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How "Nana, What's Cancer?" Was Born

My granddaughter who was eight kept my book by her bedside and was fascinated with everything concerning it. One day she told her mother she wanted to do a book report on "I Can Do This."
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I was given the worst possible diagnosis--4th stage metastasized, inoperable, uteral sarcoma. Two months to live. The first doctor told my family and myself that I had eight large tumors in my abdomen. He wanted me to do extensive chemotherapy, a re-sectioning of my stomach and then even more chemotherapy. I looked up at that doctor and said, "I need a 2nd opinion." After multiple doctors confirmed, not only, my diagnosis, but my prognosis we were lucky enough to have a breakthrough. Dr. Charles Forcher at Cedar Sinai in Los Angeles was the first one to go back into my original cancer (from 12 years prior) and discover that my tumors were a result of my uterine lining cells drifting into my abdomen thus forming the eight tumors. This was our first piece of good news as my cancer was now hormone receptive. So by the time we got to Dr. Frederich Eilbur at UCLA, he told us he wasn't going to operate or do chemotherapy. He would go to the tumor board and if allowed, give me an experimental treatment of a shot of Lupron every three months and a pill (Femara) everyday. These two were hormone blockers. That made sense to me! I was willing to take a chance and bank my life on it. After a long weekend of waiting, the nurse called and said, "You've been approved by the tumor board! Come in and get your first shot." I did, that was seven years ago and I have never looked back.

At the beginning of these years, I sought a place to put my feelings. I was directed to a lovely lady in Santa Barbara Hospice who led a poetry class and had also lost her husband to cancer. The minute I put my pen to paper I couldn't stop. It was so cathartic. I didn't know anyone would ever see it but I didn't care. Without realizing, I wrote my story in poetry and prose and finally my book "I Can Do This, Living With Cancer, Tracing a Year of Hope."

My granddaughter who was eight kept my book by her bedside and was fascinated with everything concerning it. One day she told her mother she wanted to do a book report for her second grade class on "I Can Do This." Her mother said she didn't think that was appropriate because most kids her age didn't know that much about cancer. Tess asked, "Then why don't Nana and I write a book together explaining cancer to kids?" Her mother encouraged her to call me. When she did I thought it was a win win situation. Tess and I would get to work together, learning a lot, and hopefully helping some families bring cancer out in the open. I told her I loved the idea. I asked Tess to write down some questions that bothered her about cancer and I would try with the best of my ability to answer them.

I went to pediatric oncologists, the library, and used the internet for my research (i.e. the American Cancer Society website). Tess, meanwhile, did her own research. She read books that children had written about their mothers having cancer. To write our book, Tess and I would talk on the phone and e-mail each other. We would also meet over tea and cookies in each other's kitchens. We felt that that the American Cancer Society would be the place to publish it. We sent the manuscript and they liked the idea, but we would have to wait for their next season of selecting books. They suggested some rewrites. We reworked it some more and finally it was time to send it back to them. We waited, and waited. Finally, Len Boswell, the director of publishing, sent me an email, with the subject matter saying "And the Answer is..." The first line in the email was "Yes, we are going to publish your book." I called Tess and we both screamed on the phone. Two years had gone by. Now the work began. They turned us over to their editor (Rebecca Teaff) and illustrator (Shennen Bresani) and we worked with them. They were all very kind and supportive but it was a long process. Another year had passed. Tess was now 11 and taller than me (not hard to be!). But the bottom line is, we have a book! "Nana, What's Cancer?" was finally born. Our vision is that it is to be read by a child and a grown up together. We hope our loving conversation between grandmother and granddaughter explains cancer in a kid-friendly way and strengthens emotional bonds between family members during difficult times.

"Nana, What's Cancer?" published by American Cancer Society
Distrubuted by McGraw Hill
Honored as a finalist by USA Book News as one of the Best Books Nationally in the non-fiction category, 2009.