What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.
What’s Next For My Life?™ Companion Journal for Cancer Patients
What to expect during treatment; who, when and what to tell people; how to reduce emotional stress; intimacy and sex; and how to communicate effectively about what is happening, are just a few of the topics explored in this visually compelling journal that features real world insight and advice from myself and other survivors, along with journaling prompts to promote healthy release of emotions while battling cancer.
This book was a true labor of love for my husband and I. The combination of my writing and his stunning visuals that engage the readers is unique among the types of information that patients normally receive. Because we both were so passionate about what the book should be, we had some tense moments but became closer during the experience of working together.
The book brings the common emotional challenges and concerns of diagnosis and treatment into the open in a way that is not available in the oncology healthcare community right now, and is receiving very positive feedback from patients, their loved ones, and healthcare professionals.
350 copies of the book have recently been distributed through major cancer centers and support organizations to newly diagnosed patients in south Florida through a grant from the Southeast Florida Cancer Collaborative via the Florida Department of Health. The book is also available for purchase by individuals and organizations.
Tell us something about yourself.
I’m from Texas and live in south Florida; have one grown son; am married to my soul mate; and worked in advertising and marketing before my breast cancer diagnosis at age 37 (I’m 51 now). About three years after my diagnosis, I had a spiritual awakening (or mid life crisis) and quit my job, parted amicably with my previous husband, and started my own company. I’ve never looked back over the last ten years.
I’ve been writing about recreating your life after cancer for the last four years, after playing with the idea since several years after my diagnosis. My articles have been published in national and regional magazines, and on websites; I have my own ezine, recently started my own blog and am becoming active in social media. I’ve also been featured in several magazines; on radio and TV shows; most recently I am on the cover of Breast Cancer Wellness Magazine’s August 2010 issue.
I started to truly heal when I was trained as a Reach to Recovery volunteer, about 18 months after my diagnosis. (Reach to Recovery is an American Cancer Society visitation program where breast cancer survivors visit newly diagnosed patients). This training was my first contact with other women who know what it was like to face cancer and death, and come out on the other side. Their strength, compassion and honesty opened my heart in a way I had never felt before. Suddenly, I wasn’t alone with my cancer anymore; I had a family of women who understood all the big and little things that I was struggling with. They told me I could get prosthesis to fill up the empty hole in my bra. They showed me that my frustration with going back to my old life was OK. And mostly, they gave me the courage to say “no” to negativity and “yes” to choosing a happy, joyful future on my own terms.
Over the next year I visited 3-5 newly diagnosed women each week. Every time I met with them I could see their faces light up when their eyes inevitably went to my chest and my smile. When we met they were fearful, lonely and afraid. Who wouldn’t be? Their normal life had suddenly been stripped away. When I left we were hugging each other and they had hope because if I got through this they could too. I became stronger and more confident myself every time I was able to help one of these women. I was beginning to thrive.
This work, along with other volunteer leadership roles led to the American Cancer Society as my largest client, where I managed childhood cancer initiatives, including a scholarship program, educational conferences for parents and families, and a wonderfully inspiring camp for childhood oncology patients. From there, I found my new calling in life coaching, received top notch training and certification, and developed workshops for patients and survivors that are now offered in cancer treatment centers and support organizations.
What inspired you to write this book?
It took me three years after my own diagnosis to get my life back and my work with the ACS brought me into contact with so many people who had the same challenges I did. I realized that the roller coaster emotions that seem so challenging are normal, and that the vast majority of survivors want to change their lives instead of going back to who they were before. The time of diagnosis and end of treatment were repeatedly sited as the “worst” moments of the experience and I felt called to help. After all, if I could recreate my life so could they. They just needed the inspiration and tools to do it. I felt I was uniquely qualified to do this powerful work, and I love it!
How did you choose the title?
Throughout the challenges I went through I kept wondering “what’s next for my life?” The patients and survivors I worked with always asked the same question. We really do wonder what’s next after facing the possibility of death. It was so resonate with me and everyone else that I chose it for my company, and the book.
What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?
The biggest obstacles were: 1) Bring a whole new concept into the medical community. 2) Getting funding, as I had decided to self publish. I had shared the idea for a book that talked about the emotional challenges with a few colleagues, who liked the idea but really couldn’t picture what it would be or how it would work. One social worker in particular was really enthusiastic about the idea. The universe smiled on me when the same person, who was the chairperson of the Southeast Florida Cancer Control Collaborate called me from a leadership meeting and said, “We have grant money we have to spend. How many of your books can we get for this amount of money? And we need them by April.” Once the book was unveiled for this group of about 50 oncology organizations, they saw the potential and really got behind it.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?
I love books and reading, and always dreamed of writing a book. It wasn’t until after my cancer experience that I felt compelled to share my own knowledge and experience. I never dreamed my first book would be an educational tool that could have so much impact on people when they need it most.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I block time in my schedule regularly for writing. And when I start I ask my higher power what I am meant to say. This gets me started. When I got word of the funding the book was and outline with a few chapters drafted. My deadline forced me to shut down a lot of my other activities for about 2 months and focus on it exclusively.
How do you come up with the names for your characters?
I used real people who shared what they wish they had known when they went through cancer. I got the information by asking for it, and using a query service for authors called HARO.
Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?
Educate yourself or work with a writing consultant or coach when you decide to write a book; don’t wait until it is done. Start promoting when your book is an idea, not a finished product. Belief that others can learn from your own experiences and story. Imparting information isn’t enough; people need to know who you are and what you feel. Authenticity is incredibly resonant with readers.
If you were doing it all over again, what would you do differently?
Work hard to generate interest in the book before it is published.
What types of books do you like to read?
I read tons of popular fiction that I get at the library. And I really like historical fiction. I also love autobiographies. Who are your favorite authors? Jean Auel, Nora Roberts, Patricia Cornwall and many others. Why? I love authors who can paint a picture and weave a spell that makes you unable to put the book down. And I love immersing myself in picture of what life is/was like for different times and cultures.
Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
This book will focus on the second part of the cancer challenge, recreating your life after treatment ends. It will also be filled with inspiration from many survivors, and stories of the choices others made and why. It will definitely include prompts for self exploration and tools you can use to actually make changes.
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?
Follow your passion and risk putting yourself out there for something you believe in! If I can do it anyone can. Also, work with a professional book consultant or coach. Mine was and still is invaluable to me. (Shelley Lieber, The Wordy Woman!)
Who is the perfect reader for your book?
Someone who is newly diagnosed with cancer, is going through treatment, or someone who wants to help someone in that position. Most of us don’t know what to say or do, and can make assumptions that aren’t real or withdraw. This book teaches anyone how to support themselves or someone they love. One in four people are touched by cancer in their lifetime. This book offers hope, info you can use, and improves quality of life during this incredibly challenging time.
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
My website, www.WhatsNextForMyLife.com, offers a sneak peak and purchase information on the Services/Products page. They can also access the Companion Journal page of my blog from the site. I have personal Linked In and Facebook pages under Paula Holland De Long; a What’s Next for My Life? Facebook fan page, and am on Twitter as WhatsNxt4MyLife.