Tuesday, March 25, 2014

MY NEW BOOK: STRIPPED: CANCER, CULTURE, AND THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING



When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, my first thought was "I'm going to die." 

My second was "I do not want to 'battle" cancer." 

I have my own battles. 

I didn't want to fight a battle on behalf of big pharma, my war-obsessed culture, or the fear of being thought a nutbag. 

I wanted to acknowledge that to be diagnosed with cancer is a traumatic psychic blow. I wanted to educate myself. I wanted to come to grips with my mortality. I wanted, as I have always wanted, to act in freedom (a stretch, as I was panic-stricken) and to make the decisions I thought were right for me.  Not for anyone else. For me.  

As it turned out, I was incredibly lucky. My cancer was Grade 1, Stage 1. 

And STRIPPED, my new book, is a different kind of cancer memoir. It doesn't describe chemo because I didn't have chemo. It doesn't describe radiation because I didn't have radiation. 

I had the tumor removed and then, after reams of research and untold hours of anguished prayer,  I went against medical advice and declined all further treatment.

STRIPPED is about the long, slow process of coming to that decision--made on Palm Sunday, fourteen years ago.

It's about the loss of a certain kind of innocence, the end of a marriage, the deepening of my faith, the vocation of writing.

In fact, it's not a "cancer memoir" at all. It's a memoir about coming to terms with this thought from Kierkegaard: "We come into this world with sealed orders."
 



Here's an excerpt. I was living in Koreatown at the time and had just schlepped up, as I often did, to 8 o'clock Mass:

"One Monday morning in the parking lot of St. Basil’s I ran into my friend Frank, a 70-ish Irishman who looked like the angel in It’s a Wonderful Life, had been sober for years, and was squiring a fellow with a rat-like face who was clearly coming off a major bender. Frank was one of these hearty cradle Catholics who are always going off to Europe to visit shrines and talking about some miracle or other. He’d once lent me a very good book called Abandonment to Divine Providence, by a 17th-century priest named Jean Pierre de Caussade. I liked Frank.

Still, when he asked about my cancer and, right there in the parking lot, grabbed my arm and said, 'Come here, let’s pray,' I instinctively recoiled. In New England, where I come from, even your own parents don’t hug you, and I had never quite grown used to the touchy-feely ways of Southern Californians. But Frank got a hold of me, and then he made the hungover guy, who reeked of booze, come over, and we all put our arms around each other and Frank placed his free hand on the upper part of my chest and started pouring out a very heartfelt prayer. 'Jesus, we ask you to help Heather,' he said, with just a hint of a brogue. 'You know she loves you SO MUCH, and we ask you to heal her: every tissue, every cell, every limb, every organ'...

Ten years ago—okay, one year ago—I would have died of embarrassment to be standing out in public praying with a geriatric Irish Catholic and some poor mangy drunk, but the great thing about having cancer is that situations that formerly might have seemed traumatic pale in comparison. Also, you very quickly realize you can no longer afford to scoff at anything or anybody that might even remotely have the capacity, and more to the point, willingness, to help.

After a few seconds I realized that to be embraced by these kind, well-meaning folks, who no doubt had many better things to do than take time out of their busy morning to comfort me, actually felt good. So afterward, I said, 'Wow, Frank, I sure am glad we ran into each other!' and shook the rat-faced guy’s hand, and we went our separate ways with smiles, waves and, on my part at least, a warm glow of gratitude.

Everything was fine until around two the next morning, when I got up to use the bathroom and thought,
That’s strange, I could swear I’m feeling a little nauseous."

CLIFFHANGER!!

STRIPPED is available in paperback  from amazon.

Or you can buy it from my very own createspace store. In which case I get higher royalties but you have to have, or set up, a createspace account, pay list price and forego the free shipping opp.

OR you can buy the KINDLE EDITION.

I'm working on a  trailer. 
A thousand thanks for the support.
PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD!




