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.
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!
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!)
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.
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!
9. Receiving 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.
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/.