least one thing (even if that’s just support and commiseration) in “Chemo Eyes” at http://youtu.be/0C_rC5lamSw.

Thanks so much, in advance, for your assistance with this! Hope you’re all having a great weekend!

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What the heck is the pitch slam anyway? Well, depending on the person answering that question, the pitch slam can either be comparable to walking the proverbial plank, or the experience can be a writer’s nirvana. Technically, the setup involves a whole bunch of agents sitting at little individual tables arranged around the edges of two huge hotel conference rooms. And those agents are waiting for hundreds of aspiring writers to line up in front of the little tables, in order to pitch, one-on-one, their books du jour.

Expectations tend to run pretty high with writers who’ve never been to a writer’s conference before, and I spoke with lots of young men and women who were truthfully anticipating the signing of a book deal by the end of Saturday. In reality, this is an exercise of practice–practicing the pitch, testing out the story idea, gaining a little feedback from several “someones” in the business, and maybe–at best–getting a request to submit a proposal or a chapter or two. We were specifically instructed not to hand any of the agents any materials at all–not even a business card. And yet I watched as dozens of writers tried to force flash drives or varying sizes of manuscripts into the agents’ hands. Needless to say, by the end of the three hours, there were hundreds of folks who’d come face-to-face with a major expectation/reality adjustment.

This three-hour session is the only reason lots of writers attend this particular conference. In fact, the conference attendance pretty much doubled on Saturday (same thing happened last year), because there’s a Saturday-only registration option. Such an approach seems to me a bit like jumping into the middle of the open sea after foregoing your swimming lessons. But what do I know? And I have enough to worry about, with respect to my own plans and expectations, without worrying about my conference-mates!

Actually, as those of you who’ve been following this blog know, I wasn’t planning to participate in the Pitch Slam at all this year, believing that on Day 13 of my fifth chemo round I wouldn’t be able to project my strongest, most energetic, and promotable self and book story. Plus, since my first book-length priority for 2012 is my nonfiction project (although I’m being driven nuts by the next novel clamoring to get out of my head), I didn’t feel confident that I was far enough along with the manuscript to confidently pitch the work. However … I was so totally energized from the conference sessions by Saturday morning that I decided I didn’t haven’t anything to lose by pitching, and I figured I’d be totally stupid to bypass such a gaggle of agents who were only there to listen to book pitches. (None of the agents who participated in the Pitch Slam received any compensation for being there, which is pretty amazing all by itself!)

Directions in the Friday evening session designed to prepare everyone for pitching Saturday afternoon cautioned against developing pitches that are too long, for a variety of reasons. First, this is the way the three hours were organized: Approximately 60 agents (eight or nine were last-minute cancellations due to the Saturday snow storm, but three or four local area agents were added in) were seated at their little tables around the two huge conference rooms. In the conference directory, the agents were listed alphabetically with the specified genres of books they were looking for, and each attendee selected a group of agents that appeared to be a match. As soon as the doors opened at 2:00 Saturday afternoon, we all filed in and formed lines in front of the first agent we wanted to pitch to. Generally, there were about 6-10 people in each line, and each pitch session was three minutes in total.

Here’s another reason why our pitches were supposed to be ultra short: The first person in line sat down in front of the agent when “start” was signaled, and a 60-90-second pitch was designed to leave another 60-90 seconds for the agent to comment and/or to (hopefully) request some sort of submission to follow. Once the “time is up” signal sounded, the next person in line was supposed to sit down in front of the agent. (Can you imagine how cross-eyed those agents must have been after engaging in three-minute pitch sessions, one after another, for three consecutive non-stop hours? They deserve a lot of credit and admiration for such duty!) At any rate, as you might imagine would happen, most of the attendees had never pitched a book before, and the majority were failing miserably with the 60-90 second pitch objective. Instead, they talked continuously for the full three minutes, leaving the agent only a few seconds to say anything at all (and usually after the “time is up” signal had sounded). So, the next person in line started their own pitch late and, in order to be fair, would take the full three minutes even though the “time is up” signal sounded a long time ago. Consequently, all the lines were growing restless with the timing that was becoming increasingly out of whack. Eventually, the conference staff began to enforce the schedule, walking around and making sure that pitch sessions were ending at the signal. By hour number two of the three, the lines were finally moving at the planned pace. When someone finished a pitch, they would then go to the end of the line in front of the next agent they wanted to pitch to, and depending on how many people were already in that line, most attendees were able to pitch to six or eight agents during the three hours.