16 comments:

  1. I AM SO EXCITED! Who designed that cover??? It is beautiful! I haven't even ordered it yet and I have already imagined reading it with my women's prayer group and then paying you A LOT to fly to Newtown CT to speak to all of us, and everyone will love you, and then you will come out to a fabulous dinner with me and my sister... and Father Peter!!!! Let's do it!!!!

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    1. Laura, isn't that cover to die for? Double M Ranch Design (DoubleMRanch.com). Rowan Moore-Seifred. She's the best. Up in Washington. Has a blog called Ranch Notes (http://ranchnotes.blogspot.com/).
      I know, when the heck am I going to get to come to Newtown? FYI, I'm gonna be in NYC June 20- 22, then up to RI, MA and NH...we have to make this happen!

      Thanks for the support, girl--

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    2. I have to admit I wasn't wowed by the cover as it looks pictured on your blog but when I received the package and opened it up I was thrilled with the look of this book! You can't really tell from the picture that the book is more beige in color and then with the red trim, the blast of blue with the centered cross amid several red roses and blazing the title "Stripped"; it's truly amazing! I love it! Reminds me of the love of God, of Jesus who is our eternal Truth and of Our Lady who always undergirds our prayers.
      I hesitated ordering the book at first, I guess because I was afraid the prompting I was getting to read it might mean that I NEEDED it somehow, that my prayer over these last six months for God to MAKE me more compassionate was going to have to come through something as earth shattering as cancer. Is that crazy or what? Well, I put my irrational fear aside, ordered the book and I'm glad I did. I put my little grandson down for his nap, went out back to sit in my chair under the birch tree, turned on some Benedictine Chant and began reading it. You know, sometimes reading a book is almost like a religious experience for me. I stopped at chapter five because the little one woke up but it's been a great read so far. As usual it's so easy for me to connect with your story and I like your writing style.

      bren

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    3. I can't think of much that would make me happier than knowing someone is reading my book under a birch tree. Thank you, Brenda. That cover IS pretty rad, right? I agree: it looks even better in hand. Getting the ebook formatted has turned into a major hell-vortex--it's still not out on kindle--but I leave it in God's hands.
      Say hi to your grandson for me!

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  2. Congrats! we will definitely have you on This is the Day to talk about the book. If you get to the area we can have you record some Blinks
    Bonnie

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    1. Bonnie, really? I would love that. Would I have to actually be in Boston/Watertown? Am gonna be in Gloucester doing the Ignatian Exercises the whole month of July...
      Thank you so much--

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  3. Ordered!

    Funny you should post this today, especially with "battle" in quotes, seeing how Darwin Catholic just posted this:

    http://darwincatholic.blogspot.com/2014/03/cancer-has-no-ass-to-kick.html

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    1. LOVED this piece, thank you, commented. One of the self-help cancer doctors promoted the idea of the "exceptional patient." We should all strive to be exceptional patients: positive, perky, proactive. I was like why can't we just be bewildered, pissed-off, tired, mediocre patients? Isn't that we just got diagnosed with cancer burden enough? That we're obligated to man up, be good citizens, and "battle" cancer was an idea I just couldn't get behind...That doesn't mean you roll over and play dead. It means that, in freedom, YOU get to choose how to deal, externally and internally, with your cancer...

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  4. Ah my dear Heather.... So pleased to see and so eager to read. Blessings my friend.

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    1. Heidi, bless you for your generous, ONGOING support....I am definitely going to promote the book a bit in the coming weeks...

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  5. Congrats heather! This looks like another wonderful boot to read. I love your writing and can never get enough. Thanks for your continued effort and your vocation!

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    1. Boot? Not really I meant Book...and heather should be Heather. Ah spelling alludes me!

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    2. I actually like boot. We should all read MORE boots...Thank you so much, Maureen. If you get a hold of STRIPPED, I do hope you like it!

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  6. I had resolved to give Amazon a rest BUT a book by Heather King?I love every word you write and so I am waiting by the mailbox again.Can't wait!!!!

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