I think it goes without saying that, while there are many different motivators for writing, most authors write because of the emotional and psychological rewards that come with it. Personally, I started writing to satisfy an ambition I had since I was a young kid saving up her birthday money to buy a Smith Corona electric typewriter. I had this burning desire to finally prove to myself that I could do what I had wanted to do for over twenty years… Become a published author.
As I continue to make my way toward this goal, I have gained so much more than I ever could have imagined. I have discovered that I have many great friends and awesome family members who believe in me and I’ve become part of an amazing community of authors, bloggers, and book lovers. I never cease to be grateful for and humbled by the outpouring of support I have found throughout this journey.
Of all of the wonderful and unexpected benefits I have gained through writing, I would like to focus mainly on one that, given a choice, I would have never chose to experience. That benefit is healing. Last January, I learned that one of my best friends, Karla, had cancer. Karla and I had known each other since kindergarten and, while our lives took very different paths over the years, we always considered ourselves to be sisters. In fact, she referred to me as her “sister from another mister”. We grew up in very different family environments and made very different decisions as we grew up, but our friendship was too strong to be broken by these differences coupled with some long absences from each other’s lives. No matter what or why or for how long, we always managed to find our way back to each other eventually.
When Karla was diagnosed in January of 2012, it was only a week before our birthday week (we were born only a few days apart). Needless to say, it put a damper on the occasion, but she was optimistic and determined to fight. The doctors told her the bump on her scalp was an aggressive form of melanoma and she would have to have surgery to remove the mass as well as her lymph nodes on that side of her neck just to be safe. The surgery was a difficult thing for her. It left a softball sized skin graft on the side of her head and a scar on her neck. She had always been proud of her looks and enjoyed modeling when the opportunity presented itself to her so the alterations to her appearance left her feeling depressed. Ever the optimist, she bounced back and was determined to find a way to keep modeling.
In May of 2012, during a follow up with her oncologist, she learned that the surgery did not stop the cancer from spreading and it had metastasized. It was in her lungs and her bone marrow… It was her youngest daughter’s third birthday. The doctor gave her roughly a 10% chance of survival, but she told him that she had three daughters at home and dying wasn’t an option. I remember the phone call after her appointment… I’ll never forget it. I remember her saying “I’m terminal, E.” to which I responded “If you die, I’ll kill you.”. Making her laugh helped to keep me from crying.
She fought hard. She endured intense, experimental chemo and when they found the cancer in her brain she endured radiation. She was so strong and so brave and so determined to live. I really think she believed she was going to beat it right up until the day the doctors told her there was nothing else they could do to stop it. There was so much cancer in her lungs it was amazing she was still able to breathe and the cancer in her bones had caused fractures in her ribs and her sternum… Yet she still fought. She lived for over a week in hospice.
I will never forget September 25, 2012… It was a Tuesday around 9:00am. When my cell phone started to vibrate on my desk I knew before looking at the caller ID that is was Karla’s boyfriend, Matt, calling me with the news I had been dreading. My mother had been telling me for a couple of months that I needed to prepare myself for this. How in the hell can you prepare yourself for the news that someone you’ve known all your life was gone? I’m telling you right now that you can’t. Not even seeing your best friend barely conscious in a hospice house with no hair and a tumor the size of a golf ball behind her ear… Barely a shell of the vibrant, beautiful person you knew her to be can prepare you for the news that she’s gone. Nothing can prepare you for the anger at a life cut needlessly short… Karla and I were only 32. You aren’t supposed to be going to funerals for your friends at 32. Then there was the anger for three girls who have to grow up without their mother.
Karla was one of the people who pushed me so hard to follow my dream. She was one of my biggest cheerleaders on my path to becoming an author… and now she’s gone. There are still times when I don’t think the reality has truly hit me. It seeps in to my mind and my heart in little, icy pinpricks at the most unexpected moments. A certain song will come on the radio and I’ll lose it. I’ll get an idea I want to run by someone and I’ll catch myself looking through my contacts to text her. This year, when our birthday week rolled around, I could barely function.
However, I’m not writing this post just to relay a sad story or to share my pain with all of you. I’m writing it to share the greatest unexpected benefit I have experienced through my writing. Before Karla died, I decided to model a recurring character in what I hope will develop into a series of books after her. During one of our last conversations before the morphine made it difficult for her to communicate coherently, Karla helped me pick her character’s name… Chloe. Assistant District Attorney Chloe Almeida shares many personality traits and physical attributes with Karla and her relationship with my lead character, Detective Jess Reilly, is very similar to Karla’s relationship with me.
About a month ago I was writing a scene between Jess and Chloe and I started crying. It was such a bittersweet moment as my pain and sadness mixed with the joy that came with the realization that Karla will never be 100% gone because there will always be a part of her that will live on inside of me and will live on in my writing. The sadness, the anger, and the pain are still there… I think they will be for a while, but each time I write Chloe I will find some comfort and some healing.
As I said in the beginning of this post, I never would have chosen to be in a situation where I would experience this particular benefit to writing, but I am sure as hell glad I have.
This is a photo of Karla and I the Christmas before she was diagnosed.