I often ask myself, why I cannot retire as other women in my position do. Play bridge or golf, do a little volunteering, go to Florida for the winter. Why have I chosen to spend my days chasing around the Internet finding ways to promote my Annie Tillery Mystery series? The second time I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I did a psychological whoa, and looked at my life. If my life were to end tomorrow, would I be satisfied with what I had accomplished? I never was one to be satisfied with just “being”. My life had to mean more to me than that.
I could see a whole world of possibilities out there. Based on how I’ve spent my life, it seemed natural to turn to the same population as my students, and to women in general. Having been part of the feminist movement that started in the sixties, I wanted to leave some inspiration to the young women who would follow me. I also wanted the women of my generation to see that the girls of my books reflected the hopes and dreams of my contemporaries, taking on the challenges traditionally thought of as belonging to males.
As a science teacher, I wanted to inspire young women to see science as interesting, and as something females would be good at. My heroine, Annie Tillery, is smart not nerdy, attractive not gorgeous, doesn’t use magic or necromancy to divine the world around her. She uses her brain, her sense of humor, and just pure guts.
At first, I just wanted to write the stories and put them in a loose-leaf binder for my grand-nieces and nephews, and possible grandchildren. Then I realized that these stories are my DNA. They have grown out of my life’s work as an educator, and my life experiences as a girl, and then a woman. It’s very feminine to share. That’s part of the DNA we share with other mammals. Baby elephants have mothers, and many aunties (other adult females) to watch over them. Baby whales, born under water are buoyed to the surface by the female whales attending their birth. And so, share I did. I can only hope that my efforts to get teachers to use my books and lesson plans will come to fruition. I hope my attempts to reach out to authors, with advice from the guests on my local access show, “The Writer’s Dream”; and my workshops will help someone along the way.
I can’t believe eighteen years have gone by. In 1994 I was diagnosed with breast cancer, stage 1. I was lucky. It was caught early. I’m the poster child for early detection. One lumpectomy and thirty radiation treatments later, I was able to get on with my life.
But, life did not go on as usual. Cancer is a diagnosis that puts a different lens in your rose-colored glasses. With some folks, it means, slow down and smell the roses. For me, it was speed up and get done every bloomin’ thing I ever wanted to do. I plunged into life like never before. And while I was living life in the fast-lane, the cancer was growing back. In late 2008 I was diagnosed with a recurrence of cancer in the same breast.
Another thing a cancer diagnosis does is to take you out of the main stream of life. It feels like you are suspended above the earth watching everyone living their stories while you are in limbo waiting, waiting for the verdict; chemo, surgery, radiation, six weeks to live, maybe two months.
Again, I was lucky. Because of the previous cancer, my wonderful doctors checked me every six months. Again, I am the poster child for early detection. I decided to have a double mastectomy, no radiation, no chemo. As far as they could tell the cancer had not spread.
This was three years ago. I am a lot older and much more aware of the fragility of life. Friends and family have had their own diagnoses. Some have died. Some I share a bond with that is like that shared by soldiers who’ve shared combat. And, we fight on.
I am so grateful for whatever time the early detection of my cancers has given me. Every day is a gift from God, a day to be used in the best way I know how. Thanks for reading my story. I have a great deal more to say about how to cope with cancer, and how that ugly negative thing has been the motivation to give back.
Linda Maria Frank