There were many factors that influenced my decision to write Chemo on the Rocks, and the story evolved over time. I didn’t begin writing it until the year 2000, fifteen years after my original diagnosis of Ovarian Cancer.
In 1985 I was a new 24-year-old bride just setting up my humble home in Ketchikan, Alaska. The wedding planning had provided a needed distraction for my ills, but once settled in, I knew it was time to convince my doctors that something was very wrong with me. Because I’d been feeling sick for a long time, I wasn’t entirely surprised to learn I had cancer.
I was fortunate to survive such a deadly disease, and as an added bonus, I was able to retain my reproductive organs long enough to have two children. Postponing the dreaded hysterectomy was risky, but the reward was well worth that risk.
The impetus for Chemo on the Rocks was the obsessive need to write about the unpleasant aftermath of my eventual hysterectomy. Prior to that surgery—which happened ten years after my cancer diagnosis—I had been somewhat normal. No one warned me about my headfirst fall into the menopausal abyss. I had no idea that one crucial day, and a few nicks of a scalpel, could change my life so drastically. But change it did.
I had no outlet. I had no compatriots. I’d been catapulted into middle age while all my friends were still young and vibrant. I had no idea how to deal with all the changes that were happening in my body, and I sure as hell didn’t want to talk about them. I mean, I sort of knew that women of a certain age always seemed to be fanning themselves and messing with the thermostat, but I don’t remember ever having one conversation about menopause.
Menopause manifested in panic attacks, depression, and anxiety. After trying several medicinal cures, each with their own special side effects, I decided to dump the pills and face things with a clear head, a pen, and some paper. I had never journaled, nor written anything other than essays in high school, but I came to understand the power of printing my feelings. It was free therapy—a needed release for thoughts that were deeply personal. Some of my poems were hilarious—I have always loved to see the humor and irony in situations—some of them still make me cry when I read about the young woman who was struggling and yet still wearing a pasted smile. I carried my notebook everywhere and read my little ditties to anyone who would listen. I’d learned a new way to create art out of angst.
When my notebook started to fall apart under the weight of all my thoughts, my husband suggested I gather up all my notes and write my story. I had no idea how to do that. I eventually joined a writer’s group, found a wonderful mentor, and picked up a few pointers. I didn’t want the sole focus to be about cancer and I struggled for years about how to tell the tale. When I finally let go of my doubts, the story told itself. And of course it started at the beginning with a tenacious little girl who endured enough scuffles in her childhood to toughen her up to fight a big battle in the fallopian trenches.
Trying to find a publisher or an agent for a memoir is not an easy task. I sent dozens of queries, wrote an awesome proposal, and agonized over my inbox. I received some of the most beautiful rejection letters; we love the story, we love the title, but there are just so many memoirs out there, and you are not a celebrity. Well, it’s true I’m not a celebrity, and most people aren’t, but I had a story that I wanted to share that I felt was good even though I’d never seen my name in lights.
I was thrilled when my publisher called me, said she liked my story, and would be happy to send me a contract. After that things went fast. Editing, choosing cover art, acknowledgements, final proofs, and then one day I held my book. What an awesome feeling!
The best part about having my story out there is the feedback I’ve received. I didn’t set out to inspire or provide hope. I started writing because it made me feel better. I am thrilled to know that my story is helping others who are going through a cancer scare or those who can relate to the adventures of a girl who navigates life on a remote island, through teenage dramas, illness, motherhood, divorce, depression, hilarious relationship dramas, and finally acceptance that life is a bumpy ride.
Rebecca Durkin, author of Chemo on the Rocks: My Great Alaskan Misadventure, and her short story, Behind the Smile, is known for her candor and sense of humor.
Rebecca is a featured speaker/creative trainer for an annual women’s retreat in California, where she shares her experiences and provides writing ideas. She is also a volunteer for the Survivors Teaching Students: Saving Women’s Lives ® program for the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance.
Rebecca spent the majority of her life living on the edge of the shore, first on Whidbey Island, Washington and then in rainy Ketchikan, Alaska where she lived a waterlogged existence for almost thirty years. She currently lives in the Pacific Northwest where she enjoys road trips with her husband, hanging with her adult children, playing with her three Bichons—Scuppers, Scuttles, and Teeny Booty—and finding the humor in everyday life.
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