List Post: juin 2017 (June)

Not exactly a list, but…

Here’s an update:

On June 1, I hosted my neighborhood’s Book Club meeting. The book we chose to read and discuss? My latest suspense novel, DADDY’S GIRL.

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We talked about my other books, too, including my creative nonfiction book ALL THE ABOVE: MY SON’S BATTLE WITH BRAIN CANCER. Many of my neighbors had known Jack since he was a little boy (he was 9 when we moved in), and they were touched by his story.

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Book club members holding my novels UNDERWATER and DADDY’S GIRL, nonfiction ALL THE ABOVE, and of course…wine.

I was thrilled to see everyone that night. Although these are the only photos we took, there were about 18 people at the meeting. I’ve been hit or miss lately at our meetings, but I’m always interested in what we select to read. I like to read multiple genres, and luckily, the book club does, too.

We talked about my novel, and members were also very interested in my writing process, my path to publication, and what it’s like to work with an editor. Just the kinds of things I like to talk about! We drank wine, munched on appetizers, and enjoyed catching up when we weren’t talking books.

I’d love to be a guest at YOUR book club anytime, in person or via Skype. Just let me know when!

Two nights later, I attended the 53rd Annual Georgia Author of the Year Awards banquet. DADDY’S GIRL was a Nominee in the Mystery/Detective category (the best fit, since there isn’t a Thriller/Suspense category, too). There were over a dozen Nominees in the category, and though it didn’t win, I was thrilled to be there and to be nominated. It was wonderful to be among writers of many genres and watch as a Winner and a Finalist were chosen in each group.

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Here I am at the banquet with my friend, author Liz Lazarus, a Nominee in the First Novel category

What else is planned for June? Basically, writing (book 5). So far, it’s unnamed, but the characters are in serious development, and the scenes are coming together. Stay tuned.

 

How 3 decisions impacted my son’s journey with cancer

“Cancer, like a cruel master, forces you to stand up and keep walking when all you want to do is stay down and hide.”

You won’t find those words in the pages of my book, ALL THE ABOVE: My Son’s Battle with Brain Cancer. Instead, you can find them in an Amazon review, written by a stranger who knew neither me nor my son, yet understood our struggle all the same.

Seven years and three days ago was my son Jack’s 19th birthday. It was a Saturday, and the first day of summer vacation after his freshman year at UGA. It was also the day he learned he had a brain tumor, and our world was forever changed.

During final exams the week before, Jack had experienced blurry vision. I thought he was just overtired, or could have been using too many allergy drops. At his request, I planned to get him an appointment with our optometrist the next week.

But that Saturday morning, his eyes were crossed and he didn’t seem to know it. I called my next door neighbor, our eye doctor and a friend, and she saw him immediately.

After examining Jack, she spoke to my husband and me in private. In a trembling voice, she told us Jack either had meningitis, extremely high blood pressure, or a brain tumor.

He’d had the meningitis vaccine, so I prayed it was “only” high blood pressure. But my prayer went unanswered. Hours later, after an exhaustive exam by an ophthalmologist on call, followed by an MRI at Northside Hospital, a neurosurgeon broke the news. Just behind his optic nerves, a tumor was wreaking havoc on Jack’s eyesight and damaging his retinas.

Stunned, the three of us listened as the doctor explained that Jack needed emergency surgery that night, not to remove the tumor, but to place a shunt in his brain to save his vision. Without it, he would be blind within days.

Jack signed the consent forms and a hastily written advance directive. The surgery was successful, and his vision started improving almost immediately. He came home the next day with a big bandage on and staples in his head. Over the next few weeks, as he recovered, we contacted a handful of top neurosurgeons around the country, and began figuring out what to do.

What happened over the next six months is chronicled in my book. Although it’s a true story, it isn’t merely a retelling of facts, interspersed with doctors’ notes and records. It’s about the way Jack handled his illness, and what our family did to try to help him. Written from my point of view, it describes my emotional struggle when cancer forced my teenage son to stand up and walk, as death stared him in the face.

At the beginning of his journey, Jack made three decisions, all of which would serve to help both of us over the coming months.

First: To stop asking himself, God, or anyone why he had a brain tumor. The doctor had said that no one knew why he had it. He could have been born with it. He could have developed it over time. Instead of casting blame, Jack focused all of his energy on getting better, and on doing whatever he had to do to get well.

