Military families prepare for all sorts of lifestyle challenges. Some are public, like deployment send-offs and homecomings, but most struggles of the military family are private. And when our country and its values, beliefs, and way of life is threatened, we send our men and women in uniform off to war to defend the red, white and blue. But, there is another war, also part private, part public, that is fought every day and it is no respecter of lifestyles whether you’re a military family or not–this war is called cancer.
Long time friends, Paul and Kathy Opie, endured one of the most difficult and painful aspects of being parents. Their youngest son, Conner, was diagnosed with bone cancer called, Ewings Sarcoma. Not only was it a rare form of cancer, but it was located in the most unusual location, creating an even bigger challenge. Having a child diagnosed with cancer or another life-threatening illness is unlike any experience. It literally stops the ordinary routines of life. Everything going on in your world peripherally suddenly fades to the fringes of life. From the moment of diagnosis, the battle begins. Cancer has declared war upon one’s body and the medical team, the parents, and the child-stricken with cancer begin an all-out assault to decimate this awful enemy.
Kathy writes about her son’s cancer from the viewpoint of an ordinary mother of three children. Her book, A Little Red Wagon Full of Hope – Tips and Inspiration From A Loving Caregiver tells the story of her son’s cancer fight. Told from her perspective, she uses tips and inspirational stories, a useful roadmap of practical easy-to-read advice woven into each chapter. These are timely and relevant topics for families touched by cancer. In an interview, she shared with me a little about her writing background as well as her vision and message she wanted her book to convey. Her website is www.KathyScanlonOpie.com
Kathy, when and why did you begin writing? From a very early age, I had a fascination with the written word. The first moment I grasped a pencil in my hand, I practiced making letters on scraps of paper and on the back of paper bags. At six years old, I had my own notebook and I took that notebook everywhere with me, writing down my thoughts and experiences. I followed my mother throughout the house reading excerpts from my journal, as she washed dishes, prepared dinner or mopped the kitchen floor.
What inspired you to write, A Little Red Wagon Full of Hope? When I began my first writing class, our son was just one year out of cancer treatment, and had many complications and was undergoing several corrective surgeries. My story began as a memoir, but my writing teacher told me that the memoir was full of much unprocessed pain. Looking back, I realized I was not in a state to write objectively. What I did have was something that could be turned into a collection of powerful stories, and become a guide that could serve as a roadmap for others who may be going through a similar journey. I was asked to interview others to round out my book, including male caregivers, parents who had lost a child, and people of different faith perspectives. I was also blogging about my cooking interests, author interviews, book reviews and people of interest. I used that expertise to add other chapters titled, “When Men Are Caregivers,” “Food for the Soul,” “Pet Therapy,” and “Get Out There.” I found that my interviewing skills came in handy.
What is your story about? My story is a caregiver’s guide based on our experience with our son’s bone cancer journey and losing my best friend, Becky, to breast cancer. We were both young mothers at the time, Becky was 32 and I was 36. I figured I learned some life lessons on grief, self-care, caregiving, and how to reach out for help. I experienced some PTSD symptoms, depression, and feelings of isolation after these experiences, and figured others might experience similar emotions. I wanted to reach out and help. I realized there was hope in sharing, in the larger community, and the power of knowledge that comes through experience.
What message from your book do you want your readers to come away with? Don’t give up hope, you are not alone. Whatever you are going through, even if it is your own personal journey, others have been through a similar path and there are resources available to help. I have shared personal stories about my experience and take away tips at each chapter’s end. I don’t wish to tell others what to do, but my hope is to offer solace, comfort, and solidarity. For others who might not be directly involved but may still want to help, the book can provide helpful advice of suggestions of how they might come alongside a friend, neighbor, or relative who is in need of help.
Kathy, how did you come up with your title? Funny you should ask. Originally, I had chosen the name “How Can I Help?” It was short, simple, and explained the book’s meaning. My editor asked for something with more zing and said, “we need to find something else.” My friend, Pia, who has great social media savvy told me to send my manuscript to a few friends and ask for their advice. My friend, Sharla, the Director of Momcology, a National Support Group for Mothers who have children with cancer, read the manuscript and was especially drawn to my chapter, “Bringing Home to the Hospital.” In the chapter I describe pulling our items from the parking garage to our hospital room in little red wagons. She had picked the name from that same little red wagon from the hospital and my editor added the words, “hope.” It was an instant winner!
