Again: Surviving Cancer Twice with Love and Lists received a 4+ star review, making it an IndieReader Approved title.
Following find an interview with author David Giffen.
What is the name of the book and when was it published?
The name of my book is Again: Surviving Cancer Twice with Love and Lists, published on October 24, 2020 by Koehler Books.
What’s the book’s first line?
To Do (3/2)
Groceries for Tom’s birthday sleepover
Order chocolate cake
My hand hovered over the ringing wireless phone like it was the first time I’d ever answered it.
What’s the book about? Give us the “pitch”.
A breast cancer diagnosis at forty-nine forces Christine Shields Corrigan, a wife, mom, and meticulous list-maker, to confront her deepest fears of illness, death, and loss of control as she struggles to face cancer again. From the discovery of a “junky” cyst, to chemotherapy and surgery, sleepless nights filled with rosaries and “what ifs,” and shifting family dynamics, her adult experience mirrors her teen bout with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, with one exception—she no longer has parents keeping her in the dark.
With the ghosts of cancer past hovering around her, Chris falls into the same overprotective traps her taciturn Irish-Catholic parents created, striving to keep her family’s life “normal,” when it is anything but, and soldiering through on her own, until a neighbor’s unexpected advice and gift move her to accept others’ help. With fierce honesty, poignant reflection, and good humor, Chris shares a journey filled with sorrow, grace, forgiveness, and resilience, as she wends her way through cancer for the second time. Again offers practical guidance and hope to individuals that they have the strength to forge a path beyond a diagnosis.
What inspired you to write the book? A particular person? An event?
I wrote Again for several reasons, both external and internal. The easiest external reason is that I wrote Again because my surgical nurse navigator asked me to write a “list” of helpful tips or tricks I learned going through breast cancer treatment that she could share with other patients. She really wanted a list. But, once I started writing, I couldn’t stop and three months later I had more than a list. I had ten essays for her. Those essays became the starting point for Again.
Another reason I wrote Again is when I was first diagnosed, I searched for a book that would serve as a trail map, so to speak, to help guide me through the experience. In my search, I found plenty of books written by medical professionals about cancer, its diagnosis, and treatment. I found celebrity cancer narratives. I found beautiful memoirs about the meaning of life written by individuals who died—from cancer. I found plenty of inspirational guidebooks and journals. I didn’t find those books helpful. So I decided to write my own in the hope that when other individuals hear: “I’m sorry, you have cancer,” some of my experiences may resonate and help them.
The more complex, internal answer is that I knew I would never heal emotionally and psychologically if I didn’t write it. When I was a teen, I didn’t speak about my feelings or fears. My pathological ability to compartmentalize, organize, and avoid worked well for thirty-five years. Then it didn’t. My systems crashed, burned, and shattered many of those whom I hold most precious. This book gave me the grace to let go of old hurts and fears and to forgive.
Finally, this book gave me the courage to step out of my planned and ordered life and to begin a practice that’s led me to peaceful coexistence with life’s awe and agony. And perhaps, this book will help to light a path forward, as so many did for me.
What’s the main reason someone should really read this book?
With more than 1.7 million new cases of cancer diagnosed in the U.S. each year, it’s hard to find an individual who hasn’t been touched by this disease. Again’s down-to-earth account of my experiences will resonate with anyone facing similar challenges who must learn to navigate and survive in a world vastly changed after diagnosis and treatment. Again also provides practical, experiential guidance that may support others confronting cancer, as well as their loved ones and caregivers.
If they made your book into a movie, who would you like to see play the main character(s)?
Elizabeth McGovern, hands down. She has such grace and presence on the screen. She was my boon companion as Cora Crawley on Downton Abbey, which I spent hours watching while I received chemotherapy for breast cancer.
When did you first decide to become an author?
That’s a complicated question. I like to say that I came to writing early and I came to writing later in life. I started writing when I was in treatment for cancer as a teenager. I kept a journal about the experience. I wrote a lot of angsty poetry as a teen and into college. Terrible stuff. Then, as I got older and started my career as a lawyer, I didn’t have a lot of time to write creatively. But, I always kept travel journals of our trips and family vacation. I still keep travel journals even today. And of course, I wrote a lot as an attorney. I left practice in 2004 and decided to run my own legal writing/editing business and did marketing writing for law firms—articles, newsletters, and later, web content on legal developments.
