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Guest Post - Gigi PandianAugust 6, 2013

Gigi is one of my sweetest and smartest writer friends, and I adore her. She's a member of PensFatales, and I'm more than honored to host her (and a giveaway!) today at Yarnagogo.

 

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10 Good Things That Wouldn’t Have Happened Without A Cancer Diagnosis -- Including Having My New Book Out Today!

By Gigi Pandian

 I received the news the month after my 36th birthday. Aggressive breast cancer. In the midst of a flurry of surgeries and treatments, something unexpected happened. It’s been two years and two months since my diagnosis -- and my life is even more amazing than I ever imagined before being diagnosed with cancer. And today, it’s even better still: my mystery novel, Artifact, comes out from Henery Press.

It’s crazy, but cancer has a way of making you see the things that are important in life with crystal clear precision. I’m incredibly fortunate that my cancer was caught early and my treatments were successful. But I’m also living with a very high risk of recurrence – which serves as a daily reminder to live life to the fullest.

This wasn’t how my life was supposed to go. I was hard at work writing mystery novels, was thrilled to have found a wonderful tribe of writers, and had recently gotten married and bought a house. Within one day, my worries no longer included fitting in a café writing date into my work schedule or whether I should accept a freelance design gig. Instead, my life was overwhelmed with learning about surgeons, tumors, and chemotherapy drugs, and when I left the house it wasn’t to go on a photo shoot but to go to the hospital.

As soon as the shock wore off, I knew I wasn’t doing to lie on the couch feeling sorry for myself (although watching Murder She Wrote and Matlock can be pretty damn great when recovering from a chemo session). My immune system was so shot that I couldn’t have visitors, so I was set up to work from home. When I wasn’t working, I needed a project to focus on or I knew I’d go crazy.

My agent had been pitching my first novel to publishers, but publishing moves SLOWLY. Since the book had already received accolades, I knew it was ready to be out in the world. I’d never previously considered self-publishing, but cancer showed me what I wanted out of my writing: to have fun crafting stories (done), find a circle of fantastic writer friends (done), and to share my stories with the world -- that unfulfilled last item was what I decided to pursue during my full year of cancer treatments.

As soon as I made that decision, everything fell into place. By the end of my year of treatments, I had a stronger bond with my friends and loved ones, was holding my published mystery novel in my hands, and was feeling healthier than ever. And one year later, I’m going strong and have a 3-book deal from a wonderful publisher.

I would never wish cancer on anyone, but if you’re dealt a lousy hand you might as well turn it on its head and make the best of it.

Here are 10 things that wouldn’t have happened without my diagnosis:

1. Getting my priorities straight. Friends, family, and fulfillment. I used to worry about things that now seem stupid and irrelevant. Let me tell you: it’s not worth it.

Here’s a picture of my amazing writers group, the Pens Fatales – that’s me and Rachael in the front row. We hardly ever manage to get the whole group together. The event that made everyone make the effort to get together at the same time was my cancer diagnosis. Right before this photo was taken, they took me wig shopping to make buying a chemo wig a fun rather than depressing shopping excursion!

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2. Going on those trips I was putting off. London, Lisbon, Paris, and Prague. I’ve always been a traveler, but as life got busier I traveled less and less. No more. If I want to go somewhere, I’m planning and making it work. It’s not always easy, but it’s so worth it.

 3. Savoring the small things. A walk through the foggy hills. A great cup of coffee. Laughing at a bad TV show with the husband. I no longer take these things for granted. (OK, maybe I occasionally forget and take things for granted, but then I slap myself and remember to savor them!)

 4. Learning to cook. It’s so much easier than I thought it would be! Over the course of a year, small steps added up into being someone who cooks delicious homemade meals every day. Gigi3

 5. Taking care of my body. Aside from a few side effects that remind me I survived breast cancer, I’m feeling healthier than ever, because I’m taking care of myself. I adore green smoothies! They’re seriously much more delicious than you’d imagine if you’ve never tried one.

 6. Creating a publishing plan. I’d been a bit aimless with my writing before cancer. I’d joined writers groups and found an agent, but I hadn’t learned more about publishing itself. But if I’m going to take on a project, I’m going to do it right. Chemo was an excuse to do things slowly, but not do things poorly. Because I formed my own imprint and followed all the steps of traditional publishing, I was treated professionally and received reviews including several that compare my writing to that of my favorite author, Elizabeth Peters, and are incredibly meaningful to me. (You can read more self-publishing details here, if you’re interested in what goes into it.)