What was the hardest part of writing your book? Some of the topics were quite personal. My writing classmates, and later my editor, would ask “why” and to expand. Often I didn’t want to go back to that place, but there I went. It was like diving into a deep dark cavern to uncover a murky treasure, clean out the gunk, and reprocess it. Writing about my friend’s loss of a child was especially painful, reliving the loss of my best friend, Becky, or remembering the darkest time in my son’s cancer treatment brought me to an emotionally raw place. Some days as I sat typing with tears streaming down my cheeks, I remember our son Conner placing his hands on my shoulders and saying, “enough writing, Mom, time to take a break,” as he guided me away from the computer.
What did you learn from writing your book? Writing is a labor of love, you must edit, edit and edit again, yet it must be something you enjoy. If it isn’t a passion, then take a break and take some time to become inspired again. You must be willing to give of yourself in your writing, but constantly remember to ask, “what’s in it for the reader?”
What has been your biggest challenge in completing a book project? It’s not just about the writing. There’s publishing and so many moving parts. Before the book can be published you must have it edited, and there’s the interior design, the book cover, the printing, the back cover, the website design, the marketing, the copy editing, the publisher and all the small details that must come together and some all in very close timing to make it work.
What has been your greatest reward? Completing a goal that I have had my heart set on for so many years.
Who designed your cover? Bong Bernardino with the help of my interior designer CB Bollen.
Where can your readers find your book to purchase? On Amazon.com and if you log onto my website at www.KathyScanlonOpie.com you can follow the links to purchase the book as well.
Is it also available in Kindle format? Yes.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your book? That’s a tough question. I’ve heard some people say that they would like it to be longer so perhaps I’d add a few more chapters. I had originally thought of writing a chapter about humor. We had used that as a coping strategy, but I wasn’t sure how well that would have been received. I also edited out many of the details of our journey and bout my friend, Becky, from my memoir, perhaps I would add those in. Maybe in my next book.
For your own reading, do you prefer ebooks or traditional paper/hard back books? Oh, I am traditional, I love paper/hard back books.
What books (titles) have influenced your life the most? I love the classics. Anything by Charles Dickens, Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights, or John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men or The Grapes of Wrath, yet the book that influenced the writing of my book was, How Can I Help? by Ram Daas.
What is unique about your niche? Self-help, caregiving. This is a book for families who have been touched by cancer, but from the unique perspective of a caregiver. It addresses caregiver burn-out, self-care, and how people can help friends, loved ones, and family affected by a serious illness. In my short book, I address the perspective of an immediate caregiver, a close friend, the male perspective, as well as neighbor and friends.
How can people get in touch with you? What’s your full contact info and website?
Sell Me Your Product:
“When a loved one faces a serious illness what do you do?” Whether you are the immediate caregiver, family member, friend or neighbor there are many ways to help. Each chapter in A Little Red Wagon Full Of Hope: Tips and Inspiration From A Loving Caregiver offers relevant, poignant stories and at chapter’s end are take-away tips including: How Can I Help? Spirituality, What to bring to the Hospital? Caring for the Caregiver, Food for the Soul (including several recipes), Pet Therapy, and when your caregiving journey is over, a chapter that addresses what to do after the hospital.
Thank you, Kathy, for sharing your journey through your son’s cancer illness.
To close my interview, I’d like to quote something from Kathy’s book. It comes from Chapter 13 “When Men Are Caregivers.” We know that in today’s society it’s usually the wife, mother, sister, aunt, or other female who tends to be the main caregiver, but Kathy touched on a very important point. Sometimes men must be the caregiver as was the case with her friend, Becky – and there’s not enough said about their struggle. Perhaps this is because men are inherently more private or discreet about their feelings. Even though they may be more reserved about their emotions, men have their own fears and struggles to process through. It was refreshing to hear Paul share one of those insights.
“It was the night after I was driving back from Conner’s first diagnosis at Seattle Children’s. I had met you [Kathy] there, so we had two cars to drive home. Conner wanted to drive home with me [Paul]. As we drove up 45th Street past Greek Row at the University of Washington, we saw two very attractive young ladies walking to a Halloween party. One was dressed as a devil and the other as an angel. As we drove past, Conner quipped, ‘I can’t wait to go to college.’” As he spoke, Paul smiled and [later] said Conner’s comment brought him much comfort because it helped him look ahead to his son’s recovery and made him realize that Conner, too, believed he would get better.”
-From A Little Red Wagon Full of Hope
-Kathy Scanlon Opie