Real life causing problems with your writing? Well this week at The Pink Heart Society we are both proud and priviledged to bring you a truly inspirational post from remarkable author Day Leclaire who tells us about recovering your creativity when real life throws you more curve balls than you might be able to handle...
Dates. So many dates. Even now, seven years later, they haunt me. Halloween when I had my routine mammogram, delayed by 2 months because I was in the middle of a deadline. But the voices in my head—voices that were shouting louder than my characters’—insisted I get that checkup, no matter how busy. Always listen to those voices. Friday, November 3rd. That was the day the doctor said those hideous words… “We found a mass on your mammogram and I’ve taken the liberty of setting up an appointment with a surgical oncologist for Monday.” That hideous weekend of terror, trying to hold it together so I wouldn’t frighten my son. Monday, November 5th. The meeting with the oncologist. Chest X-Rays. An ultrasound. Setting up the biopsy surgery for later that week.
Thursday, November 9th. The Day.
I think the worst part of discovering I had breast cancer was telling the people I loved. Watching their panic and fear. Watching the helpless search for words. My parents were hardest of all because they’d already lost one daughter—my younger sister—to cancer when she was in her twenties. I knew the idea of losing a second would absolutely devastate them. Even as I write this, I feel the dark wisps of those emotions, lingering in the background like some brooding, malevolent spirit. It makes me turn the lights on brighter, compels me to run, to find some way of escaping those memories and the feelings they engender.
But I don’t. I can’t. They’re with me forever and my only choice is to face them or succumb to that dark place. To fight the fear that never goes away. So I fight.
I started chemo five days before Christmas. I started radiation shortly after my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. My life became hospitals, and chemical smells and trying to find “normal” in the midst of a life turned upside down. To still be a mother and daughter and parent and writer. To act as though everything were the same when it was so very, very not.
And then there was work. When I was diagnosed in November, I had a book due the end of that month, another due the end of January, and a third due the end of March. A trilogy with impossibly tight deadlines. I met the first one, working even through the endless round of doctor visits. I had a second breast surgery to remove lymph nodes and re-excise the first site that was scheduled for November 30th. I was forced to break the news to my editor because I’d finally faced the fact that I couldn’t go through what lay ahead and still meet my contractual obligations. My editor, Samantha Bell, was an absolute brick. I will be forever grateful for everything she did on my behalf during those endless hideous months. I turned in my book the day before I went to the hospital and asked my editor to postpone the deadline on the other two.
I went a little crazy as I left 2000 behind. I was so determined to prove that I was fine. That I was a survivor. That life could and would go back to normal, that I went to the RWA National convention in New Orleans in July with my hair just starting to grow back. And what did I do there? I interviewed agents. Don’t ask me why. I think it was my way of telling myself that I still had a future ahead of me, that I was a survivor and that if I kept busy enough and went through the motions of setting that future in place, I’d be “safe.” Then I returned home and wrote the final two books in the trilogy—now a year overdue. I remember nothing of those books. Not the process, not what they’re about. It’s all a blank. And I didn’t know then that they’d be the last I’d ever write for Harlequin Romance. I turned the final book in mid-December 2001, two days before discovering my dad’s cancer had returned and he was terminal.
Dad died 3 months later and I pretty much fell apart after that. Though I did manage to write one more book, Keeping Faith, a book I’d obligated myself to contractually before learning of my dad’s situation. I think I was able to write that book—and actually enjoy it—because it was more single title in scope than category romance. It was different. And at that point in time, anything different was good. It was released in December 2003 and garnered my final RITA nomination. But when I went to the RWA conference the summer of 2004, I felt like a total fraud. I wasn’t writing. I hadn’t written word one since turning in Keeping Faith in December 2002. In fact, I’d hit rock bottom and didn’t know where I was going. I’d lost “it,” whatever “it” was.
There’s a reason I’ve detailed all these trials and tribulations, and trust me, it’s not so you’ll feel sorry for me. I need to tell you at this point that I’m very Alpha. My solution to problems is to power through. Well, I’ve now learned there are some situations you can’t power through. All during my treatment, as well as the year or so afterward, I was running on adrenaline and fear. All my actions were based on keeping that fear at bay and outrunning the dreaded “C” by acting as though everything were the same as before. It worked for a while, but when it stopped working, the fall was long, hard, and painful.
So here’s the thing… If you’re dealing with a life-altering event, these are my suggestions:
. First and foremost, be kind to yourself. You’re under enough pressure. You don’t need to make it worse on yourself by living up to imaginary expectations. It won’t get you through the process any faster. In fact, it might slow down your healing. You know when the doctor says, “Don’t lift anything for 2 weeks after surgery”? There’s a reason. It’s because your body needs that time to heal. Don’t do what I did. Don’t think, “If I lift things sooner, it proves I’m better/faster/healthier/more capable.” What it does is cause microscopic tears that rip at your wound so it grows scar tissue. And scar tissue is far worse (thicker, more painful, less flexible) than a cleanly healed incision.
