Monday, October 28, 2013

Breast Cancer and Happily Ever Afters


Congratulations to "Bn100", the winner of Abigail's giveaway. Thank you to all who participated!


I found my lump in February of 2006.  I was 33.
Crazy, right?  No family history of breast cancer, no other obvious risk factors.  And yet, there it was, the hard knot under my breast that pulled up my skin and made it flat.  The diagnosis came the next month, and a mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, and reconstruction followed.
I started writing WhoWants to Marry a Cowboy? in March.  At first, I thought the timing was coincidence.  But now, looking back, is there a better way to go through this kind of special hell than with a happily ever after by your side?  
Tess Mitchell is a secondary character that underwent breast cancer treatments before Who Wants to Marry a Cowboy? begins. 
Ainsley sped to Charleston Blooms like an insect escaping a Venus flytrap and barely managed to keep herself from slamming the door to her shop when she finally made it inside. Tess Mitchell stood behind the Formica counter and jerked her head up at the noise. Ainsley took a deep breath, but even the normally comforting floral scents did nothing to calm her.
“Tea went as expected, then?” Tess asked wryly. Ainsley glared at the store manager, watching her short, brown hair catching rays of sunshine and turning it auburn. It had grown back steadily since her chemotherapy ended, and Ainsley was glad her friend was on her way to becoming healthy again.
I didn’t cover my head while undergoing treatment, thanks to a matter-of-fact comment by a coworker that no one at work would care if I was bald. She was totally right, and when my hair started growing in, everyone made the same comment to me:  Wow, your hair got so long! 
I’ll let you in on a secret.  A big part of giving Tess cancer was so Ainsley, my heroine, could tell Tess how much her hair had grown when she came back from the ranch in Wyoming. 
Ainsley bounded out of the office and wrapped Tess in a chokehold hug before she took a step back. “Your hair! It’s grown so much!” She touched her store manager’s head, rubbing the coarse, spiky hairs against her fingers.
“I know! I kind of like it this way.” Tess turned in a circle slowly so Ainsley could get the full benefit of her new look. “I’ve even had to start using product in it because it’s starting to get a mind of its own, getting all poufy.”
I’m not alone in having breast cancer, nor turning to romance novels during that time.  For the past two years, I’ve talked to romance authors about breast cancer on the USA Today Happily Ever After blog.  And when I realized that my blog here was in October, I knew there were more stories to tell.
Joya Fields writes thrilling, sexy, and sometimes dangerous romance with attitude, and got her diagnosis last year.  “When I was diagnosed, I decided distraction would be my way of handling things. I followed my doctors’ recommendations for treatments, but other than that, I escaped my ordinary world by writing more than usual and reading every romance book in sight. Through my writing, thanks to my characters and stories, I immersed myself in another life. Instead
of worrying about chemo ports and blood counts, I pounded out words on my computer and temporarily lived in a haunted Baltimore apartment building, or caught bad guys and brought them to justice.
I reread a favorite book, too: SANCTUARY by NoraRoberts. I love a good romantic suspense - what better way to assure ourselves that, no matter the odds, no matter the tough times, we can fight hard and win? It’s really fun to experience the happily-ever-after endings, too.”
Shelly Alexander has been reading romance novels for a while now and definitely knows the power of the happily ever after.  “I am a breast cancer survivor - four years now. When  I started reading romance novels, I began to think up love stories that I would like to write myself someday.
I was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer that had already spread. The doctors think I had it eight to ten years, and I was only 43 at the time. Miraculously, it hadn't entered the lymph nodes, and after undergoing bilateral mastectomies, I survived. The next couple of years were filled with depression, anxiety, and self-image crises that come in the wake of such an ordeal - especially, at such a young age and with three elementary and middle school age kids to raise.
During this difficult time, I began to read only romance novels. In the past, I had read many other types of fiction and non-fiction, but I needed the comfort of a happily ever after ending.  I couldn't deal with anything else.  
At the same time, I embarked on my own career as a romance novelist.  Writing and reading romance is what got me through my journey and battle with breast cancer. Without cancer, I'm not sure I would have ever taken that step. Cancer is what pushed me to finally follow my dream to become a romance novelist.
I'm not published yet, but I know I will be. Living through cancer, battling it and fighting it every step of the way, refusing to let the aftermath ruin my future – it’s all given me the courage and the determination to fight tooth and nail to achieve my dream, and I will never give up.
The pictures are about a year after the mastectomies when I was feeling pretty low. They serve two purposes - to remind me that I am still a beautiful person and a whole woman, even without my real breasts, and to never stop fighting, never give up on my dream.”
Right on, Shelly.  Write on, too.  She also added this:  If we can save just one life by creating more awareness, if we can help just one person who is going through depression or a self-image crises because of having their body cut up, then it's all worth it.
Damn straight, sister!
Becky Lower writes timeless romance with sass. Cancer had always been part of her life, but it doesn’t mean there’s no happily ever after!  “Cancer has always been a subject in our family--kind of like the relative you don't like but can't ask to leave. My mother was diagnosed when she was only in her 40s, and it was back in the day when chemo and radiation were really barbaric. It destroyed her ability to raise her arm. Since living through her experience, I have always been aware of the necessary steps to take to stay on top of things. I'd taken a precaution several years earlier and had a breast reduction because the technicians were having trouble fitting my entire breast onto the mammo machine.
At age 62, unemployment forced me to move to a strange town, where I knew only my sister and had no insurance.  A month later, I went in for my annual mammogram. A small spot was detected, very near the chest wall, which would probably not have been seen before my reduction surgery. It was stage zero, but the first surgery--a lumpectomy--didn't completely remove it.  Medical costs were rising, and I had to apply for financial aid to cover a second surgery.  The doctor said I wouldn't need chemo since the cancer hadn't traveled into my lymph nodes, but I should have radiation to make certain it had all been removed, especially since they were having trouble locating it. Because of my mother's experience, and because of the money thing, I elected for the other option--total breast removal. 
Everyone handles cancer in a different way, and my way was to ignore it. I didn't write about it, talk about it, anything. What I did do was dive into books. I had begun to write romances, and that's the type of book I devoured. I was in the middle of Nora Robert's Boonsboro trilogy when the diagnosis was received. I was familiar with the town where the books took place, so instead of being in Ohio recovering from a breast removal, I slipped into the streets of Boonsboro, MD, ate at the pizza shop, toured the rooms of the historic inn that Nora renovated, spent hours in her little bookstore--anything to avoid reality. It got me through at a time when I really needed to be in an alternate universe. 
Four different women, four different ways of handling the diagnosis, four different ways of dealing with the treatment, but one thing in common:  The happily ever afters in romance novels helped us all tell the next chapter of our stories.
What’s your story?