That night – and almost every night that summer – Jack and I talked alone in his room before he went to sleep. We didn’t always talk about his illness. But we did when he wanted to, and he shared his feelings with me, and leaned on me emotionally.

But during those first few days, he kept what was going on in his life private. He didn’t want to tell his grandparents, or anyone in our large extended family yet. Dennis and I respected his wishes, and his right to drive the flow of information to family and friends – and not until he was ready to do so.

Choosing not to ask why – not to blame anyone or anything – was key to helping Jack move forward. It also influenced his decision to keep matters private at first. Shock was just beginning to wear off, and the last thing he needed were questions about the cause of his tumor – questions he couldn’t answer.

Second, Jack chose to not feel sorry for himself. He didn’t want anyone’s pity, saying it wouldn’t make him feel better, and might make him feel worse. After a few days, he told a few close friends and family members what was going on, but instead of dwelling on his situation, his strategy was to keep busy and not think about it.

As soon as he was able, he went to play basketball at the YMCA. In mid May, he began a 5-week drama camp internship that he had lined up in the spring. He volunteered at a comedy club, played golf, and went to a Braves game.

He also listened to what the doctors were telling him, about what he had to do to survive. He spoke on the phone with the neurosurgeons we reached out to, and absorbed what they said. After he made decisions about who to see and where to go – once Jack had a plan – he let more people know about his illness. But he still didn’t go public. He owned his journey and what was happening to him in the way that strengthened him, and used all his energy to fight the disease. He stayed positive and hopeful, and his courage was inspiring.

Third, Jack didn’t let others tell him how to feel. Just before his sophomore year at UGA, a radiation oncologist chastised him for being dismayed that he was going to lose his hair. Jack bristled at her words and seemed shaken. “Oh, come on,” she said to him, in front of me. “You’re a guy! You shouldn’t care if you lose your hair!”

Moments later, on our way home, he told me how much her cavalier attitude and judgment hurt. “She has no right to say if I should I care,” he said. “It doesn’t matter that I’m a guy. She has no idea how I feel, and she shouldn’t tell me how to feel.”

He was right. I was powerless to protect him from the insensitivity of others, but glad that he shared his reaction with me.

A quote at the beginning of Chapter 2 in ALL THE ABOVE sums up my own feelings that day, and almost every other day during Jack’s battle with cancer. It’s from a novel called A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith.

“It’s come at last,” she thought, “the time when you can no longer stand between your children and heartache.”

Jack’s story is one of triumph. He was one of the lucky ones. He survived brain cancer. Today he is 26, living and working in New York, and has been cancer free for over 6 years. He was glad I wrote ALL THE ABOVE and excited about its publication. When I finished writing it, I added one final quote on the page before Chapter 1. It’s a quote from Jack himself:

“Just try (not all at once, just step by step), to have hope. Resiliency is a wonderful thing. Sometimes something great happens when all feels lost.”

 

Pizza, Salad, and a Movie: Get Out

Last weekend’s Pizza Toppings at Corner Pizza:

  • Tomatoes
  • Jalapeños
  • Mushrooms

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It was a beautiful evening, so we sat outside on the patio. I had the V-8 salad (tomatoes + other fresh ingredients but no lettuce).

Movie:

Get Out

If you know anything about this film, you know it’s basically Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner meets horror film. I’m not a big fan of the latter, but the former is one of my all time favorite movies. I thought that film’s story was wonderful, and the acting was super.

Not so much with this movie. My husband liked it better than I did (and he is more okay with horror movies), and though I admit it was cleverly done, I don’t think it’s destined to be a classic. There was one scene in particular that truly horrified me, and – spoiler – it had to do with brain surgery. If you’ve read my third book, ALL THE ABOVE: MY SON’S BATTLE WITH BRAIN CANCER (or even if you haven’t yet) you’ll know why.

So, I came out of the theatre a bit shaken. But I guess that was the idea.

 

 

 

List Post, décembre 2016 + HOLIDAY POEM!

  1. Write my next novel
  2. Get ready for Christmas (at home, this year)
  3. Celebrate the holidays with family and friends
  4. And on Tuesday, December 13 – the Killer Nashville Facebook Page will host my guest blog.

I met KN blog coordinator Tom Wood back in September at the Decatur Book Festival, and he asked me to submit a post for later on…which I did, and Voilà!

