Breast Cancer

Writing a Big Breast Adventure

I guess you could say I come from a family of writers.  My dad started his career as a finance journalist and one of my sisters is a sports writer for The Australian. Both my older sister and I married journalists and our younger sister is the author of several academic works.

Writing is writ large in our family, so to speak. I’ve have made a career out of it as a public relations practitioner for almost 30 years, but never in my wildest dreams did I think writing would actually save my life.

On Tuesday December 17th  2013 I was diagnosed with an infiltrating lobular carcinoma in my left breast.  Up until that moment I’d thought I was pretty in tune with my body, but this was a bolt from the blue. There’s no breast cancer in my family. I have three sisters, two older and one younger, none of whom have been diagnosed with anything more than an easily dispatched colorectal polyp. This prompted my son, 13 at the time, to ask the aunt who looked after him while I was in surgery, “Why did it have to be my mum?” Why indeed.

In a bid to make sense of the what was happening to me I started writing a series of blogposts entitled My Big Breast Adventure while undergoing (if you’ll pardon the expression) the ‘pointy-end’ of treatment throughout 2014 and 2015.

There were 32 posts during this time and while I didn’t set out to deliberately shock, some of the headlines were a bit provocative, including Cut, Poison, Burn and Laugh, Dying and Other Inconveniences and What the FEC? the latter in honour of the acronym given to the chemo cocktail many breast cancer sufferers are forced to endure. It stands for Fluorouracil (also known in oncology circles as 5FU – yes, you heard right), Epirubicin and Cyclophosphamide – FEC for short. Who knew oncologists had a sense of humour?

I confess, my reasons for blogging while going through treatment were purely selfish. I was trying to rationalise the tremendous shock of becoming a cancer patient, while finding a way to keep my tribe informed about my progress. I literally didn’t have the energy to return all the wonderful phone calls, texts and emails I received at the time.

At first my posts attracted the kinds of comments one might expect – messages of love and support in the main. But as I progressed people started relating my musings on this ‘adventure’ to things they were going through in their own lives – an acrimonious divorce, the death of a parent, a crisis at work.

While the blogs were a fantastic form of personal therapy, the comments and reactions from readers provided the greatest healing of all.

And now the whole shebang is available as a book entitled My Big Breast Adventure or How I Found the Dalai Lama in My Letterbox. I, for one, hope that many more people might be helped by hearing my story.

And if you would like to secure your very own copy, For Pit Sake Publishing will be offering a 10% discount to anyone who uses the coupon code 'WRITING' at the checkout in the For Pity Sake online shop.

Breast Regards.

The secret to growing your blog’s audience

Every single successful blogger will happily tell you the most common question they receive. There’s a key mystery at the heart of their lives that they seem to have solved, while the rest of us are utterly bewildered:

 How do I grow my blog’s readership?

 It’s a question I heard articulated most recently by Glennon Doyle Melton on the Big Magic podcast. Melton is the New York Times bestselling author of two memoirs, plus the creator of the online community Momastery, which has millions of followers. Melton’s path to success is compelling. An former drug addict and alcoholic, Melton changed her life when she fell pregnant with her first son. Then, something crazy happened. She began blogging. But she blogged with fierce, abundant honesty. She talked about the pressures of being a mother, coping with past wounds and navigating the terror of everyday life. Her blog - gradually, over time - began to grow.

 She has the dream blogging career. These days, her memoir is promoted by Oprah and she’s touring the world.

 When people ask her about growing her blog readership, she keeps it simple. Analytics, keywords and the other guff can come and go, but the real key is pretty simple:

 Serve the audience you already have.

 If you have a dozen people reading what you write, that’s a dozen people taking time out of there day to engage with you. That’s pretty huge. That’s a responsibility, and you want to take care of them. Worry less about catching people you do have. Focus more on the people you do, and making sure to serve them. They, after all, are your biggest fans. If you look after them, they will do the marketing for you.

 Other successful bloggers such as Seth Godin and Tim Ferris point to this simple key as well. Look after the readership you do have, don’t worry about the readership you don’t. Ask yourself what your readers want from you. If you don’t know, ask.

 Jennifer McDonald’s followed a similar path with My Big Breast Adventure. The blog began as a simple exploration of her recovery from breast cancer. The full-throated honesty and conversational tone meant a dedicated audience that began to grow. Now, Jen’s looking to make the blogs a book - something she had barely considered when she began writing.

 Check out Jen’s crowd-funding campaign for My Big Breast Adventure here.

Publishing in 2016: Crowd-funding, blogging and more

Back in 2012, Seth Godin took on a daring venture. He decided to try and crowd-fund the publication of his book The Icarus Deception. Over four thousand backers answered the call and contributed almost $300,000 to the work’s publication. It was a resounding success. The campaign was a hit for several reasons. Seth Godin’s social media following was already huge. He had already been supplying them with new, daily, relevant blogs for years. The premise and pitch of the entire project was simple and easy to understand. It also proved Seth’s point that underpins much of The Icarus Deception: the creative economy is changing, and it’s up to artists to seek new and innovative means of funding their projects.

Since that time, self-publishing has only increased, and the publishing industry has continued to change. So too have notions of authorship. There’s now an entire industry that turns authors into Kindle Kings. These Amazon auteurs write genre fiction, market it, design it and have a direct and meaningful relationship with their readers. It’s a full time, exhausting job, but it has the potential to pay wonderful dividends if the books find their readership.