Giveaway:
I will be giving away a Grand Central Publishing CD that includes five full-length novels (including Who Wants to Marry A Cowboy?) and sneak peeks of others.

Abigail is a Boston-bred Yankee now eating grits and saying "y'all" in North Central Florida. She was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer in 2006 but is now six years cancer free.  She previously talked about romance novels and breast cancer on the USA Today Happily Ever After blog, which can be read here, and here. Abigail lives with her husband, two kids, and one crazy princess puppy. You can keep up with her on Goodreads or on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/AbigailSharpeBooks.


Giveaway ends 11:59pm EST Oct. 28th. Please supply your email in the post. You may use spaces or full text for security. (ex. jsmith at gmail dot com) If you do not wish to supply your email, or have trouble posting, please email maureen@JustContemporaryRomance.com with a subject title of JCR GIVEAWAY to be entered in the current giveaway.

27 comments:

  1. Hi Abigail,
    Wow, I had no idea you'd been through this ordeal--I'm so thankful you're six years out and healthy. Thank you so much for sharing your story--it's so important. I have not experienced cancer and I'm grateful, of course, but I do have a good writer friend who went through treatment just this year. It's so good to hear the stories that are ending happily--I have hope for her thanks to your sharing. One of the things that's been important to me for the past 11 years is to take part in our local Race for the Cure every year. It's fun, it's for a great cause, and it's the most amazing atmosphere. It's totally worth the time and effort! Thanks Abigail--and continued blessings to you!

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    1. Liz, I'm so glad my story, and those of these other ladies, helped. Best wishes to your friend and keep racing!

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  2. You know my story as caregiver already, Abigail, but I wanted to take a moment to congratulate you and the the rest of the survivors on this blog for beating cancer and wish you all MANY more years of survivorship. Cancer survivors rock!

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    1. Jim, you have an amazing story, too. I included the links to the USA Today blogs in my bio. Three cheers to your wife!

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  3. Way to go, ladies! My HEA breast cancer survivor contribution: Perilous Promises http://amzn.to/13FnSIy

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    1. I think it's great you weren't afraid to show a heroine with cancer.