Typically, after each pitch session, I could tell that most people were spending their time revising their pitches while they were waiting in the next line–and I was doing the same thing. I’m not used to pitching nonfiction, not to mention that I’d only started to prepare that morning. So, I had afforded myself minimal practice time prior to sitting down in front of the first agent. Still, I had pretty good luck. The lines I was standing in were especially long, because there were fewer agents looking for various categories of nonfiction–and there were even fewer of those looking for the “health” category. And because I started feeling tired after two hours, I only pitched to four agents, whereas if I’d been feeling more on my mark, I could have easily squeezed in another two or three in the final hour. (Apparently, there were a lot of complaints last year about too few agents (I think there were 40-something) and not a big enough Pitch Slam time slot (only two hours instead of the three hours this year). The conference organizers really responded to that input, and I didn’t see or hear about anyone who felt that there wasn’t enough time to see all of the agents they wanted to meet.

The four agents who listened to me (and I was pretty good about keeping the pitch close to 60 seconds) had plenty of time for comments and input. Two of them enthusiastically requested a proposal and a sample chapter. One requested the same information but with noticeably less enthusiasm. And the fourth agent waited until I’d finished the entire pitch before telling me that she didn’t represent the health category of nonfiction (even though “health” was clearly listed under her name in the program). But since I hadn’t even planned to pitch at all when I arrived on Friday, I felt good about the experience and the end result. I learned a lot and had fun, and that’s where expectations should realistically be set for this type of exercise at a conference with close to 1000 other writers chasing the same dream.

Now I have to write a proposal 🙂 (and fortunately I attended a nonfiction session that included a few things about how to do that, plus I bought an e-book on the subject–The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Book Proposals & Query Letters by Marilyn Allen & Coleen O’Shea, partners in the Allen O’Shea Literary Agency). Some agents were more interested in seeing the book and the writing. Others told me to stop writing the book and focus on writing the proposal (which is supposed to end up somewhere around 30 pages in length). One agent in particular made a couple of significant points, especially for me, who’s really a fiction girl but who’s writing this nonfiction book because I believe it needs to be written. She said that a completed nonfiction book can be a disadvantage because, once the concept is contracted with an agent, an editor will enter the scene who will have major input about the book’s structure. A huge percentage of editors will not want to take on the structural rearrangement of a book that’s already entirely finished. The agent also told me that going through the process of writing the proposal will prove invaluable to me once I finish the proposal and then refocus on the book, especially if I do, in fact, decide to publish this one on my own as an e-book first. She told me as well that following that DIY path will not eliminate the traditional publishing path for that book in the future!

So, my new direction is to write the proposal, which I will then submit to the three agents who requested information, along with a sample chapter (which is not supposed to be the first chapter but one that’s in the middle of the book). Following those submissions, I will give the agents a reasonable amount of time to respond. Then, unless some miracle happens and my submissions turn into something other than rejections, I will refocus my attention on finishing the book, which I will proceed to publish as an e-book, with a separate print option. The goal is to get this one, as quickly as possible, into the hands of women newly diagnosed with breast cancer, so I’m not going to wait very long for someone in the traditional publishing world to say “yes.” I’ll get the book “out there,” and then continue to approach agents the old-fashioned way while I start working on my next novel. If someone eventually wants to acquire the nonfiction project, that will be terrific. In the meantime, I will have met my objective of making the information available to my breast cancer target audience.

Although there will be additional posts forthcoming on the Day 3 (Sunday) conference sessions that I attended, along with the incredible, outstanding Closing Address by Chris Baty, founder of National Novel Writing Month, I want to say here how valuable I found this year’s Writer’s Digest Conference to be! And even though my expectations for the Pitch Slam were really low, I walked away from that afternoon feeling invigorated and inspired. If you’re looking for a writer’s conference that will actually send you home with practical information and experiences you can really use on your literary journey, I strongly recommend that you give this conference a try. Apparently, there will be a west coast version later this year (in September, I think), and then the east coast version will happen again in January 2013. Not sure if that one will be in New York again or in some other east coast city. But you can bet that I’ll be there, if I have to drag myself on my hands and knees!

Stay tuned for the final “chapters” of WDC 2012! And have a terrific weekend!