The trouble is, you don’t have a readership until you’ve published your first book. And you can’t publish your debut book without a readership. An irritating catch twenty-two. So traditional notions of writing processes are now shifting to fit the economy. No longer do writers toil away in private for years – un-funded and under-nourished – before releasing their magnum opus to the world. Blogging and social media serve a convenient double purpose: draft your writing while also building your readership.

There are cons to this model, of course. I’ve read a memoir that the author happily tells the reader was ‘originally based on Facebook posts.’ It won’t surprise you that the book was shallow and uninteresting. Too much of a focus on readership too early in an author’s process can severely erode creativity, undermining risk, and create cookie-cutter corporate work that rarely transcends the constraints of such capitalist pressure.

Still, when it works it works. And for some authors the new creative economy is a brilliantly positive event. When Jen McDonald, author of My Big Breast Adventure, started blogging about her journey through breast cancer recovery, she didn’t have an entrepreneurial intent. She was merely attempting to make sense of the messy pathway, and to connect with other survivors around the world. The blog took off, and its popularity only grew as Jen wrote more. Now, with thousands of words and an eager readership, My Big Breast Adventure has become the perfect candidate for a crowd-funding publishing venture.

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Crowd-funding projects in this way puts complete control back in the hands of the reader and writer. The exchange of goods is only the first step. A reader is also getting additional rewards and personal touches that bigger publishers simply don’t have the means to provide. In the new creative economy, the reader and artists and more empowered, and this can only benefit writing overall.

Visit the Indiegogo campaign here to donate now. To hear Jen speak more about her work, and to listen to her first audiobook for free, visit our podcast here. Or visit the store now to buy Jen’s first work, Vegetarian Vampires.

Trauma and art: being creative in times of crisis

In Jennifer McDonald’s forthcoming work, My Big Breast Adventure, we hear a first had account of Jen’s diagnosis, treatment and recovery from breast cancer. Jen first began writing just days after her mastectomy, less than two weeks after her first diagnosis. So often, our first response to overwhelming trauma is a creative response. So often the poor, oppressed, disadvantaged or wounded create beauty that transcends their circumstance. Take the writings of Martin Luther King, the poetry of Maya Angelou, the art of Vincent Van Gough or the music of Ray Charles. Jennifer has talked about wanting to ‘make sense’ of her diagnosis and surgery.  When medicine, science, politics and rationalism feels less than satisfactory, art often fills the gap.

Sadly, artistic endeavours that are about illness, void of a personal narrative, often come across as cold. Think of the benign, coporate artwork in doctors’ officers. Or the seemingly cheery brochures, bound in pink and screaming in Helvetica: “So you’ve been diagnosed with a life-threatening, terrifying illness?”

Jen didn’t want to describe the management of her illness as a ‘journey’. When you’re inside it, it doesn’t feel like anything as neat as that. Dr Michael Copeman, Jennifer’s oncologist, comments:

“No patient going through cancer just wants ‘support’. At best, they would like the huge, scary roller-coaster called ‘treatment’ to stop and let them off. At least, they would like to meet someone else on the ride who can give words to the experience and make some sense of it all. Jen McDonald is that person.”

It takes intimate works of art to properly convey the messiness of any crisis, and through this we draw inspiration. Jen was initially blown away by the comments that her blogs received, as readers compared her journey to their own: through cancer, divorce, or any other personal crisis.

That’s why we decided to include the comments in the publication of My Big Breast Adventure, now a book. The crowd-funding campaign for the book is now underway, and you can donate and find out more by clicking here.

Whatever the end result, very few people come out of a artistic process and feel they’re worse for the experience. It’s most usually seen as a healing process, that explores the interior of one’s pain to find meaning on the other side.

Visit the Indiegogo campaign here to donate now. To hear Jen speak more about her work, and to listen to her first audiobook for free, visit our podcast here. Or visit the store now to buy Jen’s first work, Vegetarian Vampires.

For Pity Sake Publishing announces ground-breaking new project

For Pity Sake Publishing’s proud to announce a brand new project in innovative publishing. Jennifer McDonald’s wildly successful blog, Big Breast Adventure, which details her treatment of breast cancer, will be turned into a book with the help of a crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo. Founder and CEO of For Pity Sake Publishing, Jennifer McDonald, released her debut work Vegetarian Vampires in 2015. The book was the amalgamation of Jen’s popular blogs, which presented a humorous, down-to-earth approach to contemporary spirituality. As the final touches were being put on the Vegetarian Vampires project, Jen was diagnosed with breast cancer, and a whole new adventure began.

Told with her trademark humour and honesty, My Big Breast Adventure chronicles Jen’s path through chemotherapy, homeopathy, drug treatment, and a quest for wellness and meaning.

The popular blogs gained a close and ardent following. They included, among others, Jen’s oncologist, Dr Michael Copeman. Dr Michael says about the work:

“No patient going through cancer just wants ‘support’. At best, they would like the huge, scary roller-coaster called ‘treatment’ to stop and let them off. At least, they would like to meet someone else on the ride who can give words to the experience and make some sense of it all. Jen McDonald is that person.”

Critical reading for anyone going through a crisis, we believe this work is a critically important take on cancer treatment and recovery. And you can help.

Now a crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo, donate money to the Big Breast Adventure campaign to receive exclusive rewards, and to support this crucial book. Receive the finished book in time for Christmas.

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Visit the Indiegogo campaign here to donate now. To hear Jen speak more about her work, and to listen to her first audiobook for free, visit our podcast here. Or visit the store now to buy Jen’s first work, Vegetarian Vampires.