Sitting on the sofa in my great room, I watched as my toddlers raced to see who would get to me first. My four year old shoved her two year old brother, out of the way and jumped feet first onto my lap. She was wearing a dance tutu and cowboy boots. Instinctively I put a hand up to protect myself, and felt a lump the size of an acorn in my breast.
Overnight the enchanted life I was living and the future I had looked forward to turned into an ominous question mark. I was 34 years old and most of my friends were still deciding if, or how many more, babies they would have. Not life and death issues pertaining to cancer.
That was fifteen years ago. My cancer diagnosis ended life as I knew it, the one where I wrote “excellent” when questioned about health, believed I was invincible, and friends and former colleagues had envied.
Cancer was the beginning of my re-enchanted life.
It has been a long, mountainous journey, but the challenges, failures, and even what at first glance appeared to be rotten luck, are what have made my life most interesting.
This summer another “scare” made me realize how lucky I have been. Somewhere along the way, I quit thinking of cancer as my diagnosis and began to think of it as my career.
I am the author of the award-winning children’s book Tickles Tabitha’s Cancer-tankerous Mommy, and a pioneer in the field of talking to children about cancer. Talking to children about cancer and the issues pertaining to it were not exactly encouraged back when I was diagnosed.
Much to my surprise, I was unable to find a children’s book to help explain my cancer diagnosis to my children. So I wrote our own story and afterwards sent it in to large mainstream publishers who responded with rejection letters about what a wonderful, poignant, heart-warming story I had written, one that “sadly, needed to be told.” Just not by them!
I assumed they were being nice because of the cancer. I now know, I could have been dead already, it would not have mattered if they had not liked the manuscript. Large publishing houses do not show mercy.
Mine was a niche topic, and one editor advised me there were just not enough young Moms with cancer to justify the expense of publishing and marketing such a book. Diagnosed in the days before internet chat rooms, I felt isolated and alone. The only other women I knew of with Breast Cancer were my mother’s age or older.
Rejection was the last thing I needed, so I put my manuscript away and put my energy into surviving. It took five years, a cross-country move, and the cancer diagnosis of my best friend before I found the courage to take it out of the closet.
My friend Laura was battling Leukemia and her prognosis was not good. We spent hours on the phone talking. With great relief I discovered I was not the only Mom to battle cancer who sometimes acted mean and mad in front of her children.
Laura and I also discovered it was the very things that had left us paralyzed by fear and crimson with embarrassment, that on death’s door we did not regret one bit, but now laughed about most.
I made up my mind I would not die regretting I had not accomplished or at least attempted to accomplish one of my secret ambitions because I feared failure, ridicule, or someone else told me I could not or should not, for whatever logical reason.
In October of 2000 I went to the local newspaper and purchased an ad that stated I was doing business as Nutcracker Publishing Company. The next week I flew from Minnesota where I lived to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas to say goodbye to my friend Laura.
In North Carolina where I now reside it is winter, the leaves have turned color, and the beauty of the foliage was a breathtaking reminder that dying can be beautiful, and Laura’s passing was like that-- beautiful.
Her mother, sisters, and I had a slumber party in her hospital room and we cried, laughed, and reminisced. To this day I feel so privileged to have been included in that slumber party and lucky to have been Laura’s friend.
When Laura’s sister jokingly told Laura she was a nutcracker, I took it as a sign that publishing a children’s book was what I was meant to do.
Laura died October 27, 2000, leaving behind two young children, she was 39 years old.
October, 2001, Nutcracker Publishing Company, dedicated to Laura Bouldin Karlman, published Tickles Tabitha’s Cancer-tankerous Mommy and despite overwhelming odds, a niche topic, and an author with zero consumer recognition within its first year, Tickles Tabitha’s Cancer Tankerous Mommy obtained the national acclaim of health care organizations and advocates across the country, including the National Oncology Nursing Society, Rosie O’Donnell, and the Susan G. Komen Foundation.
The day my book went to print was also the day my mother called to say she too had been diagnosed with Breast Cancer.
Then there was 9/11, the threat of Anthrax, and the Declaration of War on Iraq by the United States. All of which affected my one-woman company.
I won what for any author, much less an un-known, first-time, non-celebrity, was the publisher’s lottery and was invited to appear on the popular Rosie O Donnell Show that October to announce the release of my children’s book.
Then terrorists struck the Twin Towers in New York City where the show aired. Show producers decided the show would go on, but all of America was still afraid to fly to New York City. So a press release I sent out about my flight to New York was printed all across the country. I will always remember the phone call I received from my father. He begged me not to go.
His prayers were answered, the day before I was scheduled to leave for the show Anthrax was found at O Donnell’s studios and my appearance was cancelled. What would have probably been a long forgotten author appearance turned into story of national interest that I reminded media about every time Anthrax was mentioned.
I did not go to New York City, but my book did and O Donnell recommended it on her show. A press release I sent out about my book surviving the Anthrax Virus was picked up by the associated press. Overnight I became an Author/Expert, not just on talking to children about cancer, but on marketing, self-publishing, and how my company turned a public relations lemon into lemonade.
My David vs. Goliath story has been featured in newspapers across the country, including the Raleigh News and Observer, and the front page business section of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
It was years before I understood why mainstream publishers were so reluctant to publish my book, but I now know the odds of a first-time author’s children’s picture book failing are greater than 98 per cent.
My re-enchanted life almost sounds enchanted. It was not. Nothing enchanted has ever occurred to me without the magic of hard work and for every accomplishment my website shamefully self-promotes, there have been a hundred or more rejections.
More than one bookstore buyer turned down Tickles Tabitha’s Cancer-tanerous Mommy. As one of them put it, “It is not a book I would want to read to my own children unless I had to.”
Today my company is marketing the first cancer education school program for elementary children written by a cancer survivor, and integrating character education and cancer awareness. The program is called Crack Open A Book!
Marketing is never easy, and I am marketing a topic that only a few years ago was still being whispered above the heads of children in their own homes, and I am recommending it be discussed openly in an elementary classroom.
My ideas are not always met with enthusiasm, but long ago I made the decision to go around any mountain I could not climb, no matter how long it took me, and figured out I am not a complete wacko, but just a step ahead of popular perception.
Just when I feel it is hopeless something will happen to yank me out of my pity party. This summer it happened while I was skiing behind our boat. I pulled an under the breast/chest muscle and was jolted into remembering that I have implants due to reconstructive breast surgery.
My implant had not ruptured, but as my daughter rejoiced in telling me, “those implants are old.” It dawned on me that when the doctor’s advised me to get them they never considered discussing replacement surgery because they never thought it would be necessary.
One moment can change a life forever and this one reminded me how lucky I have been to live my re-enchanted life.
The book can be found here at Amazon!
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