The Cancer Channel: One Year. Two Cancers. Three Miracles.
Sarah E. McDonald
First off – let me address the issue of me being neither famous nor infamous. You’re right. I’m neither. I’m just a person who had fertility issues – then one cancer diagnosis – then another, unrelated cancer diagnosis – then concurrent treatments for those cancers – then a baby. You can’t make this stuff up – or at least in my case I didn’t – and I lived to tell the tale. So, I ended up telling the tale of this crazy couple of years of my life in a memoir.
It did not go well.
I started writing what would eventually become The Cancer Channel while I was undergoing cancer treatments. I was writing a sometimes weekly blog out to friends and family who wanted the latest updates on my medical condition. Writing a blog is fun when you have fresh new content every week – even if that content is about your cancer.
I tried to keep the blog newsy and light and funny where I could make it funny. I absolutely covered in the highest-level detail all of the medical procedures (including the time my nipple was injected with radioactive stuff) I was undergoing to keep people abreast (pun intended) of my cancer journey. I created weekly metrics that I reported out to my former colleagues so they would understand that while I was undergoing cancer treatments, I was still the same high performer they had worked with, still intent on outperforming any key performance indicators thrown at me. I would win cancer and I would tell the world about it.
So I sat down to flesh out a “Handbook to the newly diagnosed” for other cancer patients – and I leaned heavily on the blog. I basically expanded the blog, going into greater detail on each of my lived experiences with cancer treatment so that other cancer patients (my future readers) would could have some hopefully visceral idea of what it was like to have chemo, to have radiation, to be bald.
The first challenge was that I tried to write this expanded-blog-cum-handbook while continuing to work fulltime as a chief of staff to the president at eBay. That didn’t work. I loved my job and when I had a free hour or so to work on the computer during my off hours, I found myself turning to email time and again instead of to my word program where the memoir lived. Ugh. This book would never get written.
But conveniently (and gloriously) I got pregnant with my daughter and was gifted six months of paid maternity leave (thanks, eBay!). I found myself with reduced volumes of email – and time in between naps to work on the guidebook. I made progress! And then I went back to work. All writing stopped. Poop.
Five years post cancer treatments and two years into being a mama, I had a terrifying set of symptoms that had both my head and neck surgeon and me convinced that I was having a recurrence of my salivary gland cancer. But after multiple scans – in what was yet another lucky break for me in my greater cancer story – it turned out to not be a recurrence.
But it was a chilling reminder of what it felt like to believe cancer was in my body – knowing that even if I had some of the best doctors in the country on my side throwing everything they could think of at my cancer – it could still kill me. I found myself reflecting on what I would regret in the event the cancer did come back. I resolved to pick the book back up and finish it. But at this point, I knew it wasn’t something I could do while working. I didn’t have the discipline. So I asked for, and was granted in yet another kind, supportive gesture on the part of eBay, a leave of absence to finish the guidebook.
I told myself that writing was now my job and I needed to approach it like I would any other job. I was productive! I was disciplined! I finished the guidebook in five months of a twelve-month leave!! WOOT WOOT!
And then I tried to get it published. Ugh.
More on that (and why my guidebook became a memoir) in my next blog.