 7. Holding my mystery novel in my hands. Such a thrill! I expect this would have happened someday, but because of taking action, I got to hold my book in my hands the month I was done with cancer treatments.  

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 8. Being surrounded by dozens of friends at my book launch party. Independent bookstore A Great Good Place for Books hosted my book launch party. I served whisky from the region of the Highlands of Scotland where the Artifact takes place, and throughout the evening fifty people stopped by the cozy Oakland bookstore. I’m glad I took pictures, because the evening was such a blur -- mostly because of seeing so many friends, not the whisky! 

9Receiving book blurb from one of my all-time favorite authors. The reason this is something that wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for my diagnosis is because I would never have had the courage to ask for this if I hadn’t decided to live with no fear.

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I emailed mystery novelist Aaron Elkins, who I had never met but whose books I’ve loved since I was a teenager, to ask for a book blurb. I knew he rarely read books by new authors, but I figured I had nothing to lose. I was surprised that he both agreed to check out the book and gave me an amazing blurb! Before the book was out, I already felt like I’d made it. It had a cascading effect. Because I’d introduced myself, we got to know each other and I had the opportunity to step in to conduct his Lifetime Achievement Award interview at the Malice Domestic mystery convention.  

 10. Signing a 3-book deal for my Jaya Jones treasure hunt mystery series. Because of everything I’d done to with my book, I attracted the attention of a publisher who was excited about the whole series. I’m ecstatic to have signed with such a great publisher and have more time to write. 

My takeaway is to remember to live like you’re dying. Don’t put things off. Turn “someday” into today. What have you always wanted to do? Do it. Yes, it’s tough. But it’s worth it.

Leave a comment below about something you’ve always wanted to do and we’ll enter you to win a copy of Artifact.

Artifact: A Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery

Historian Jaya Jones discovers the secrets of a lost Indian treasure may be hidden in a Scottish legend from the days of the British Raj. But she’s not the only one on the trail.

From San Francisco to London to the Highlands of Scotland, Jaya must evade a shadowy stalker as she follows hints from the hastily scrawled note of her dead lover to a remote archaeological dig. Helping her decipher the cryptic clues are her magician best friend, a devastatingly handsome art historian with something to hide, and a charming archaeologist running for his life.

More information: http://gigipandian.com/books-stories/

Gigi Pandian is the child of cultural anthropologists from New Mexico and the southern tip of India. After being dragged around the world during her childhood, she tried to escape her fate when she left a PhD program in favor of art school. But adventurous academic characters wouldn’t stay out of her head. Thus was born the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery series. Find Gigi online at www.gigipandian.com (or Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest …)

Sign up for Gigi’s email newsletter to receive a free, exclusive Halloween-themed short story in the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Series this October: http://gigipandian.com/newsletter/

Comments

Wow, all so very true. Since my cancer diagnosis, I, too, have experienced the "perspective" side effect. My goal is to have as much fun and as many unique experiences as possible in the time I have left, and to leave my loved ones with a boatload of good memories.

As a big fan of Elizabeth Peters, I am very interested in this book and series. Looking forward to reading it. Thank you, Rachael for bringing it to my attention.

This is the third time I have written this comment. Just as I am about to push thepost button Feedly makes it disappear and I start over. Imagine this to be a much lovlier message than the abbreviated one it has become.
I had some sort of brain scramble 14 years ago and spent ten days in the hospital while they tried to figure out what happened and whether or not to do brain surgery. At the beginning I had trouble concentrating long enough to understand a conversation. I wasn't able to read a book for over a year, which wasn't me.
As we left the hospital we drove by a field of yellow mustard in full bloom. The color was so vivid I remember it 14 years later. That was the beginning of noticing the small wonders around me. As life is a long series of choices, I started choosing to ditch the business and to savor the moments that I enjoy. Housework? Not so much. Petting dogs? You bet. Knitting? Reading? Spending time with good friends and family? You betcha. I do clean house when I decide it needs it, but not because it is Tuesday or whatever. I like to stand at the pasture fence and watch the setting sun make the leaves turn unusual colors and throw shadows on the side of the house. The smell of the laundry dried on a clothesline is another small blessing.
At work I became a master at prioitizing and have kept that up in all areas of my life. When things start to get crazymaking I am able to instantly jettison the less importantand not feel guilty about it.
Amelia Peabody is one of my favorite characters. What a hoot! I am a big mystery fan.

