Jenny McDonald

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.

Sarah's letter to the author of 'Vegetarian Vampires'

Dear Jen, Firstly, thank you for putting the manuscript for Vegetarian Vampires and What We Can Learn from Them in my path at this time.

It’s such a fantastically rich book. I loved how it is structured for each day of the week. It almost reminds us that we can only ever take one day at a time, that it is OK to start small, start somewhere, just start. I LOVE your writing voice, the weaving of topical references with personal experiences and humour. I laughed while reading this book - sometimes a dry ‘ain’t that the truth’ or a ‘oh I completely understand’ chuckle - although the ‘What would Edward Cullen do?’ question at the end of Day 3's essay gave me a great big belly laugh.

There were so many things that resonated with me, and I think they are best encapsulated by these little notes that I made while reading:

  • What a fantastic reminder that we only have ONE life. We might try to categorise and section off parts of our lives, but what we do in our work lives affects the same ‘us’ as our personal lives.
  • I need more stillness in my life.
  • We have more sway over our own lives than we realise. How often do we hear people who have made ‘life changing’ decisions say ‘I can’t believe I didn’t do this years ago’?
  • What a liberating idea; we are the choices we make.
  • The section on Vegetarian Vampires and the fact that while some decisions might start out requiring loads of willpower but the choice becomes easier and easier the more times we make it, resonates with me. I have a condition that results in hairloss and am completely bald. When I first started going out in public without a wig on I had to consciously muster up a sense of courage and strength in order to be brave. Now, I don’t think twice about being bald in public, I don’t need to ‘be brave’ everyday. That strength is now a part of who I am.
  • All of this is possible. Of course we’ll stuff it up and make a mess of it and try to fight against that rip instead of letting go. But that’s when we need a book like this, to remind ourselves that that glorious mess of a journey is my life, my one life. I own it, and today I decide to embrace uncertainty, live lovingly and be myself on purpose. And laugh. Always laugh.
  • I need to read this book again. And then again the month after that.

You have truly given with love in this book. Much love to you, and thank you once again.

Sarah Peters PhD Theatre Student, University of Southern Queensland

Sarah Peters Headshot

 

 

Fifth Business

Fifth Business_snowballMore years ago now than I care to count I was a 17 year old Rotary Exchange student to Brampton, Ontario, Canada. I flew from a 30 plus degrees Celsius summer in Brisbane to -4 degrees with wind chill at Toronto airport. I went from a pigtailed, uniform-wearing, private school girl to the new kid at a North American high school in the middle of their year, straddling grades 12 and 13 as it then existed in Ontario. Culture shock doesn’t quite cover it. It was more like being sucked through a vortex into another dimension, a strange parallel universe where there was a lot of cold white stuff on the ground and I could see people’s lips moving but had no idea what they were talking about.  For the first two days at my new high school no one spoke to me, at least not voluntarily. The only people who did were the teachers, the girl who was press-ganged into sharing her locker with the new Australian weirdo, and my year 10 host-sister and friends who’d kindly sat with me at lunch both days. (I found out later that sitting with year 10s when you’re a year 12/13 student is tantamount to social suicide, but I digress.) So imagine my surprise when first period after lunch on day two the prettiest girl in my Grade 13 English class, the head cheer leader no less, smiled and waved and beckoned me to take the spare seat beside her. I did, and that’s how a life-long friendship started, one that endures to this very day. (More on this later.) I’m still not sure if it was that unexpectedly warm welcome or the Grade 13 English curriculum that kick-started another life-long affection for one Canadian author in particular – Robertson Davies. I suspect it was a bit of both.

Fifth BusinessFifth Business is the first book in Robertson Davies’ The Deptford Trilogy, and it was what we were studying in that Grade 13 English class on that fateful day. It’s the story of the intertwined lives of three boys from the small, mythical Ontario town of Deptford – Dunstable (later becoming Dunstan) Ramsay, Percy Boyd (later becoming simply Boy) Staunton and Paul Dempster (later becoming someone else but to tell would ruin the story). Paul is in utero when the story begins.  A killer snow ball, thrown by Boy and deftly dodged by Dunstan, finds it’s mark on a pregnant Mary Dempster, causing her to go into spontaneous early labour and, from that time forward, to be ‘simple in the head’. Boy later denies all knowledge of the incident and Dunstan, while not fessing up to the crime, carries the guilt of it all his life.  This guilt and the responsibility he feels towards Mrs Dempster and her offspring permeates his entire history – from the World War 1 battlefields of France, his teaching career, his travels around Europe researching and writing many books on the historical and mythological realm of saints.

