Friday, May 29, 2015

A New Goal

Last weekend I attended Wiscon, aka The World's Leading Feminist Science Fiction Convention. I picked up some tips at a session on writing while parenting. I was awed by the Sierra Nevada mountain range during a slide-show presentation by Kim Stanley Robinson about the work of nature writer/environmental activist John Muir. I was inspired by readings and speeches by this year's Guests of Honor (the aforementioned KSR and Alaya Dawn Johnson.) I had the start of my WIP critiqued by fellow writers under the guidance of the very generous Delia Sherman.  I bought a pile of books. I sold two felted creatures. I connected with Wiscon friends.

All around another grand weekend binging on science fiction and fantasy.

But by far the highlight was a workshop on submitting your short story for publication. Here's the program description:

Bring your laptop and learn how to write a query letter, format your story, and choose markets -- and submit it, right at the con! A supportive Den Parent or several will be around for hand-holding and advice. Bond with your fellow writers just starting out, and take concrete steps towards getting published.

And was I ever in need of supportive Den Parent.

Before going to this workshop I had, of course, submitted my work many, many times. To my writing group, to my best friend, to my partner, to my get the drift: not so much submitting to the publishing industry. Well, good news, that reluctance has now been tamed into submission. I sent off "Birch and the Queen of Dirt" during the session.

Excited by that first step, I decided to submit "Old Glassy's Way" over lunch.

I still hadn't gotten enough; the next day, "The River's Edge" got zipped out into the world.

So far I've gotten two form rejections. Bummer, right? Time to sit around for a couple of days moping for sure.

But no! I took those two stories and I resubmitted them as soon as I got the news.

Here's what's helping me make it through the disappointment rejections inevitably bring and still hold on to the tenacity needed to keep submitting:

  1. I've decided to make this a practice. When I get a rejection, I will find another potential market for the story and send it out again right away. I'm good with setting rules and following them.
  2. I've been inspired by writing friends who have 80-100 rejections under their belt. You can't be published if you don't send your work out, after all.
  3. I've given myself a new goal. It is not to get published; I've tried to set that target a bit to the side. Instead, my mission is to get 20 rejections by the end of the summer. If I get them, I'm calling it a success and I'm taking myself out for a fancy dinner.
  4. I've also given myself a reward system for each rejection: my best friend, my sweetie, and my mother are all in charge of coming up with 6-7 ideas for small treats. When I get a rejection, I get to ask one of them what my next treat will be. So far I've gotten an invisible love poem (with the pen/light that makes the writing glow in the dark) and I've got another treat coming in the mail. So when I get a rejection my response is "Yippee, a new surprise treat for me!" I love surprises. I love anticipation. I love little treats. I will get those treats, I tell you. I WILL GET THEM ALL! 
I admit when I got the first two rejections, there was still a bit of "Dang, why didn't they love my story as much as I do?" But so far I'm still excited to be resubmitting.

And I'm already a tenth of the way to my goal.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Two-Years Cancer-Free