. Give yourself time. You may not need it at first, but you will, eventually. If you’ve been through a life-altering event, you will need—at some point—to do some navel contemplation. It’s hard. It’s painful. It takes you to that dark place. But at some point you have to enter the cave and fight the demon in order to emerge a stronger, healthier, more emotionally complete person. It’s not about winning and I can’t tell you how long it took me to wrap my head around that simple fact. It’s about the fight. And yes, you’ll have to fight that battle more than once. But each time you do, you become better equipped and it goes a little faster and you learn a little more than you did the last time, so that the battles are shorter and spaced farther apart. I still get apprehensive at this time of year, feeling as though something is “wrong.” And I still dread my yearly checkups in the spring. I always will and it’s something I simply will have to live with.
. You haven’t really lost “it.” Your writing will come back. I promise. Our creative endeavors come from our emotions. When we’ve been wounded emotionally, it takes time to heal, just as our bodies need time to heal. Emotional healing simply takes longer. Far longer. In the meantime, find another creative endeavor, something that makes you feel good about yourself and life in general. Make gift cards, do jigsaw puzzles, knit, sew, cook, clean, whatever it takes to put you in that happy place. But relax and breathe! Stop forcing life.
. Get back in touch with yourself. You’re not the same person you were before, no matter how much you might want to be. You’ve changed. But change is good! I know it may not feel like it at times, because growth and change and renewal can be painful. It’s okay to feel pain. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to cry and rant and rave. But it’s also okay to feel happy and joyous and thankful that you’re still alive, even while tragic events are happening to others. My dad died. I lived. That’s life and I’m forced to accept it and deal with it and find what joy I can in my survival. You see, I firmly believe that we all have our own unique road to walk, one that often intersects with others, one that often parallels others. Still…it’s our private road. I think the strife that occurs along the way is so we learn whatever lessons are meant for us—and us alone—in our lifetime. I am hardheaded and it takes a hard lesson to get me to pay attention and change. But I am stronger for having learned that lesson.
. Cling to family and friends and anyone offering a helping hand. You don’t have to be the strong one all the time. That expression that says there’s strength in numbers? It’s true. You are not alone! Lean on someone when you need to. They won’t break. Neither will you. I don’t think I could have gotten through this experience without my husband or my son or my parents or my brother and sister. And then there were my friends. Sandra Marton was…I’m weeping even as I write this…she was literally a lifesaver. She was an unmovable rock in the midst of a hurricane. Keep those people in your life and hold them close. And the ones who hurt you or add to your burden? You need to divest yourself of them so there’s room in your life for more good people. Since cancer, I’ve become much more select about what I will and won’t tolerate in my life. Regardless of whether you’ve been through a life-changing event, it’s a good attitude to adopt. Life is short. Why spend it on people and events that add to your stress?
And now I’ve almost reached the end of this personal saga. How did I start writing again? Two things happened at once. (Now I’m laughing.) For the first time in five years, I sat down and looked at our finances. What I saw overcame any writer’s block I might have experienced. I had the choice of getting a 9 to 5 or I could start writing again. How’s that for a wakeup call? Fortunately, enough time had passed that I felt ready. The first book I wrote was rejected. And it should have been. I was rusty. But that rejection also caused me to become plagued by the fear that I really had lost all writing ability. The next book was better and it sold to Silhouette Desire. And so did the next, and the one after that. Since August 2005, I’ve written and sold 7 books, five of which came out this year. The last two, though, are the strongest I’ve ever written. Those are the first two in a new four-book series for Silhouette Desire, The Dante Legacy. The first book in the series, Dante’s Blackmailed Bride, will be out in February 2008. The second book, Dante’s Stolen Wife, will be released in May of 2008.
The last thing I want to leave you with is to beg all women to get a mammogram. Now. Don’t wait. It could literally cost you your life. If I’d delayed until after I’d met all my deadlines, I wouldn’t be writing this today. In fact, I have a relative in her 50s who hasn’t had a mammogram in 6 ½ years! Sticking your head in the sand is not going to save you! If you’re in your thirties, get a baseline mammogram and a follow-up every 2-3 years. At forty, get a yearly mammogram. If your doctor claims it’s not necessary, find a new doctor, because it is necessary. It’s your life and I want you to live every last possible day of it. I’m now seven years cancer free. It feels so good to say that. And it feels even better to have a future, a future I intend to fill with as many books as I can possibly write. You can come through the dark times and find the light again. I’m living proof of that.
Thanks so much for visiting us with your incredible story Day!!!
To find out more about Day and her upcoming books Dante's Blackmailed Bride and Dante's Stolen Wife, the first two books in her Dante Legacy series you can visit Day's Website.
And remember gang that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and you can help support free mammograms simply by clicking the button on our sidebar. Yes - just that. ONE CLICK and you could help save a life!!!