When you write memoir, you are out there. Really out there. People that know me always say that they can hear my voice when they read Lucky Dog. People that don’t know me will always say that my book is “so honest”, which I find puzzling, because it is memoir, it is supposed to be honest. Otherwise you will get yourself into a lot of trouble, like the guy that wrote A Million Little Pieces and got on Oprah, only for us to all find out (much to Oprah’s horror) that the whole thing was a big fat lie. So everyone gets to know you when you write memoir, even people that don’t know you.
The familiarity makes people want to reach out. A lot of people have emailed me tell me that they read Lucky Dog and they really enjoyed it. Most of them say that they have never written to an author before, which is also quite awesome. I feel honored. I appreciate these emails because the power of writing is the ability to evoke emotion in people. I know that my book has made people laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time. It is cliché, but that is the most common comment that I have received about my book from friends and strangers. When I get these emails, I always ask the emailer to consider sharing their love of Lucky Dog in the form of a review on Amazon, Goodreads or the House of Anansi (my amazing publisher) website, because, let’s face it, Shareen on Goodreads is an obtuse hater that needs her vicious one-star review diluted by people who really get me.
There are also emails from previous clients and dog owners who have treated cancer in their own pets. One woman told me that after she read my book, she decided to put her dog down. This is unexpected, but something about the book gave her the perspective that she needed to make this last loving decision for her dog. One of my previous clients told me that during the time that I treated her dog for bone cancer, she had just lost her other dog and left her abusive husband. She was living in a small apartment over a barn with her dog and two small children, which was partly because it was the only place that she could afford and partly because she was literally hiding from her husband. She did not have funds to treat her dog’s cancer and she enrolled him in a clinical trial I was running. Somehow, over 3 years later, her dog is still with her. She told me that she thinks he lived because he knew that at that time in her life, she literally could not live without him and couldn’t handle the loss, he was her only source of support, so he stayed. She is stronger now and more ready to let him go when it is time. She loves him enough to let him go, but still he hangs on.
Then there are all of the vets out there with thyroid masses. This freaks me out a bit. Maybe it is just a coincidence because I am a member of the vet community and I have thyroid cancer, so other veterinarians with thyroid masses are comfortable contacting me, but in the past 8 months, I have connected with six people within our profession (mostly vets) with thyroid cancer and 2 with thyroid masses that turned out to be benign. Maybe all of those years of volunteering at vet clinics and holding dogs for Xrays without wearing a lead collar has come back to roost? I am not sure, but there is a lot of thyroid biz going on here. When you are a member of a profession, you end up with a lot of people that are not close friends, but you have more familiarity with them than mere acquaintances. People you would “friend” on Facebook. I will call them frienquantances, because I love to make up words. I had one frienquaintance email me that my book is now her “go to” because she has been dealing with thyroid nodules for months, watching them grow and she finally had them removed, bolstered by my story, and she was diagnosed with thyroid carcinoma. Another compelling email came from a frienquantance who is also a veterinary surgeon, who told me that he had a thyroid mass and, because of hearing about my story, he pushed to get it checked out and removed and he was diagnosed with an invasive thyroid carcinoma. He said that he was “forever in my debt”. Those are heavy words from a frienquaintance.
The last group of people who email me are the thyroid cancer survivors or people from the greater survivor community. I am happy that Lucky Dog is the book that people take with them to read in the waiting rooms of all of the medical appointments that cancer patients endure. A welcome distraction from the sitting and waiting. I have a friend in Australia with prostate cancer who took my book to every appointment and I am proud that my words kept him company. I also have been seriously humbled by some of the emails from people who have very serious cancers. I am not a fan of comparing cancers and I am not a fan of calling thyroid cancer “good” cancer. There are no good cancers, but there are some very bad cancers. I received emails from a man with esophageal cancer. His entire esophagus was removed and they moved his stomach into his thorax to act as his esophagus. We don’t do this procedure in dogs because of the morbidity. He emailed me several updates along the way and through it all he kept his good humor and said he was doing well, “all things considered” and thanked me for my book. I feel unworthy of his praise.
This week, I received an update from a thyroid cancer survivor who lives in Ontario. He had his thyroidectomy performed at the same hospital that I did. He thanked me for Lucky Dog. A few months ago, he started coughing and he went in for a CT of this chest. His papillary thyroid carcinoma, which is supposed to be good cancer, had spread to his lungs. He received another round of radioactive iodine treatment and on his post-treatment scan, they saw something abnormal in his head. He pushed for a CT of his head and they found that his cancer had spread to his brain. He sent me the image (see below). He is going to have full course radiation to his entire brain. It is sobering and overwhelming that someone who is a stranger to me would share this bad news. With his permission, I am sharing this with you too. It made me pause, as everyone who has had a cancer diagnosis or cancer scare does, to ask myself if I am happy. If I was in his shoes and my thyroid cancer came back (which is considered very unlikely, but possible) would I be happy with my life? Would I be proud of where I am and who I am? Would I feel like I always acted with integrity? Am I having enough fun? Mostly yes, but sometimes no. Some things need improvement. I work too much and I don’t always find time for joy and exercise. I’m homesick for Canada and Canadians. I have trouble reconciling the perfect job and the perfect place to live. I want to live in a small mountain town in Canada, but I can’t figure out how to make this work. The best part about being a cancer survivor is that you are reminded that life is short and forced to ask yourself these questions. I keep the picture of this stranger’s brain on my phone to remind me of this every day.
So to all of the survivors, vets, dog owners and readers out there, thanks for the emails. I read them all and I take your stories with me.