Breast Cancer and Romance

All the books in the Meadows Shore series end with either a happily-ever-after or a happily-for-now, and, are for the most part, light and fluffy entertainment. They won’t win a Pulitzer, and the great romance writers, such as Austen and Brontë, are in no danger of being dethroned, not by me anyway. They are pure fantasy, simply intended to sweep a reader away from the dull predictability and burdens of life for a brief time. They are meant to be read indulgently, on a Sunday evening curled in front of the fire, in a cavernous tub surrounded by exotic smelling bubbles, perhaps, even, on a glorious summer afternoon under the sprawl of an ancient oak while a gentle breeze skitters across the freshly-mowed lawn. Or more likely, if you’re like me, they are the distraction of choice, used to while away the countless hours spent waiting at the doctor’s office, car repair shop, and endless team practices.

I have a good sense of what my writing is, and what it isn’t, still, in every book, I can’t help myself from sneaking in a problem or two, the kind that impact non-fictional characters living in the real world. I hope, ever so humbly, that I might shed a ray of light over some issue that makes our human journey more perilous, weighing us down as we navigate life. They’re familiar issues, but I try to frame them in ways that we don’t normally think about. Domestic violence, learning disabilities, jobs that require you to sell your soul, secrets, adultery, PTSD, unplanned pregnancy, drug-abuse, and mental illness, either have, or will, make an appearance in the series. In Petite Madeleine, it’s cancer that rears its ugly head. The heroine, Cassie, is a young breast cancer survivor.

In my opinion, even the writers of mindless fiction have a responsibility to tell their characters’ stories in, well, a responsible way. Easier said than done. Cassie is one of the more challenging characters I’ve written, keeping me up at night worrying that I’ve done her, and all other survivors, justice.

Every breast cancer survivor, for that matter every survivor, has a unique story to tell. While there may be some common element, like courage, every one is different. Quite honestly, it wouldn’t have been quite so difficult to have written the story of an older survivor, forty, fifty, even that of a sixty-year-old. I could have written those stories without laying awake at night. We all know those stories, they’re no less tragic, but they are achingly familiar, because even if cancer hasn’t ravaged our own bodies, it has taken a toll on our mothers, aunts, sisters and friends. No one is immune, and most of us know cancer well, more intimately than we’d like.

But what about a twenty-one-year-old survivor on the threshold of adulthood? Still struggling with body image, her sexuality just beginning to mature, and her identity just starting to take shape. One without a steady partner, compelled to explain scars and the effects of potent cancer treatments to every new boyfriend. Forced to think about death, when her life is just beginning. It’s painful to think about.

Petite Madeleine isn’t a biographical sketch of a young woman’s battle for life, it’s a romance, a second-chance-at-love romance, and there’s a hero to be considered, too. He’s a good guy with real emotions and fears; at least that’s how I meant to write him. How does he feel about all of this?

For an answer, I went to my husband, a loving, caring man, a kind and decent human being, and a physician, for an honest male-perspective. I got much more than I bargained for on that day, and in an odd, and unexpected way, I learned a lot about our relationship, and the depth of his feelings for me. When I asked, he paused for a bit, and with some hesitation and more seriousness than I usually see in him, he answered: “You’d want to reassure her that nothing has changed, when really everything has.”

It broke my heart to watch his pained expression, and to listen to what he had to say. He wasn’t talking about physical changes, but the terrifying changes that occur when mortality comes crashing down, threatening the life and the love you’d hoped would last long past twilight. This story barely touches on all we talked about, but some of the feelings are reflected in the book.

I have done my very best to write Cassie and Drew’s story in a way that honors and respects all survivors and those who love them. It became immensely personal along the way. More than anything, I wish I had the power to write away everyone’s problems, but I can only write hope. And I do hope, that when you read the story, you are left with a smile on your face and a belief that all things are possible.