My Dearest Reader…
For a while now I’ve been keeping a big secret! Not just from you, but from most of my family and friends. As many of you know, I’m a terrible secret keeper. The very worst kind! So this one has been hard. And we aren’t talking about a few weeks hard. This is the longest secret I’ve kept in my life! There aren’t enough words to describe the excitement I feel in finally being able to share with you a project that has been in the making for over a year now. It’s a huge achievement in LyndseyLand, and a big tick off the bucket list.
I WROTE A BOOK!
This is ‘My Mummy has Cancer’ – a book for Nyah and children facing a journey like hers. It is our story, her story.
I didn’t write ‘My Mummy Has Cancer’ by myself. It has been the most wonderful collaboration between myself and my lifelong friends Laura and her husband Zane, and Bronwyn. When I say lifelong, I mean lifelong. I met these two ladies in Kindergarten and we have enjoyed an almost 24 year friendship ever since. We have had the incredible privilege of growing together and being each other’s bridesmaids. They also hold a special place in Nyah’s life as her Godmothers. Bron and Laura are incredibly loving, talented and generous women who have worked tirelessly to make this dream come true for me. It is such an honour to see our names together in print and add this to our friendship portfolio.
As I look back on the past year, I can’t help but know that this book was something we were meant to do. It’s no small affair, writing your own children’s book, illustrating, editing and publishing it. Yet for ‘My Mummy Has Cancer’, it just seemed to evolve naturally. It all started when I was first diagnosed and in hospital. The amazing teachers at the preschool I worked at were struggling to find age appropriate books to read to the kids who all knew about my illness and absence in varying degrees. It seemed like there was a lot for older children, but not much to support my little ones who were just starting to learn about life and death, and simply wondering about Mrs Clark. I too could find nothing for Nyah and remember thinking how much easier our little discussion about heaven would have been had we had a book to read. Heaven and connections with loved ones after death are very abstract concepts for such a tender age. Robyn, my beautiful colleague, made the suggestion that began it all…‘you need to write your own book’. I remember trying to throw the thought away when she first mentioned it, but it sat in the back of my mind for quite some time. It made sense. As a teacher I knew what made a good children’s book, and there seemed to be a real need here. I had a very strong urge to fill that gap, so that I could help a little one in the way that I couldn’t help Nyah. So, I decided to do it. I started to write our story, filling the many long hours sitting in the chemo chairs. With no internet service and not being able to hold a book due to cannulas, it was the best way for me to pass the time. My words are simple, things that Nyah has said or experienced herself. Sometimes though, these are the hardest words to write. I spent many, many hours mulling over this word and that to make sure it expressed exactly what I was hoping it would. I am so proud of the story we have captured. It is our personal journey, but also echo’s the journey of others touched by cancer. It is my hope that any child who faces a similar situation could pick up our book and find comfort in its words.