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  4. Four inspiring stories from four amazing women! Thank you for inspiring us with your journeys.

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  5. Cancer of any flavor sucks, but cancer of the breast, for women, strikes especially close to home because many of us believe that our worth is tied to our attractiveness, and our attractiveness, to our breasts. I'll never forget the look on my mother's face, when I caught her examining her mutilated body in the mirror, post-radical mastectomy. Like Becky Lower's mom, this was in the Breast Cancer Dark Ages, when you went in for exploratory surgery, and you knew if they "found something" based on how much of your body you found carved away, after you woke up.

    Although my mother did not ultimately survive her breast cancer, I like to believe whenever I hear the stories of women and men who have, that my mom owns a little piece of that. Because she, and many brave women and men like her, chose to donate her body for breast cancer research. She was a big believer in romance, and Happily Ever Afters.

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    1. Oh, Beverly. You made me cry. Kudos to your mom for her selflessness. I live near a teaching hospital and gladly let interns sit through my examinations so I could help others that came after me. And all this was because of women like your mother.

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  6. I've always thought that incredibly strong women write Romance, and this post backs that up. While I'm not a breast cancer survivor, I consider myself a kissing cousin having undergone a hysterectomy when I was only 27. I wasn't prepared for such a life altering surgery, and it took me about fifteen years to get past the fact that I could never have any more children. I thank God every day that He let me have my two sons before they found the pesky little cells in my uterus that threatened my life. I've survived to see my boys grow up, finish college, get married, and hold their babies. And, even more good news. I just received my mammogram report and all is normal. Hugs to everyone who's living with the effects of cancer. All y'all ROCK!

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    1. Hooray for you, Jaye, and your family! I'm a big ol' blubbering fest over here, reading stories of survivors of ANY type.

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  7. Four stories and each one very powerful. Thank you for having these courageous ladies share their stories. They are an inspiration to the rest of us!

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  8. Thank you so much for sharing your journeys. I found it interesting, but not surprising, that romance played such a large part in feeling better. I've noticed that when I'm down, there is nothing like a romance to take me to my happy place. Tweeted and shared on FB.

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    1. Thank you, Ella! I appreciate you spreading the story.

      One of the reasons I wanted to write about breast cancer and romance novels was because of the feel-good part of the story. You can't go wrong with a happily ever after by your side.

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  9. What moving stories! Thank you for sharing them.
    I don't know if you caught the World Series game last night but they had a moment when they stopped to Stand Up for Cancer. All the players held up cards with loved ones names who were battling, or had battled cancer. But then they fanned out and you saw that it wasn't just the players, it was the umpires, broadcasters, cameramen, and fans. So many people affected by this awful disease. There were big men, standing proudly with tears running down their cheeks holding up cards that said, "Susie," "Mom," "My wife, Kelli." It was touching. So for those who are fighting cancer, keep fighting. For those who are fighting to find a cure, keep on, so that no one has to fight anymore.

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  10. Yup... tearing up again. I wish I had seen that, though I'm sure I can catch a clip on YouTube.

    ...and I just did, but at last year's world series. I didn't know they did this every year.
    (Oh, and GO BOSOX!!)

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  11. Thanks for sharing these stories, Abigail! I love how you always see the positive side of things - including sharing Happily Ever After cancer stories. I love how all of you women poured your angst into reading and writing romance novels. Write On!

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    1. Write on, indeed! I think how you deal with something has a lot to do with how you heal. Spending your energy writing romance is much better than dwelling on the unknown.

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  12. What powerful, gritty stories of courage and strength. I honor all of you.

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    1. Thank you, Lesleigh! Thanks for stopping by.

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  13. Nice stories to share

    bn100candg at hotmail dot com

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  14. That's a powerful story, thanks for sharing. I play tennis and many men wore pink socks in honor of October. I think the gesture is sweet and shows solidarity.

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    1. That's awesome! A lot of folks asked my husband if he was going to shave his head. Pressured him about it, really. I told him in no uncertain terms to not even think about it! One baldie in the family at a time!

      He definitely showed me support in other ways. Still does. <3

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  15. You are all such brave women. Every female on my mother's side of the family has had cancer--two with breast cancer and the others with rectal and multiple myeloma. Good news, each of them survived. Reading your stories, I will always do self exams and get the yearly mammogram. Thanks for sharing your personal stories.

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