Perhaps the only dreams that die are the ones that come true. They cease to exist in the very instant that they pass from imagination to reality. Until then they live on in the recesses of your mind,veiled by disappointment and hopelessness, like old love letters tied up in red ribbon and left in an antique box in the attic. Forgotten and unfulfilled.
Sometimes it can take a near-catastrophe to pull your dreams back into the forefront of your consciousness and convince you to dust off all the reasons you abandoned them. Sometimes you need to teeter on the rim of death to put them back into play.
I wrote The Cancer Whisperer last summer because cancer had dropped my neglected dream of being an author into my arms like a newborn baby, wide-eyed and irresistible, demanding my complete attention. I barely had a choice in the matter. It just wanted out.
I wrote it in six weeks flat and initially published it with The Difference Press, an innovative publisher that midwifed a fast delivery and helped me launch the book on Amazon while leaving me 100% of the rights – akin to self-publishing but with lots of support. In my situation I reckoned there was precious little time to find an agent or get signed by a leading publisher (which was what I really wanted) and was aware how notoriously difficult that process can be. I needed a short cut and The Difference Press, led by Angela Lauria, provided it – for which I will always be grateful. And I thought that would be that.
Within a couple of weeks its bestseller status in several Amazon categories drew an unexpected flurry of media interest, most notably from The Observer and Phil Williams at BBC Radio 5 Live. At first it was hard to understand. There are so many cancer books and stories out there. I thought I was just adding another to the pile and hoping it would make a difference to whichever cancer patients came across it (while ticking ‘write a book’ off my bucket list). Suddenly I was getting phone calls from people wanting to know more about my story and eager to share it with the world.
One of those people was a literary agent who fell in love with The Cancer Whisperer and literally rocked up on my doorstep asking to represent me. Like several other significant people who have manifested in my life since I was diagnosed, Valeria Huerta was God-sent. Authentic, inspirited and passionate about getting my book ‘out there’ she asked me to cease all publicity while she put it in a bidding auction between some major publishers. Before I knew it I was receiving proposals, meeting interested parties and found myself in the privileged position of being able to choose between them. For. Real.
It was truly hard to turn the other offers down, but my choice was based on an immediate spiritual connection with the head of Coronet, Mark Booth (a.k.a. Jonathan Black, bestselling author of The Secret History of the World) and the firm belief that he would develop me as an author in future. He seemed to see me as a writer first and cancer patient last. He related to my sharp mind more than my sad disease, my talent more than my tumours and my future more than my end.
My first experience of working with him as my editor was on a new chapter I wrote for his edition of my book – Dancing With Grief. He happens to live near me so we met in a local café, drank green smoothies and went through the printed pages he had marked with his fountain pen on the train home from work the previous evening. And I marked mine with the engraved silver pen my husband gave me for Christmas to symbolise this turn of vocation and fortune. Not a laptop or tablet in sight. It was how I had always envisioned this process. Intimate. Collaborative. Old School. Which was when the dream passed from imagination to reality and died by coming true.
Until I remember the intention of the book. Yes, I get to embark on my writing career at last and to thank cancer for bringing me to this threshold. Yes, I told a deeply personal story, one that continues to unfold as I live each day with cancer. But this is not about me. It is about the people I wrote this book for, the ones whose lives I wanted to touch even if – perhaps especially if – it turns out to be my last act of service. It’s about a pandemic in our midst and the suffering of millions, so much of which is unnecessary. It’s about what Life has called me to contribute in this place at this time.
As dreams arise the ego can convert them into nightmares. Even now, especially now, my practice is to be ever present to the shenanigans of my mind. Sometimes I operate as if what I create is going to be taken from me – acutely so when living with ‘incurable’ cancer – and that belief can bleed me dry. The greatest agony I experience with cancer is my psychological reaction to it. And therein lies my work because my reaction reveals me to myself. This is the spiritual opportunity. Fear of death… disapproval… disappointment… criticism… projection… recognition… expectation… accolades… attack. My work is about freeing myself from all of it and offering up what I have without attachment, apology or needing anything back.
Then dancing for joy of course.
The Cancer Whisperer is my offering, freely and gratefully given. Let Life take it where It will.