Glad your cancer story has a happy ending. I don't have too many things I've always to do and haven't. I would like to visit Antarctica. One of these days...

There are a few things I'd really like to do, and they're mostly arts-related: take ballet lessons, learn to play piano, or play flute because I want to (not because I was pushed by my teachers).

I'd also really like to spend the rest of my life with the man of my dreams, but since we're getting married next month I think I can stop worrying about that one :)

There are lots of things I would love to do, but I guess at the top of the list would be to visit Ireland and see the places my ancestors came from (with a side trip to Paris, which I adore). A more manageable goal would be to take a glass-blowing class.

Congrats on learning to relish life. It is a wonderful skill, and one that I'm happy I learned a long time ago.

Something I've wanted to do for 27 years is move back to California. My Dad was in the Navy, so I only lived in San Diego for 7 years. I have now lived in PA for 27, but miss California all the time.

Gigi - thank you for this post!

Congratulations on many things, Gigi! First, for beating cancer and second for your book publication. Wishing you the best for the future in everything you do. Rachael is a very special person and I truly wish I could meet her someday. She is an inspiration to me. I am sending you a big hug and a big WOW!

Congratulations on beating cancer! I'm so happy you're now doing those things that we all know we should do but never get around to doing.

I'd like to someday go to Norway and Sweden to visit the textile museums and visit family.

I've always wanted to take a tour of England, Scotland and Ireland and visit all the knitting shops. Sadly finances and losing 2 loved ones to that awful cancer, including my wonderful hubby of 34 years has made the trip only a dream. Maybe someday.....

Oh, how wonderful... and The Highlands! My daughter leaves in a month to live/go to school at the University of Edinburgh. I hope to get over there again!!

I've always wanted to open a shop.

Two things I would love to do: See the night sky while in the middle of nowhere so I can see the astounding number of stars again. Help people with limited income manage their money.

I read Gigi's blog and am so excited about her book deal!

What an inspiring post. Thanks for that, Gigi!

As for what I've always wanted to do--visit a Swiss Alpine meadow when all the wildflowers are in bloom.

this is a wonderful post ... it is nice to read/hear about someone who has not only survived something that was incredibly hard but has come through it with such a positive attitude, perspective, set of lessons learned, and a book deal (I just saw your book pop up on the Criminal Element newsletter by the way.

my own story is that I had a tumor that was benign when I was 10 and it feels like for a number of years it made my mother very wareful about letting me do things (understandable on one hand but not so much in hindsight since I didn't get sick doing anything it just happened) and one of the consequences I think of her fears is that they limited my confidence and kept me from doing things that I would have enjoyed. She might argue that point but I think it is a difference in perspectives and what you intend to convey vs what you convey. ANYWAY, one of the things that I've always loved to do is travel and it isn't something that I do as much as I'd like. My husband is in the Coast Guard so we move every couple of years so that fulfills my domestic wanderlust a bit but we haven't ventured further afield yet. I think our current plans include going to Australia/New Zealand one of these days as well as to Great Britain. There is one adventure that comes before the travel though that is also something I have always wanted to do and that is to become a parent ... and our son is due to arrive any day now. So as his mother what I would love to do is instill in him a love of travel and sense of adventure and the valuing of experiences over stuff.

I've always wanted to visit Newfoundland.

Thank you, everyone, for sharing your own stories here in the comments. I hope you make it on those trips you're dreaming of.

Sandy, Lindsey, Eve -- Though I wouldn't wish a scary health diagnosis on anyone, it can definitely be a blessing in disguise.

And I'm so happy to see so many fellow Elizabeth Peters fans here! She's the reason so many of us mystery writers decided to try our hand at writing mysteries.

Thanks for the introduction to Gigi and her work - as another fan of Elizabeth Peters and Aaron Elkins, I'm really excited to learn about someone who is inspired by them!

I've always wanted to travel more: I'd love to see Iceland and Scandinavia, and spend more time in Italy and Greece and Germany.