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Priorities

All too often, with the legions of tasks and issues filling up the minutes of our lives every day, the truly important stuff can be momentarily overlooked or even forgotten altogether for embarrassingly extended periods of time. In the crush of 2011, I know this has been true for me. So, on this Thanksgiving–and not just yesterday on the actual holiday, but at frequent intervals throughout the entire four-day weekend–I’m making a point of reminding myself of how extraordinarily grateful I am for the following:

  • Despite a somewhat challenging list of health issues with some of us, key members of my beloved family are all still here.
  • And I am still here.
  • So are my cherished friends–some going back 20, 30, 40 years or more, and others who’ve come into my life in the last decade.
  • Memories of family members and friends who’ve gone ahead remain strong and empowering.
  • In these times of heavy financial stress, all of those I love have a roof over their heads and food on their tables.
  • So do I. And given the millions of people across our country who are missing one or more of those life essentials, I am unbelievably grateful but also feel the need to do something to help those who are suffering. Each of our communities offers a range of options for any of us looking for a way to “give back.” I’m grateful for those individuals who devote their own lives to keeping such options available.
  • Personal medical challenges are being met with the awesome skills of my physician team coupled with amazing advances in science. (And I pray that the time will come soon when every single person will have equal access to the same skills and advances. No one should suffer needlessly, die prematurely, or go broke because they get sick!)
  • My writing continues to unfold, and I still have great hope for happy surprises in 2012! To all writers out there: No one is going to live our dreams for us, so we can never stop or give up. Whatever we can see in our imaginations, we can make happen. But if we stop because we’re discouraged and/or tired of the drill, the dream stops too. So, the first thing we need to say to ourselves each day is, “Write today! Write something today!
  • There’s a little voice inside my head–which can be incredibly annoying–that is never silent and keeps saying, “Get up! Keep going!” And, in those moments when I feel like saying, “Why don’t you get up, if you think it’s so easy,” I somehow discover that my feet are on the floor and I’m moving forward. Such strength comes from a different source or place for each of us, depending upon our individual beliefs. Acknowledging that strength and power will not only keep us going as writers but as participants in life as well. I’m very grateful for that realization and immeasurably humbled as well!

Happy Thanksgiving once again to each of you and to those close to you as we now move officially into the holiday season!

NEWS FLASH! 2012 Writer’s Digest Conference Scheduled in New York City January 20-22!

Those of you who’ve been following this blog for awhile know that the first Writer’s Digest Conference held independently from Book Expo America took place in New York City in September 2009 and was the source of my original epiphany. The entire direction for publishing my second novel changed as a result of that conference, and this blog was launched on November 4, 2009 as a direct consequence of what I learned there.

If you’d like more detail on that epiphany, please check out the Blog Launch Posting at https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2009/11/04/hello-world/.

During last year’s conference (WD‘s second), I blogged while I was there. If you’re interested in my bird’s eye view and perspective, you can find those details beginning at https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2011/01/21/writers-digest-conference-day-1/ and then in the eight consecutive posts thereafter.

Is your interest peaked? I honestly believe that this is one of the best, if not the best, conferences for all writers, but especially for writers in search of both the truth about the publishing business as well as guidance. Here are some links for you to explore about the highlights of the 2012 conference coming up this January:

Despite the fact that I will still have one chemo round left to go and might not be feeling at the top of my game, I wouldn’t miss this event! And I’m already registered! So, if you decide to attend, please let me know. I’d love to meet you while we’re there!

Progress on My Write-a-Thon to Complete My Next Book’s Draft in 26 Days

Well … I cannot tell a lie. (This is for my nonfiction project centering around my breast cancer.) I was supposed to begin the actual writing part of the process on November 1 (see initial details on my 26-day project in my post at https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/publishing-cancer-journeys-merge-in-earnest/). However, I actually began the writing-the-book portion on November 13. And I haven’t been following the “script” line for line each day.

Before I began this project/method/experiment, I had already written four chapters of this new book, and I had outlined my vision of how the chapters would flow. But the excercises in the first half of Write-a-Thon by Rochelle Melander helped me look at the work I’d already done from a different perspective. Consequently, when I began focusing on the book, I realized that a lot of organizational changes needed to be made. Some of the chapters I’d envisioned were no longer relevant (or, more importantly, interesting), while other topics emerged as significant.

For example, I had not planned to spend any time at all on treatment options, because every woman’s situation will be different and, more importantly, I’m not a doctor. (The primary target audience for this book will be woman who’ve just been diagnosed with breast cancer.) However, I am now going to spend a chapter on chemo–not on the chemo itself but on the impact that the process of going through chemo can have on the woman’s life and on the lives of those around her.

Making this even more complicated is the fact that I did not have chemo for my breast cancer. Instead, I’m on a drug called Arimidex for five years (three and a half more since I’ve already been on it for almost 18 months). But I am going through chemo now for this newest cancer (see info on my weird situation in my post at https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/publishing-cancer-journeys-merge-in-earnest/ )–and I’ve discovered that what women go through as a result of chemo is fairly universal, regardless of the type of cancer she’s fighting.

