How I Turned Breast Cancer into a Writing Career

Autumn evokes warm memories for me growing up on the east coast.  Leaves change from green to crimson and bright yellow, delicious air brisk and soothing.

My perennial October joy ended abruptly in 1993 when I became that one out of seven women diagnosed with breast cancer.  It’s also when I noticed the color pink.  It was everywhere.  TV commercials, clothing, perfume, sports team gear… you name it, there was pink.  For the first ten years after my double mastectomy and a year of anguishing chemotherapy, every October brought back fear.

Pink reminded me daily of being in survival mode. The color represented nausea, sleepless nights, baldness, and I wondered if I’d live to see grandchildren born, if I’d have a recurrence. 

Then my compassionate and brilliant oncologist had a conversation with me.  I was dealing with “chemo brain.”  He kindly suggested I do things to strengthen my brain.  He suggested going back to college and taking math courses.  I laughed.  I’ve never balanced a checkbook. 

We chatted about things I love like travel and writing.  He asked about my favorite place to travel.  My answer was Italy.  His next suggestion was to enroll in a junior college and learn how to speak Italian.  That sounded fun.  But could I learn a language at my age?  Two weeks after that appointment, I enrolled in an Italian class at Orange Coast College.  I studied for 4 semesters and still take private lessons. 

Who knew breast cancer would lead to such an adventure.

At the next appointment, I had just returned from a villa trip in Italy with five women.  And that was it.  I knew I had to write a book.  I enrolled in a night class, joined a critique group, and finished my first novel. 

It took 8 years, a lot of rejections, an agent who took my book and then told me to change the setting to India.  (Because India was “in” at the time.)  I fired him.  I found a small press and published.  Out of that first book, I burned with a desire to write more.  Currently, my fourth novel is with my editor.

I have been able to make a consulting business out of my travels to Italy.  All because my doctor made suggestions, and I followed them. 

Pink no longer represents fear.  It represents joy.  Winners wear pink.

Breast cancer taught me how to turn a tragedy into triumph.  Now I speak Italian, write until my fingers tire, and travel as often as possible.  I’m always looking to learn something new, wanting my life to count, to be remembered as someone who faced adversity, survived, and lived life to the fullest.

When it’s my time to leave this earth, I have every intention of arriving at the grave in a pretty pink dress, skidding in broadside, thoroughly used up and loudly proclaiming, “Wow, what a ride.”

Before writing her first novel and current travel book, Janet specialized in self-help and spiritual guidance with articles on overcoming breast cancer, dealing with dying parents, and other life-changing issues. She has also published stories about the search for her roots including the poignant discovery of her grandfather’s journey from Italy to America.

Janet has been a teacher of English and History for gifted high school students, owned an editing and writing business, and was a co-owner of a large construction company. She is available for speaking engagements regarding her adventures in Italy and is available for trip planning to Italy…including suggested itineraries, hotel and villa recommendations, restaurants…and places to sit and sip and enjoy the Italian culture.

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