This is so amazing- I ordered Artifact(which I read and loved) a long time ago. I think someone may have told me about it at the Malice Domestic conference in 2012, but I had no idea the full journey you had to take to get to your debut mystery. I look at your book now-which, yeah, is kind of now worse for wear having schlepped it to play grounds and practices etc.- as a tangible symbol of what determination and talent can create.
So... long story short- I don't need the book, but I know that I would like to thank you.

Your words are very inspirational. After watching both my husband and my step-daughter go through cancer treatment I'm not sure I would be brave enough to do it. One just doesn't know until they are there.

I admire your positive attitude and I respect Rachael's opinion so I will look forward to reading your books.

Congratulations on getting your priorities in line and writing about them so beautifully! I'd love to read your book - and I hope you have many more books published!

I'm not a writer, but maybe I could be. I'm not a designer...yet. I spend too much time sitting and watching tv, thinking my ideas aren't "good enough". I'm 35 - it could be me next year. Thank you for your message, and the inspiration to actually do something instead of only thinking about it. And your books sound so good! I'm another fan of Elizabeth Peters, so I'll be looking for them!

When I was 19, I went Ireland with a church group. While there I realized two things. One, I am not cut out to be the churchgoing Baptist I was raised to be. Two, I belong there. I've been wanting to get back there as an adult ever since.

Sarah -- I'm so happy to hear you enjoyed Artifact! Thanks for your note.

Marcy -- I never knew I had the strength until I had to have it. But I couldn't have done it without my family and friends.

And I'm happy to see even more Elizabeth Peters fans -- as the world should be ;)

All of your travel ideas are making me itch for my next trip...

Thank you for having the courage to share your story. Your accomplishments are amazing and inspiring to me. Especially with all that you’ve been through and done in such a short time. Thank you for taking risks. You should feel proud of what you’ve done.
My life crumbled in December when all in one week I was diagnosed with precancerous cells, pre-diabetes, got in a car accident and totaled my car on way to a craft show, and then my parent’s house which I was watching while they were in Texas for the winter had a flood, and-to top it all off- I had to drive across the country to my brother’s wedding and had a bladder infection. I was completely overwhelmed and a wreck. I made several small changes in my lifestyle; started walking and gave up the nectar of the gods-Mountain Dew. I made the decision to be proactive and have the cells removed. Yesterday, I celebrated my 5th month since surgery to remove the cells. I'm feeling much better. I made some small goals for my craft business and choices about life perspectives that have made life a bit easier.
I know what I’ve been through is just a drop in the bucket compared to yours and many survivors’ stories. It has given me strength to know that others gone on to do wonderful things great and small. Hearing your story and other women’s who have been through similar things gives me hope. Hope you have many more great tales to tell.

Hi Gigi -- We met at Bouchercon in Cleveland (librarians' lunch) last October and I was so impressed by your joie de vivre! I'm glad to see you're doing well.

We tried but were not able to order ARTIFACT for the library then (some weird Amazon snafu), so I'm very pleased Henery Press is re-issuing, and has signed you up for more Jaya Jones adventures. As soon as I push 'post' I'll be writing up the order cards.

Like you, I've always wanted to learn to cook. I've taken classes, but it just hasn't clicked yet ~

One of the reasons I love Rachael's blog is because of the great community she's got here. Thank you so much for sharing your own personal stories in the comments this week!

And Lynne -- I'm sorry you had trouble ordering ARTIFACT before, but so happy to have met you and that you found this post! And re: cooking, my tip is to start small. In a few months, things you thought were difficult will seem so easy that you'll wonderful how you ever thought otherwise.

Yay, Gigi! I'm so happy for you.

I'd love to live for a year in the south of France. Un jour, j'espère!

And, ladies, please start blogging again at Pens Fatales. I miss you all.

Walk across Scotland - will happen July, 2014
Learn to windsurf - Done
Swim with dolphins - Done
See more of Canada - in process

Thank you for the post - appreciate a jolt to put things into perspective.

My dream is to be an opera singer. But not just any opera singer, I want to be the one everyone wants, the next Renee Fleming.

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Rachael loves it when book clubs read her work! She's happy to attend book clubs that read her books either in person or via Skype. Contact her at rachael@rachaelherron.com to make arrangements.

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