I’d love for you to read it and Like it.

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Now, for this year’s verse:

My holiday poem, I’ll try to make short.

The year’s highlights, to you, I’ll describe and report.

Two thousand sixteen will be history soon,

and I’ve time to consider that, this afternoon.

I began the year busy with two new endeavors:

got on Facebook, and found it both easy and clever.

I started my newsletter also, and found

it a way to update you all – all the year ’round.

In the spring, my last book, Daddy’s Girl, was released

and my number of novels out, by one, increased.

In the summer, just after it won an award

My nonfiction book, All the Above, struck a chord

With the public, when I penned an article in

the Atlanta newspaper (called the AJC). Then,

in the fall, I attended three festivals where

I met readers and authors and others who share

in the interest of stories, both made-up and true.

I had fun, and ’twas hard, to them all, bid adieu.

I will close with my wishes of love and good cheer.

Joyeuses fêtes de Noel and a Happy New Year!

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Two women walk into a café…

…and stay for three hours (12:30 – 3:30) on Wednesday, December 7, 2016, to chat with customers and sign copies of their latest books!

Come to Crema Espresso Gourmet, 2458 Mt. Vernon Rd., Dunwoody, Georgia (across from All Saints Catholic Church) for lunch or coffee, and pick up Gelia Dolcimascolo’s fantasy novel, AURELIA AND THE LIBRARY OF THE SOUL, my suspense novel, DADDY’S GIRL, and my creative nonfiction, ALL THE ABOVE: MY SON’S BATTLE WITH BRAIN CANCER.

Books make great holiday gifts!

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Aurelia and the Library of the Soul is a must-have for kids and adults, and is destined to become a classic. A prize-winning poet, Gelia has been The Writers Circle facilitator and LTC writing tutor on the GSU-Dunwoody campus for 25 years. Learn more about Gelia and her work at geliawrites.com

Daddy’s Girl is just the thing for readers on your holiday shopping list (and you)! All the Above: My Son’s Battle with Brain Cancer, a Georgia Author of the Year Finalist, is perfect for moms, dads, and anyone whose world has changed in a day.

We hope to see you at Crema!

Love, Julia and Gelia

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Je vous présente Cooper’s Crew, that I met through CURE

Almost a month ago, I attended CURE Childhood Cancer‘s annual “Quiet Heroes” luncheon and silent auction in Atlanta, held at the Intercontinental Hotel in Buckhead. It was the 12th annual luncheon and my second time to be invited (last year was my first) by Executive Director Kristin Connor.

“Quiet Heroes” – honored at this event – are parents of childhood cancer patients, survivors, and children lost to the disease. My son Jack was diagnosed with and battled brain cancer at the age of 19. Because he was over 18, he was a legal adult, and had to sign all the consent (and other) forms during his treatment. But because he was under 21, he was termed pediatric, so he (technically) qualified as a “child” with cancer. We were told that was fortunate for him, and it was: he received care that was a little gentler and kinder than patients over 21 do. I was grateful for that, and I think he was, too.

On Jack’s 19th birthday, May 8, 2010, the unthinkable happened when he learned he had a brain tumor. But after an arduous and very difficult journey (chronicled in my book ALL THE ABOVE), he survived. He is now 25, 6 years cancer free, holds a Masters degree, and is working full time.

As he puts it, he was one of the “lucky” ones. His brain tumor, though rare, was the type with the highest cure rate. Other kids–many others–weren’t, or aren’t, as lucky. I met the mother of one of them as I was leaving this year’s luncheon.

Like last year, I had come alone to the event. I didn’t know anyone there (though I had met Kristin), but I was acquainted with Lynn Crow, fabulous Atlanta photographer, so I said hello to her. But as I walked around to view the auction items, I felt a kind of bond with the other moms–at least, with those going through what I did as Jack’s caregiver, and with those whose child had survived.

By happenstance, I met two women who weren’t actual “Quiet Heroes,” but who are involved in the event and in CURE: Joanne Hayes, Publisher and Founder of Simply Buckhead Magazine (and recently, 17th South Magazine), and Allison Palestrini, Principal at Type A Development. We chatted for a few minutes, and both were welcoming and kind.

