After interviews with 86 cancer caregivers and dozens more touched in various ways by the disease, Marshfield, Mass., resident Deborah Cornwall was ready to put her evolving project on paper. A breast cancer survivor herself, Cornwall had spent years contemplating and preparing to write a book unlike anything that existed.
She learned as she proceeded that similar to every cancer experience, her path to finding her published work on the shelf of a bookstore would be a unique one.
“I became like a general contractor for the book,” she said. “Every interview was different. I learned that so many stories were locked up inside people. Once they had an opportunity to talk as they wished in a comfortable way, the information and emotion flowed and flowed. It was a way to feel useful, that they were personally making a difference. And it was true.”
Cornwall’s book, “Things I Wish I’d Known,” was released Oct. 1, 2012. Distinctive based on its blend of caregivers’ own stories, factual information and practical guidance, it is likely to ease the life changing experiences of countless people dealing with the terror of diagnosis and subsequent monumental to mundane moments that follow.
“Care giving is unexpected, but nevertheless needs to be planned,” she said, adding that more people than not will become caregivers of some sort at some time in their lives.
“I was honored that people entrusted me with their stories so many of which were so personal. It was wonderful to know I was working on something that could matter to so many.”
The book, which weaves accounts of various caregivers about personal moments, relationships, emotions and expertise through the various stages of the cancer experience, offers a readable and applicable source to those in search of assistance, support or reassurance.
“Caregivers themselves share their learning and stories with the intent of helping other people not feel they have to reinvent the wheel,” she said about the book’s contents. “The emotion of their stories and experiences are as valuable to the reader as the practical things they share.”
Clearly protective and warmhearted about the information she had garnered, Cornwall described how the book had evolved, intertwined with the experiences of those included in the pages and how its purpose had become self evident.
“I hope the emotional aspect is valuable to the reader,” said Cornwall. “Emotions are a real and practical thing we share. It is truly an account of human resilience. In a time when we see so much wrong with the world around us, even though people are facing disease, life and death, loss of a sense of control and often struggling with loss and despair there is a sense of the vastness of humanity; the depth of human goodness and all that is right in the human condition is evident in these accounts.”
Page 2 of 3 - Cornwall sees her journey as oddly connected to the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Her own diagnosis coincided with the time period and simultaneously the business climate and state of the nation also brought her own consulting business to a virtual standstill.
“Looking back I was very fortunate,” she said. “Because business and travel had come to a stop in so many ways for months following the terror attacks and it coincided with my treatment, I never had to reschedule things or walk into a meeting and explain where I had been or why I wasn’t feeling well or how cancer had interrupted my life.”
It was her subsequent work with cancer organizations and connections with those affected by the disease that inspired her to consider compiling information that had not been gathered previously, yet was still seriously needed.
During the process of compiling the book, Cornwall received countless suggestions on how to proceed with her endeavor. “Many were suggestions for good books,” she said. “But it would not have been my book. People did not entrust me with their stories to homogenize them. I consider my expertise comes from the people I have talked to. Their stories became part of me.”
She explained, despite the terror and devastation of the initial diagnosis, she considers her own cancer experience a relative “non-event.”
“Compared to the stories and experiences I have heard since, I realize I was extremely fortunate,” she said.
As a result it was not long after she began to contemplate how she would “reinvent” herself and continue to use her professional skills. The cancer cause was the ideal calling.
“Ironically an elderly aunt of mine was an inspiration to me,” she said. Cornwall was active prior to and since her own diagnosis in various cancer causes. In existence since 2008, the AstraZeneca Hope Lodge in Boston was one of them, a facility for those involved in outpatient cancer care in the Boston area who travel far from their homes, the Jamaica Plain facility offers lodging for those receiving care at the renowned Boston medical centers in a comfortable, supportive setting. “I would share some of the stories I encountered with my aunt and she suggested I write a book. Here I am years later and her recommendation has become a reality.”
The book was recently awarded the 2012 Florida Publishers Association Gold Medal Prize in the self-help category. It was the unanimous prizewinner, chosen by professional librarians on a panel of judges in Florida where there is a large number of independent publishers.
Cornwall is known widely on the South Shore of Boston for her work with the Marshfield, Hanover, Pembroke, Norwell and Duxbury Relay for Life. For the past three years she has not only served as co-chairperson for the event but has coordinated and inspired individuals, organizations and businesses to participate, donate and promote the event which raises hundreds of thousands of dollars annually for the American Cancer Society.
Page 3 of 3 - Reflecting on the many encounters she has had researching, writing and now marketing her book, Cornwall expressed gratitude and appreciation for the experience.
“I had no idea where this was going to take me or that it would become a mission,” she said. “As I look back, it was parts of a puzzle that have brought me to a wonderful place. This is all a very fulfilling part of who I have become as a result of having written the book.”
For more information or to order the book, visit www.thingsIwishidknown.com.
Mary Jane Hanron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.