But, I didn’t return to creative writing until after I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016. I spent a year in treatment and came to a crossroads and had to figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up—whether I wanted to go back to practicing law, go back to my legal marketing writing/editing business, or whether I wanted to do something entirely different, like write a book. I decided to write what would become Again. But, I knew that, before I could write a book, I had to take classes to learn to do that, and I did. I went to writing conferences and workshops. I read a lot of craft books. I joined a writing group, and over time, wrote and edited my way to a completed manuscript.
Is this the first book you’ve written?
What do you do for work when you’re not writing?
I’m a wife and mom. We still have one teenage son at home so making sure that there’s plenty of food in the house is a priority, along with doing laundry, so much laundry. Our son is a runner so he’s good for a couple of changes of clothes a day.
I also teach creative nonfiction writing for an adult education program. I run journaling workshops for cancer support groups. I’m working on developing speaking opportunities, which is a little hard to do in the world of Zoom, but I’m making it work. I also serve on the programming committee of a local literary festival.
How much time do you generally spend on your writing?
On most days, but not all, I’m writing or doing something related to writing, teaching writing, or promoting Again for a four to six hours a day. But, on some days, I don’t write at all. I have grocery days, have lunch with a friend days, reading days, gardening days, or cross-country meet days. Our lives are made up of stories; they’re everywhere. And, I think a big part of being a writer is living in them because that’s where the material is.
What’s the best and the hardest part of being an indie?
The best part of being an indie published author is that I got to publish my book on my terms. I knew I wrote a good story, but I’m not a celebrity. I have a small and growing social media presence, but not one that any traditional agent or publisher would look at. I didn’t want to wait for two, three, five or ten years to go down that road. One thing that having cancer taught me is that life is fleeting. Tomorrow isn’t promised. So, I made the decision last year to pitch my manuscript to indie presses and am glad that I landed with Koehler Books.
The hardest thing, or perhaps the thing I’ve been the most surprised at, is how much time I spend on promotion, but it is essential in creating a brand and selling books. I tend to be someone who likes to get stuff done under the radar screen, so I find myself out of my comfort zone in this very public space. But one of the greatest lessons of survivorship is learning to live with the uncomfortable.
What’s a great piece of advice that you can share with fellow indie authors?
Be fearless. Writing takes so much courage and strength to handle a lot of rejection. So, you have to want with your whole heart and mind, to the point of being driven, to tell the story that’s living inside of you. Otherwise, you won’t work on it.
Along with writing, you must read and read broadly. Honestly, I don’t think you could be a writer without being a deep reader.
Is there something in particular that motivates you (fame? fortune?)
I decided to start writing creatively in the hope that my story would help others facing similar challenges. Shortly after Again was published, I received an email from a young survivor who had Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a teen, as I had. She wrote:
I have lived in fear for years… anticipating that one day, I would face a secondary cancer linked to the treatments that had been administered. This led to many discussions with my care team to help me plan for the possibility.Still, I could not shake the fear of possibly having to go through the cancer experience again.
That is, until I read your words.
Your words, your book, have helped me see that my biggest fear is something that can be managed if it comes into my life. It wouldn’t be easy, as I’m sure your experience wasn’t. But it would be possible.”
In addition to writing in service to others, I also write to preserve my memories and my family stories.
Which writer, living or dead, do you most admire?
Do writers really die? That’s the point of writing, is it not, to have one’s words live? In the passed from this life department, however, the writer I most admire is Jane Austen. Austen wrote at a time when women rarely wrote, and, if they did, it was generally thought that there was something wrong with them. Indeed, women authors often published their books anonymously, as Austen did, and had their male relatives handle any contracts, as women didn’t have the right to enter contracts independently at the time.
That being said, Austen understood the mores and double standards of her day, particularly as to women and societal expectations of marriage and motherhood, and expressed them with such wit and eloquence. That’s why her novels remain relevant and modern today.