Discovering the Life I Was Meant to Live
by Amelia Frahm
“You’ll get over it, and one day you’ll wake up in the morning, and cancer won’t be the first thing you think about,” said the woman on the phone.
“Lady, I’m not ever getting over this!” I thought to myself.
Cancer is no longer the first thing that comes to my mind upon waking, but it likes to remind me that it could be. That is why, despite the butterflies in the pit of my stomach when I’m speaking to audiences, I continue to advocate for cancer awareness. It has been the scary, awful, heart-wrenching blips in my life – like my cancer diagnosis – that have motivated me to quit wasting whatever time I have left and to do something meaningful with it.
This past February marked 23 years since I lay in the heated comfort of my waterbed, talking on a landline to the well-meaning breast cancer survivor my surgeon had asked to call me. In 1994, my “something meaningful” was having the energy to roll out of the bed and take my children to the McDonald’s playground. At age 34, I had all sorts of things I still wanted to do with my life. But the thing I wanted most was to watch my two- and four-year-old children grow up.
It was that uncertainty that led to my tempestuous journey to becoming an author, publisher, advocate, and National Cancer Survivor’s Day speaker. What I thought I wanted to do with my life and what I was meant to do were often at odds. Establishing a micropublishing company and producing a children’s book, which, due to its topic, wouldn’t be touched by large publishing houses staffed by people more knowledgeable than I, was not even my pipe dream. All I intended to do was write a story for and about my own family to help explain what we were going through and, God forbid, if I didn’t make it, to remind my children how much I loved them.
My cancer diagnosis set me on course for a career I never planned, and even prepared me for the nausea that came with it.
My cancer diagnosis set me on course for a career I never planned, and even prepared me for the nausea that came with it. However, that preparation didn’t stop the devastation I experienced when a critic told me she felt sorry for the children in my cancer story because the mother in it (a nicer version of me) was just so mean.
That rough draft was an honest depiction of the depression and emotional mood swings that children often witness when a parent is diagnosed with cancer. In 1994, those things were not being talked about aloud, much less written about in a children’s book.
This journey has taken me through mountainous highs and hellacious lows. For example, in October 2001, the producers of the Rosie O’Donnell Show invited me to appear on the show during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. For any author, let alone a first-time, unknown author like myself, it was equivalent to winning the lottery. However, just a few days later, an anthrax scare forced the studio to cancel my appearance. But not before newspapers all across the country had printed a press release about my upcoming television debut. Once again, it was like I had won the lottery, only this time it felt more like the one depicted in the Shirley Jackson short story I remember reading in high school English class.
Fortunately, the books I had sent ahead did not get tossed due to fears of anthrax contamination. After seven years of recovery, denial, personal loss, and both public and private rejection, the release of my children’s book, Tickles Tabitha’s Cancer-tankerous Mommy, was announced on the nationally syndicated Rosie O’Donnell Show. My career, pioneering resources for children of cancer-stricken parents, was launched.
There are moments in all our lives that can be painful and humiliating, but as a cancer survivor, I’ve come to realize those moments are the ones we look back on, appreciate most, and sometimes even laugh about. The truth is the things that go wrong are what make life most interesting.
Nope, I didn’t get the life or career I thought I wanted, but I got the one I was meant to live. It’s not always perfect, but it sure is interesting.
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Amelia Frahm is an author known for taking contentious, difficult topics and putting them in a format children of all ages understand and find interesting. Along with Tickles Tabitha’s Cancer-tankerous Mommy, she’s also the creator of the Crack Open a Book! cancer education school program curriculum. You can learn more about Amelia at NutcrackerPublishing.com or ameliafrahm.blogspot.com.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2017.