It’s a theme that has played out in myriad books and movies and even a Pussycat Dolls song, and I learned it the hard way: In order to get what you want, you have to give up what you wanted.
My tale began one crisp January morning in 2011 when I decided to write a book. Up to that point I had never penned anything more than school papers, work proposals, and blog posts, but on that day I had an overwhelming urge to spit out my story. I’d been sick for nine years when, in 2007, a doctor found the cause: a tumor on my pancreas. If it had been removed before it spread, I would have been cured, but we didn’t get to it in time. It had metastasized to my liver and chest. My pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer (a k a “What Steve Jobs Had”) was slow-growing, but there was no cure.
If Western medicine could do nothing for me, my husband and I decided, we would have to find another way.
In my book I Have Cancer. And I’ve Never Felt Better! I share the story of how I went from frail to frightened to fighting back and ultimately took the power back from cancer. I couldn’t control the disease with chemotherapy or radiation, so I controlled what I could: the foods I ate, physical activity, and stress levels. And it worked. The cancer has not progressed, and I am in the best health of my life.
I had worked hard to create a healthy world in which I could thrive while my cancer didn’t, but by sharing my story I opened myself up to a Twitterverse of negativity.
Shortly after I created a blog under the same name as the book and opened Facebook and Twitter accounts, I was bombarded with comments and emails from people who shared the heartbreaking and gruesome details of their own cancer journeys. Others ripped into me for some of the choices I’d made, such as becoming a vegan (see my article Plant-Based Diets and Cancer). The worst commenters were those who told me that I was crazy to think that my health was under control and that the disease wasn’t spreading—they said my doctors must not know what they’re doing.
I had worked hard to create a healthy world in which I could thrive while my cancer didn’t, but by sharing my story I opened myself up to a Twitterverse of negativity. I could either keep going and find a way to deal with these problems or give up. By this point I had fallen in love with writing and had hoped that the book might provide an entrée to a newspaper or magazine career, so I decided to continue plugging away.
Over the next year I sent pitches and proposals to scores of agents, but nobody bit. So I took a different route and decided to publish my story as an e-book. If it sold well, I could use those numbers to catch an agent’s eye. On September 6, 2012—exactly five years from the day my doctor told me I had cancer—I launched the e-book.
Within weeks, thousands upon thousands of people downloaded it. I was gob-smacked. I ran a couple of promotions in the fall and winter, and when the downloads reached 10,000 I decided to try my agent search again. In two days, I was signed. In two weeks, we were negotiating a contract with a major publishing house.
It was unbelievable! We were discussing TV interviews, I was asked to guest-blog on some of the most popular wellness and fitness websites on the Internet, and I was invited to speak at conferences and events.
I called my agent and told her that as much as I appreciated all the work she and her team had done, I couldn’t stick to my über-healthy lifestyle and also promote a cancer memoir.
I called my agent and told her that as much as I appreciated all the work she and her team had done, I couldn’t stick to my über-healthy lifestyle and also promote a cancer memoir. I asked her to please cancel the book deal. For the first time in weeks, I felt energized and strong. I was back on the right path.
A few weeks later, I got my first byline in The Washington Post, and my career as a freelance writer took off. I’ve been writing nonstop ever since.
My book opened up the world of writing to me, but it wasn’t until I quit the book that I became a writer.