Once I’d finished my story, I remember showing Ben and Kirra. They told me that it was something special. My intention in those initial stages was to throw it together with some nice sketches and print two copies, one for Nyah and one for the preschool. Laura was my immediate thought when I considered illustrations. She has always been artistically gifted, with me the annoying friend that was always pestering her to draw me something. I have many of her beautiful sketches and drawings from across the years. Asking Bronwyn to edit and help me publish the book was also a natural extension. Bron had recently finished a graphic design course, has always had a wonderful way with words, and loves to create and organise. At our first ‘book meeting’ (at a little café on Darby Street) they read my story and emotionally jumped on board to make it happen for Nyah. We blocked out pages and talked about illustrations. A few weeks later, Laura sent me this:
And I knew. I knew that this wasn’t going to be some little home job like she and I used to do in primary school for fun. We were actually going to create something special. I think the fact that Bronwyn, Laura and I know each other’s hearts so well made the task all the more easier. When we first talked about the pictures being imperfect, raw and light, I imagined what they would be. Yet when Laura sent me that first sketch, it surpassed anything I ever expected. Her pictures are breathtaking. She pulled them straight from my head and heart, and beautifully captured our family (yet somehow made it everyone else’s family too). She has personalised so much; Dr N’s broach, my hair, Nyah, – and Dear Reader, I think you will agree that they are something special. Once we had all the sketches, Laura’s husband Zane digitally coloured them. He is an incredibly gifted tattooist and artist. I love how he has used colour to enhance the pictures – how light, soft and pretty they are. Once again this was a case of the actual end result surpassing anything I could have imagined. Nyah has a special page inside too. You’ll get a glimpse of what her heaven looks like in a beautiful illustration that features me in a crown with pigtails. It’s pretty special. The pictures are the perfect extension of my words and I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
Once we had all our illustrations, Bronwyn worked her magic and actually pieced everything together. She has worked tirelessly in the background emailing, coordinating with the printer and organising everything so that purchasing, printing and postage runs smoothly. She has been the one to turn it from just a few (amazing!) words and pictures, into a proper, professional children’s book, just like any other you would find in the store. Better actually. I remember being again surprised when she sent me the first layout thinking ‘this is actually a book!!!’. I think it was at this stage that I began to hope for more – to think that perhaps this was something we could actually get published, and that it may make a difference for many children rather than just those in LyndseyLand. We tried sending out the text to a couple of publishers but didn’t really get any response or feedback. So we decided that we would just publish it ourselves and then continue to send it round to publishing companies as a complete package. We chose the cute little rectangular hardcover, perfect for little hands, and ordered our very first copy! This was a fairly epic moment, but actually holding it in my hands and seeing our dream become a reality is a moment I will never forget. You never saw a bigger tick against a bucket list dream. I couldn’t help myself, I had to show a few people. I couldn’t keep it in any longer and the feedback has been so wonderful. Already, so many people have pre-booked copies and I hope that it does get picked up and published one day. BUT, if it only ever makes it as far as my bookshelf and the preschool’s, I’m happy. I’m so proud of what we have achieved. I feel like Mufasa in the Lion King, holding up our book and shouting to the world, “WE MADE THIS”. Already it has achieved what I hoped for Nyah. I read it to her and she couldn’t quite get over the fact that HER picture and name was in a book. We had a great chat about heaven and death and it gave her the words to voice some of the anxieties she has been struggling with of late. She spent the afternoon snuggling in bed, reading it quietly to herself and pouring over the pictures, picking out and noticing all the little personalisation’s and things from her life.
From the moment we started, I never wanted to make money from our story. Our focus was always on helping children better understand the journey of terminal cancer. To give them the space to explore the emotions behind loosing a loved one and the more abstract thoughts of heaven and love after death. We searched for quite some time for a charity to donate all the profits to. I was quite specific in wanting one that was focused on supporting the whole family. I was tickled pink to learn of the OTIS Foundation – a Victoria / New South Wales based charity that provides no cost retreat escapes for families affected by breast cancer. These escapes are priceless. I know the impact that such a gift can have on families, when there isn’t much to look forward to, and the stress of caring for a loved one becomes overwhelming. As soon as I chatted with the lovely women who run the foundation and showed them our book, I knew we had found the right place for our money. The printer kindly offered to print our book for $12, and we’ve decided to sell it for $20. That means that $8 from the sale of every book will be donated to the OTIS Foundation in Nyah’s name. Gosh I’m proud of this. So proud. It truly is wonderful to think that I will leave this legacy, and that Nyah is already experiencing the importance of giving. If you choose to purchase our book, know that your money will make a big difference. A while ago now, some beautiful new friends gifted us some money. I chose to keep it aside and will use it to print extra copies and donate them to a few special people including the preschool, the school, my doctor and the hospital. I cannot wait to proudly hand them over.
So Dear Reader, the only thing left to say is please consider supporting us by buying a copy of ‘My Mummy Has Cancer’.
I truly hope that you never have to read this to a young one because you’re facing the same journey as us. But if you do, I hope it provides you with comfort, hope and love, and makes that awful conversation about death just that little bit easier.