On that note, one entire chapter of this new book will be about hair! 🙂 Without giving anything away, just let me say OMG! This entire “hair thing” has, without question, been the worst part of the whole experience for me to-date. My own hair is now completely gone, and although you’ll never see a picture of me bald, I am including at the end of this post a few photo angles of me with my “new hair.” You can compare this “updated me” with the last photo I posted of me with my real hair at  https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2011/10/25/new-take-on-where-do-you-see-yourself-in-five-years/ (scroll to end of that post). And, in summary, the minute I was able to look at myself in the mirror and see “me,” my emotional equilibrium returned, and I felt immeasurably better. The many steps along that journey will be in the book. Just let me say at this point, though, that I had no idea how unprepared I was for that aspect of chemo–and I’m hopeful that what I’m writing will help at least one other woman navigate those steps with substantially less trauma than I put myself through over almost two months.

Another Interesting WSJ Article on Self-Publishing

On October 31, one of those cherished family members I mentioned at the beginning of this post sent me a link to “Secret of Self-Publishing: Success” by Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg in the Wall Street Journal. Any writer considering/exploring self-publishing as an option will find this of interest, whether you’re a new writer trying to decide which way to go for your first book or whether you’re an established writer who’s curious (and brave).

This is just the one more perspective now that self-publishing has become a legitimate path for authors of all genres to get their work into the hands of readers. I’ll be interested to hear what you think: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203554104577002230413747366.html.

Okay–Here Are My “New Hair” Pictures

Keep in mind that none of this is growing out of my head!

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend! I’ll be watching “It’s A Wonderful Life” and putting up my tree! 🙂

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Write-A-Thon Presents Fresh Approach to the Familiar

As mentioned in earlier posts, I’m proceeding with Write-A-Thon–Write Your Book in 26 Days (and Live to Tell About It) by Rochelle Melander. I’m trying out this method to jump-start my nonfiction project on the subjects of mastectomy and reconstruction. The first part of the book involves “training” and includes lots of reading (underlining and highlighting), writing exercises (consolidated in the recommended dedicated journal), and preliminary organization (I’m not there yet). The second half of the book launches the 26-day write-a-thon and guides the writer through the entire process. My goal is to be at that launch point by November 1.

So far, the training portion has been more compelling than I expected. For example, one of the early writing exercises sounds familiar, on the surface, to all of us: “Write down where you envision yourself being in five years?” How many times have we heard this technique throughout high school, college, technical training classes, job interviews, etc., almost to the point of being a cliche? So, at first, I wasn’t too impressed, nor was I eager to answer the question yet again (especially given the fact that I’m currently going through chemo and am focused, at the moment, at much earlier target dates, such as losing my hair this week and my final chemo treatment next February). As I read further, however, my attitude began to change, largely due to the imaginative twist Melander applied to the question, making the exercise specifically relative to writers:

“Imagine yourself five years from now. Everything has gone as well as it possibly could. You have worked hard and succeeded at accomplishing all of your writing goals. Write about your accomplishments–what degrees you have earned, what articles and books you have written, what talk shows you have appeared on, the awards you have won. Write about your daily writing practice. What does it look like? Where and when do you write? How much are you able to accomplish each day? Envision your writing community–who do you connect with, who buys your books, who reviews them, who is interested in the ideas you are sharing and the stories you are telling? Write about anything else that is relevant: where you live, what other work you do, or how your day unfolds in addition to the writing. Use as much sensory detail as possible.”

WellI really liked the part about everything going “as well as it possibly could” over the five-year period. 🙂 Sort of started me off in an exceptionally happy mood. But the big surprise showed up when I started answering all of the individual sub-questions. Apparently, my subconscious must have been working on some of this stuff during the years I’ve spent writing and publishing two novels because I had no problem identifying immediately where I would be in five years, complete with all of the surrounding details. According to me, by then I will have written three additional novels plus three nonfiction books. Some of them will have been self-published and some will have been picked up by mainstream houses. My talk show appearances, which I was totally making up in my imagination, were of particular interest to me. Surprisingly, I did not have myself on Oprah but instead logged appearances on all of the national morning shows, in addition to local affiliates. And, with five novels and four nonfiction books under my belt at that point, I wrote that my very first novel–The Truth about Cinnamon–was “the one garnering the most attention” five years out. Interesting

Keep in mind that my writing in the prescribed journal just poured out of me, without the slightest hesitation or pause to think things over. And, as I wrote, I didn’t feel as if I were projecting into the future. Instead, the words felt more like reality being captured, making the exercise fascinating on one hand and hysterically funny on the other.