In the preface to the book, Davies proffers an explanation of the term ‘Fifth Business’ as one used by drama and opera companies organised in the ‘old style’. It refers not to the hero or heroine nor even the pivotal supporting roles of villain or confidante.  Rather, Fifth Business is a role that is essential to bringing about the final ‘denouement’ of the story. In this case Davies, via our noble narrator Dunstan Ramsay, creates a book that reads like a memoir and leads us through the entanglement of these three people over various village scandals,  two world wars and a Depression, culminating in the highly intriguing events around the death of Boy Staunton. A successful and wealthy Canadian business man by this time, Boy drives his car into Lake Ontario in what appears to be a suicide, except for the mystery of how he came to have a smooth, round stone in his mouth at the time of his death.

I love a good mystery particularly those that don’t read like mysteries. I also love the many fascinating sub-themes in Davies’ work ranging from the magical, mythical, religious and spiritual to the historical and locational. The fact that Fifth Business was set in Canada was both informative and beguiling to me, a newcomer to that wonderful country which, in a way not dissimilar to Australia,  seemed to always be in a self-imposed tussle over its own cultural identity.

I was so intruiged by the story and Davies’ inimitable, erudite and wry writing style, I bought the other two books in the trilogy (The Manticore and World of Wonders) with my Rotary Exchange Student allowance very soon after finishing Fifth Business.  Since then the trilogy has become a staple of my bookshelf being read in its entirety every few years or so. My Grade 13 English teacher would have been proud.

Pretty cheerleaderAnd what of the pretty head cheerleader who was kind to me that day? Well, she’s a bit like my own personal fifth business in the story-so-far of me and my deep attachment to Canada. This lady is now a mother of five, with a stellar career in public nursing and, after 36 years, we’re still fast friends.
Originally posted on epiphanycommunication.com  on May 20th, 2015.

Writing and reading on a Big Breast Adventure

For the better part of 2014 I was at the pointy end (if you'll pardon the expression) of treatment for breast cancer.  As my kindly but somewhat blunt GP told me when I was first diagnosed, "There's three ways we deal with breast cancer - cut, poison and burn." He was referring, of course, to surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.  Knowing what I know now after a year's worth of treatment I would like to add two more things to the pointy-end treatment list - writing and reading - both of which I found to be essential therapeutic adjuncts to the traditional treatments. Let's start with the writing. As soon as one is diagnosed with a life threatening condition like breast cancer, the weirdness begins.  It's like entering a parallel universe where everyone you come into contact with talks in a strange language of acronyms and medical jargon and where you, the patient, is seen as the body part bearing the affliction as opposed to being the whole human being you were (presumably) before the diagnosis. In order to make sense of the tsunami of information, scheduled medical appointments, 'nil by mouth' instructions and indeed, shocked emotion from family and friends, I found it helped to write it all down.

What started out as a record of my many conversations with my doctors and other health practitioners quickly became a series of editorials on the weirdness that is a cancer diagnosis, the tedium and sometimes the incongruity of the downstream treatments.  The writing enabled me to analyse, correlate, sometimes verify, question and ultimately integrate what I was being told and experiencing.  It also opened the door to the absurd, to notice and record the peculiar, the freaky, the annoying and often downright hilarious stuff that happened along the way.  Above all though, the writing enabled me to examine and detail how I was feeling both physically and emotionally. It was in the shaping of words around these sensations that I found the greatest healing and release. I guess that's why I've managed to pen 30 blogposts to date on the Big Breast Adventure, with more on the way as the story continues....

The reading end of the literary equation was just as important to me as the writing.  A mountain of stuff gets shovelled at you from conventional sources like the Cancer Council and the Jane McGrath Foundation, all of which is good and well-intentioned.  But after the initial diagnosis information flurry, I found that more and more I ended up reading the things that literally fell into my path, usually recommended by friends and loved ones or that 'came up on my register' on the social media or news/promo feeds I get from various sources.  I've read and listened to a number of books over the past year that have informed and/or sustained me in one way or another on my adventure trail and I list them here, now, for your reading pleasure:

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins For those of you who've slept through The Hunger Games book and movie phenomenon, allow me to bring you up to speed.  The heroine of the story, Katniss Everdeen (played by the stunning Jennifer Lawrence in the movies) volunteers in place of her younger sister to compete in the barbaric Hunger Games where children as young as 12 are conscripted to fight to the death in a reality TV on steroids arena. But the Hunger Games are so much more than entertainment - they are the ultimate tool of repression by the ruthless dictator, President Snow (Donald Sutherland at his evil best). Katniss' self-sacrifice and defiant performance in the arena catapult her to poster-girl status for a rebellion that's brewing against the President. My niece loaned me her copy of the book right before the commencement of the Big Breast Adventure and I devoured it in the six days I spent in hospital recuperating from surgery. Yes I know - it's hardly the proper choice for post-mastectomy fiction but Katniss Everdeen's story is a compelling one - so much so that I wrote a whole blog about what I learned from her trials and tribulations.

Dying to be Me by Anita Moorjani This is a fascinating tale of Anita’s diagnosis and four year battle with cancer that went feral in her body.  She had a prolonged near death experience (NDE) in hospital when she was comatose and her family had been called to her bedside to say their final farewells. Her story is compelling in its own right but what I found riveting was the way Anita has written it. The early parts of the book are a rather stilted sort of memoir but her written expression is completely transformed – more flowing and truthful – once she starts relating her NDE and the mind blowing revelations of what happens ‘on the other side’ that are imparted to her during the experience.

E-Squared and E-Cubed by Pam Grout Brilliant, funny books that combine scientific theory and woo-woo spiritual teachings, bringing them into the realm of the practical.

Miracles Now by Gabrielle Bernstein Written for the era of Twitter this little gem contains 108 (the sacred number) tools and tips for living a more miracle-fuelled life.

The Alchemist by Paul Coehlo An evocative novel and wonderful treatise on finding one's own 'legend', following the omens and embracing the uncertainty of life. We listened to the Audible version narrated by the divine Jeremy Irons in the car driving to and from Canberra recently.  Beautiful.

Surprised by Joy and The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis I've always loved the Chronicles of Narnia series and was privileged enough to read The Horse and His Boy to my father, by his bedside in the last days of his life.  When I recently read Surprised by Joy, a memoir of sorts about Lewis' own intellectual (as much as anything) transition from Atheism to Christianity, I now see why he was one of my father's favourite authors.  Lewis has a learned and inspiring turn of phrase overlaid with a humility that doesn't intimidate the reader.

Above the Fold by Peter Yeldham Peter Yeldham is an acclaimed screen and playwright who has made his living from the written word for nigh on 60 years.  Above the Fold is his latest historical novel that starts with World War II and moves into the 1950s and 1960s in Australia.  Many aspects of the main protagonist's (Luke Elliott) life mirror Peter's own experience and it is the author's ability to weave well rounded characters and scenarios around the events of the time that make his books so compelling for me.  This is the first book published by our fledgling company For Pity Sake Publishing and it's a jolly good read.  Do us a favour and buy it here!

Uncertainty by Jonathan Fields I'm a bit of a tragic for business books I'm sorry to say. Most often this leads to a lot of boring holiday reading as I've never learned to skim all that well.  In the past few years though, I've been secretly delighted by the number of technically speaking business/marketing/management books that mix it up with the spiritual.  It all started with Daniel Pink's fabulous A Whole New Mind and continued with Seth Godin's The Icarus Deception and most recently What to do When it's Your TurnUncertainty is in much the same vein. Written by serial entrepreneur and founder of the Good Life Project, Jonathan Fields, this book thoroughly examines how to embrace uncertainty and fear and use them for fuel to live a fulfilling business and personal life.

Good Bones by Margaret Atwood A book of short stories from the inimitable, acerbic, witty and award winning Canadian author. Great size for the handbag, and a catchy title to be reading in doctor's waiting rooms.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak This is a book about many things - death, Nazi Germany, friendship, abandonment, poverty, the banality and horror of war. Ultimately, though, it's a book about the soul-feeding power of words and books. The movie was good but it doesn't compare to reading the book.

The Power for Vulnerability - Teachings on Authenticity, Connection and Courage by Brené Brown This is an audio version of a workshop given by Brené Brown herself, incorporating all of her work and research into shame. At the tail end of the track entitled From Betrayal to Trust in Session 3, Dr Brown observes that while vulnerability, uncertainty and risk taking is uncomfortable - like torture even - it's even more dangerous to stand outside our own lives, looking in like a stranger at the window, or having regrets in the our twilight years about not being real or all the things we wanted to do but didn't.  Dr Brown believes that this is the developmental challenge of mid-life saying, "It's when the Universe come down, grabs you by the shoulders and says 'I'm not effing around.  I'm not kidding. This is it. I gave you gifts.  I gave you opportunity. I made you in this incredible way. And now it's your turn and you're going to have to put the armour down and be brave and take some risks because it's half way over.' "  In my case the Universe grabbing me by the shoulders was a breast cancer diagnosis and I've revisited this wonderful audible version of Dr Brown's work, delivered in her own inimitable style, many times throughout the year.  Very powerful stuff.

Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander On hearing of my Dad's passing a few years ago now, a dear friend gave me a book called Proof of Heaven written by a neurosurgeon, Eben Alexander.  Dr Alexander tells his story of a massive, unexplained brain infection that puts him in a deep coma for seven days. While his family were told to prepare for the worst, he was having a vivid experience of consciousness, a heavenly realm, beyond his physical form where he had no connection to his earthly identity. The intense irony of this story is that, as a neurosurgeon Dr Alexander had counselled many patients on NDEs - near death experiences - essentially putting these down to some brain activity or echo. When he emerged from the coma (which his doctors never thought he would) and most remarkably, regained his full cerebral capacity (another miracle) he was able to see from his own medical records that his neocortex or the part of the brain that defines our humanity, had been completely shut down by the infection - no activity whatsoever. This is a fascinating read for anyone who's ever asked the question of what happens when we die.

The Scalpel and the Soul by Allan J. Hamilton Allan J Hamilton is a distinguished neurosurgeon of long standing that is more recently credited with his script consultancy role on neurosurgery for the television series Grey's Anatomy. The tagline for this book is Encounters with Surgery, the Supernatural and Healing Power of Hope. It's really a series of stories that highlights strange and unexplainable happenings outside the realm of straight medical practice and that could, in some cases, be quite justifiably called modern day miracles.  A fascinating read, made more so because a serious medico wrote it.

 

Want more from Jenny? Check out her blog at epiphanycommunication.com.au 

The Horse and His Boy

I was struck by last year's Melbourne Cup - not literally you understand, but by the strange and polarised events of the 2014 'race that stops the nation'. On the one hand there is celebration, as there always is for the winner, and on the other, abject despair at the untimely deaths of not one but two of the horses who ran the race. Someone I heard interviewed said that these horses represent more than just racing - they are truly loved by their trainers, jockeys, stable hands and the myriad of other people with whom they come into contact during their lives. The outpouring of grief and shock at the untimely passing of two of these fine creatures moved me to tears also.

I don't believe in coincidences, but if I did it would be significant that I happened to be re-reading one of my favourite children's books at the time of last year's Melbourne Cup and its strange happenings. The Horse and His Boy is the third book in C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia and I think it is my favourite, although that in itself is a close run thing. I've always been beguiled by the notion of horse whisperers and people who can communicate with animals in general. But in Narnia and this tale in particular, it's the horses doing the talking.

This is about a boy and a talking horse making a dangerous journey back to Narnia after many years of slavery in a foreign land. The horse, Bree, teaches the boy, Shasta, to ride and fills his head with stories of the beautiful land of Narnia where beasts and humans alike are free and proud. Even the name of the book is instructive - The Horse and His Boy, not the other way around. When, inevitably, questions are asked about why Bree and Shasta are making the perilous trek through the desert country of Calormen to the cool and wooded 'Narnia and the North', Bree points out that as an intelligent, talking horse one might as well say he kidnapped the boy as opposed to accepting the more plausible notion that Shasta stole a witless, mute local horse in order to make his escape. The very idea of it amuses me and the character development of both horse and boy, along with the banter and 'life lessons' that pass between them, is vintage C.S. Lewis in its wit and flow.

The other reason I love this book the most of all the volumes in the seven Chronicles of Narnia is that it's the only one where the action takes place when the Pevensy children - Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy - from The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe, are actually adult Kings and Queens in Narnia. During this story we get a glimpse of the sort of regal yet humble personages they've become - forming fast friendships, fighting alongside and accepting the counsel of many talking beasts and mythical creatures like Mr Tumnus, the faun. That all creatures’ great and small (not just horses) are well represented at court and play an active role in how their home country is run is an utterly delightful concept to me.

This is a wonderful book to read not only at Melbourne Cup time, when our minds are so firmly focused on horses, but at any other time when one feels the need to experience excellent story telling with homespun wisdom and a little magic thrown in.

If you're interested in purchasing this book, please follow the link to Booktopia.