I met some other moms at my table during lunch, and loved the program, which featured a panel of three very inspiring young cancer survivors. Afterward, like everyone else, I got ready to leave. Then in the Ladies’ room, as we both washed our hands, I met another woman named Theresa. She had come with her good friend Donna, whose son, Theresa told me, died two years ago, at age 14, of an extremely rare cancer called sarcoma. I told Theresa about Jack, and about how blessed I know we are that he made it.

A few minutes later, in front of the hotel, I ran into Theresa again. This time she was with Donna, and she introduced us. We three chatted as we waited for the valets to bring our cars, and I felt an instant like with both women. Have you every felt an instant dislike for someone? I have felt that way, a handful of other times over my lifetime. But (luckily) more often, I’ve felt an instant like.

Anyway, just when I thought I would see them both next year (or maybe, never again), one of them asked if I’d like to join them for a drink at a nearby restaurant. At first, I declined; I didn’t want to intrude on their time together. Then, one of them (I think it was Donna), said, “Are you sure? We can talk, and kind of decompress together.”

There she had me. It was only 2:00, anyway, and I didn’t have to be anywhere until 4:45. We decided to drive a few blocks up the road to Phipps Plaza and sit outside at the Tavern restaurant.

Boy, am I glad we did!

During the next two hours, we got to know each other a little better. Like me, they had gone to high school in the Atlanta area (I’m older, though), but not to the same one. They told me the story of how they met (at the beach, in their 20s), that they live in Suwanee, Georgia, and a lot about their lives and what they do. I felt an even stronger connection as we drank wine and laughed together (“decompressed”), and I shared much about myself. They wanted to hear all about my books, including the one I wrote about Jack’s battle with cancer.

I loved telling them about all that, but I also wanted to know more about Donna’s son. Turns out, his name was Cooper–which happens to be my maiden name (and yes, I told them). His battle lasted a little more than a year, and his cancer was aggressive. Hearing about his journey, I was filled with compassion. How did his younger brother handle it? I asked. What was his treatment? and, How did you make it, as a family, when the worst happened?

Those are pretty direct questions–but, having lived through Jack’s brush with death, I felt like I could ask–and like I should ask. Remember, I already had that instant like with Donna and Theresa, and by this time, I thought they felt the same way. Before we left, they invited me to an annual event in Suwanee to honor Cooper’s memory, raise awareness of sarcoma, and raise funds for research.

The event is a golf tournament, silent auction and dinner at the River Club in Suwanee, and it was to occur only three days later. I thanked them and said I would try to attend.

Well, I did attend, and I’m so glad I did. I arrived that day in the late afternoon and joined a huge crowd of Cooper O’Brien’s friends and family, called “Cooper’s Crew.” Again, I didn’t know anyone (except Donna and Theresa), but after a quarter of an hour, I found them as I perused the auction items. I met one of Donna’s coworkers and best friends, Cooper’s brother Parker and his father Kevin, and also met Theresa’s daughter Michaela, who was a lifelong friend of Cooper’s. Kristin came to the event (and spoke at it, during a program after dinner that included a video and a speech by Kevin). I got to speak to Kristin, too.

If you’re like me before that night, you don’t know about Cooper O’Brien, Cooper’s Crew, or sarcoma. Now, you do. They even have a website, and I urge you to check it out.

Serendipity is a wonderful thing, and I’m glad I happened to meet Theresa, Donna, and all of Cooper’s Crew.

What heroes they all are.

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Donna, me, and Theresa at Cooper’s Crew event in September, 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

List Post, octobre 2016

October is my favorite month of the year! 🎃

  • I’m hard at work on my next novel. It’s got a working title I really like, and I hope I can live up to it. Characters are shaping up nicely…
  • On Saturday, October 15 from 2 – 4 pm, I’ll join my pal, SC author David Burnsworth, for a book signing together at Eagle Eye Book Shop called “Southern Authors.” This wonderful bookstore is located at 2076 North Decatur Road in Decatur, Georgia. David and I previously teamed up this year to do a presentation for the NC Triad “Murder We Write” chapter of writers organization Sisters in Crime (of which we are both members).

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  • Publicity! In case you missed my last blog post, click HERE for an article in the “Good Books” section of Northside Woman magazine about me and my book ALL THE ABOVE by Kathy Des Jardins Cioffi (an interview, mostly). The magazine caters to North Fulton and Forsyth counties, north of Atlanta!

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