The instructions recommend repeating the journal entries a total of four times over a week’s period of time, with each round focusing on a slightly different visual of the situation in five years. Three examples of the variances include:

  • Write book jacket copy about yourself.
  • Write an acceptance speech for a major literary award.
  • Write an introduction for yourself and tell what sort of an event it is for.

I haven’t completed all four entries yet. But one thing I have learned is that my speaking engagements will have become a really big deal and a major source of revenue for me by then. That will certainly be something to look forward to! 🙂

Even if you’re not interested in trying to write a book in 26 days, I highly recommend going through this exercise for every aspiring author (or even authors who’ve already experienced some level of publishing success). All of the details–and I mean down to the tiniest morsel–of what I want to do, where I want to be, and what I want my life to look like in five years are now being captured in this unique journal. And since I believe in the maxim that “luck is where preparation meets opportunity,” I’ll be all set in the preparation category, if I accomplish even half of what I’ve written down! So, when the opportunity shows up, the journal will be transformed into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yay!

Meanwhile … back to reality … the launch of my 26-day write-a-thon (for the third of nine books I’m supposed to have written in five years) is now only seven days away. Guess I’d been get my head out of that journal and the future, and back to work instead! Will definitely keep you posted on my progress.

Chemo/Hair Update

Last Saturday, I managed to attend a wedding with all of my own hair. There wasn’t even a large of amount of thinning evident at that point, and I was beginning to imagine that I would be the lone exception out of millions who would get through this process without becoming bald. However … I was told that the hair loss would happen during the first cycle–and now that I’m on day 13 (of 21) in that cycle, the thinning is increasing on a dramatic scale each day. My suspicion is that I will be calling my hair salon for the buzz cut appointment before this week is over.

Although I realize that I’m at the front end of this chemotherapy process–with plenty of side effect surprises undoubtedly ahead of me between now and February 2012–I’m doing remarkably well to-date. There was a sunburn-like flush on my chest, neck, and face from days 2-4, and I experienced a lot of dizziness (no blonde jokes, please) and fatigue for about a week. But other than that, I’ve been surprised by the absence of issues. The one exception to that has been the unrelenting trauma associated with the prospect of losing my hair. And I’m honestly beginning to believe that, once the hair is gone (and I’m able to open my eyes when looking in a mirror), I will be over the biggest hump of this whole eighteen-week thing. Anticipating the “event” is consuming an unbelievable amount of energy and focus, an irritating distraction that may very well accelerate my decision about when to finally face the music.

As I told you in an earlier post, I had originally scheduled myself to have my hair buzzed off on Saturday, October 15. But I chickened out and opted instead to just have my two new wigs cut and styled. Now I’m really glad that I was such a wimp, and I’m hoping this confession will be helpful to any women who might be a little earlier in the process than I am when they stumble upon this blog. Lots of people will suggest that you take a proactive approach and have your hair taken off before the follicles starting withering away and the strands start coming out in your hands as you brush or in the shower. Others will suggest that you wait, letting the process unfold gradually. One way or another–if you’re on a drug protocol that results in hair loss–your hair will be gone within three weeks of your first treatment anyway. So, how you decide to handle the difficult situation will depend on lots of personal variables.

For me, waiting has proven to be the right decision. So was the decision to get those wigs in advance and have them cut and styled to match me. As I brushed my hair this morning (I have a lot of long and thick but fine hair), watching my scalp become increasingly visible, I was comforted as I looked at those wigs on my vanity. I realize now that I’m going to look a lot better once I start wearing them than I’m going to by tomorrow (probably), as my disappearing hair makes me look older and less vibrant each day. With a wig on–one that’s been chosen to make me look like myself–I will, in fact, look just like myself. What a concept! So … to other women in the same situation … decide on whichever approach feels most comfortable to you (recognizing that no approach will really feel comfortable as you anticipate your first view of yourself with a bald head)–but do have other hair options ready to go right at the beginning of your chemo. I have the two wigs, and I have also ordered two items called “halos,” which are hair pieces on sort of headbands that stick out when you wear hats, softening your face and the unmistakable look of no hair, regardless of what kind of hat you’re wearing. Knowing that those hair options are there for me is going to make the trip to my salon this week a lot easier–although I’m guessing that won’t be the best day of my life, no matter what I do to prepare.

Attached is a photo I took of myself yesterday. You won’t notice the thinning, but that was the day the loss first became really obvious to me. So, I decided to capture the moment. You probably won’t ever see my bald head (although maybe I’ll become more courageous as time goes on). But I will definitely post a picture of me in my new hair on whichever upcoming day turns out to be Buzz-Day for me.

In the interim, as I said earlier in this post, I need to get back to work! Hope you’re all having a great week!

Cheri's Lingering Hair on October 24, 2011

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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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