       Two years ago on May 10th, I spent five hours in surgery and then the weekend in the hospital, recovering from the removal of a squamous carcinoma tumor, all the lymph nodes on the right side of my neck and my right tonsil. Recovery from surgery stretched on for five weeks, my tongue thick and bruised from where it had been clamped down during surgery, my throat burning and raw from where the tonsil had been removed.
Before my throat and neck were fully healed, a full month of radiation treatments began. A work colleague of mine, learning of what I’d be going through, correctly stated, “Today there are no good or kind treatments for cancer.” Compared to radiation treatments the surgery was nothing. 30 days of showing up for a treatment that made me feel worse and worse each day, killing my taste buds and making it painful and virtually impossible to eat anything other than liquids and ice cream. I lost close to sixty pounds during that time (about forty pounds more than I could spare to lose). Each visit to the doctor’s office brought on another discussion about how I should consider having a “permanent” feeding tube put into my stomach—and each time I resisted this idea (which is what I’d still recommend to anyone who has to make this choice. From what I understand many patients who go this route never eat normally again.) For a while the radiation treatments also stole my voice. My wife fondly refers to this time as “the month when she won all the arguments.” :-)
But this is all behind me now, past history. I’m officially two-years cancer-free. Cancer Free! That’s a big deal, and I’m happy to be here to write this. I’ve picked back up thirty pounds of weight and my taste buds have returned. As bad as the disease and the treatments of it were, I’m glad there was something that could be done to stop this terrible disease—and to reduce the likelihood that it might come back. As awful as radiation treatments were, the benefit is that they reduced my chances of a second recurrence of neck/throat cancer by about 35%. Being two years out from my diagnosis also greatly reduces the likelihood of the disease coming back. All reasons for me to celebrate.
So what else can I tell you about being a survivor of throat cancer?
I should probably tell you about HPV, the human papillomavirus. As I wasn’t a smoker, HPV is the most likely reason I got this form of cancer. From what I understand, 90% of all adults in the United States have been exposed to this virus. If you are a parent of a child ages 9 to 26, get your child vaccinated against HPV. (This vaccine didn’t exist when I was a kid, but if I’d had this vaccination, it may have prevented what I went through.) Adult males over the age of 40 are at greatest risk for neck and throat cancer. Statistics seem to vary on this, but one that sticks in my head is that this cancer is the fastest growing type of cancer for men in this age bracket, and 1 in 67 males will contract it.
Smoking: Another great way to encourage throat cancer. Don’t do it.
Health insurance: I remain thankful that my employer offers great health insurance—and that I had it when I needed it. When I finally tallied up all my bills for the time period when I was sick it was a six-figures number—almost all of which was covered by my insurance. To be uninsured at this time would have meant bankruptcy. I hear plenty of complaints about “Obamacare”—the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—but under the ACA people with cancer or a history of cancer cannot be denied health insurance coverage. Obviously as a cancer survivor I’m a fan of this idea.
After effects: I still feel the results of my cancer treatment daily, although to an outside observer I probably seem completely normal (or as normal as I get). There is always a little pain in my neck and mouth, both from the surgery and the radiation treatment. It’s usually not much, maybe a 2 on a scale of 1-10, but it’s there—and worse on days when I move wrong, sleep wrong, on the weather changes drastically. My doctor tells me this is my new normal, and is probably how it will always be. Eating/swallowing and talking are all a little more complicated for me these days. Radiation treatments have the effect of constricting/tightening all the space between tissues in the treated area—my mouth, neck and throat—meaning my “swallow” is somewhat broken, my throat a smaller space than it once was. Certain foods are harder for me to eat—for instance, I’ve given up on steak and many raw veggies just about completely—as they are more a choking hazard than nutrition (for me). I also suffer from “dry mouth”—the radiation f’d up my salivary glands, too—so that I now usually need to have a tall glass of something to drink with anything I eat to avoid choking. On the talking front, my voice had gotten a bit deeper thanks to radiation. I also don’t get a lot of volume out of my voice anymore, and yelling is just about impossible—but I think that’s OK. These side effects are all things I signed up for when I decided I wanted to take radiation treatments to prevent my cancer from coming back. Time will tell if it was all worth it—although so far it seems like it is.
My Thyroid: may it rest in peace. There was a 1 in 3 chance it would die after treatment, and it has. I now take a little pill daily (for the rest of my life) to replace what my thyroid used to do for my metabolism.
Exceptional support: I remain thankful for my support network of family, friends, work colleagues and of course my doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals who helped me get through my ordeal with cancer. I was thankful for them then and am thankful now—especially for the high level of care I received when it came to my medical treatment. I remain in awe of the doctors and nurses who spend all their days helping others fight horrendous diseases like cancer.
So I think I’ve blathered on long enough in this post… mostly I’m just trying to say I’m happy and fortunate to be here, healthy and writing, but I must leave you with this final thought: Do you have a lump or bump somewhere that it shouldn’t be? Do you suspect something is wrong with your health? Then go and get checked out—NOW! (And don’t skip your routine physicals.) When it comes to cancer early diagnosis and treatment is half the battle. When I first felt a hard lump under my right jaw two years ago I’m thankful I went to see a doctor. I could have just as easily ignored it—which would have been a dreadful mistake.

Well wishes,