“This article appeared in the April issue of Shelf”
How a Background in Health and Fitness Pushed Me to Become a Prolific and Successful Writer—and How A Holistic Approach Could Help You, Too
In the fall of 2010 my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 acute lymphoblastic leukaemia—with nary a warning sign except for a problematic and persistent lump on her inner thigh that she’d investigated a couple of times before finally insisting that a surgeon remove and biopsy the thing. Needless to say, her doctors and our family were thrown into chaos by the results.
We scrambled. We became champions of her health and aggressive, educated advocates. Indeed, despite the darkness haunting us, my sister, my partner, my mom, and I bonded into a unit as familial and strong as the Three Sisters of Fate of which I would one day come to write.
Although, the Sisters of Fate and their realm and troubles—which were, in hindsight, cleverly disguised mirrors of my own family’s struggles—were only whispers in my imagination when Mom’s therapy began. First I had to reevaluate my time, my work, and decide what was most meaningful: a profitable career as a fitness manager, or surrendering my time and most of that money so that I could become Mom’s primary caregiver. In reality, love makes that choice easy. I chose to be with Mom.
Throughout this ordeal, it was my dedication to fitness that kept me sane. A doggedness possessed me: to wake up every day at “the crack of the morning’s arse,” as a nurse and I used to joke, so that I could be showered, fed, mentally prepared, and at the hospital with Mom for her treatments. For fitness, nutrition, and mindfulness tether us to life; they remind us that we’re not just thoughts and feelings, but reflexes and biochemistry, nerves and muscles. Were it not for my understanding of the body, I wouldn’t have been able to push through the morass of terminology surrounding cancer. I would have run myself down and been a poorer advocate and caregiver. Without fitness, too, I wouldn’t have had the dedication to rediscover my passion for writing.
That discovery was as simple as Mom asking me one day, “Whatever happened to that story you were writing?” I had to think, as it had been years. That story … One of a world ruled by fate and antediluvian forces capriciously manipulating people, life, and death. I hadn’t been of the mind or experience to pen a tale of that magnitude before, but now there was an existential saga unfolding before me, and so I wrote.
I believe I was driven by the worry, the reality that mom could never recover—despite her unquenchable optimism. Armed with my iPad or laptop and cranking out thousands of words simply became another step in the daily ritual, another rep in the set, to a mind already conditioned to exercise and tenacity.
By the fall of 2011 the manuscript was completed, and to the chagrin of Mother Earth I’d printed off all five hundred pages for Mom to read (I’m now fully green and digital). At the time, she was out of induction therapy, chilling on our couch with a gypsy-style scarf upon her bald head. She’d read the whole novel in two sittings, and there hadn’t been a peep of feedback as I’d brought her mint tea or blankets. Truth is, I was afraid to ask. My mother was an accomplished civil rights lawyer and activist and had never shown me anything but the toughest and purest love. Her opinion could have broken me. Then she said, quietly, when she was done, “This is what you should be doing.”
And so I have, for almost a decade now. And while so much of my work—and who I am—I owe to Mom and our journey together, I owe just as much to my mettle, tempered through physical and mental discipline, which allowed me to surmount these life obstacles.
My hope with this column is that I can use my expertise to encourage my fellow wordsmiths into similar patterns of holistic belief and activity. I would like to share the elements that have made me successful, since self-harmony isn’t a treasure to be hoarded but a wealth to be spread. To that end, please reach out with your questions about ergonomic chairs, what kind of brain food to eat, or how to get your blood and imagination flowing with a ten-minute yoga-break from your desk. My vision is one where defeat and illness are battled not only in hospitals, but also in our minds, bodies, and spirits where so often the worst wars are waged.
I’ll speak with you again soon. Till then, stay creative, kind, and most of all, healthy.
I’d like to dedicate this piece to Cynthia, my mom, my eternal muse.