Christine Shields Corrigan’s book “Again: Surviving Cancer Twice with Love and Lists” roared onto the bestseller list, which was no surprise for anyone who has read this breakout book. Christine received a breast cancer diagnosis at forty-nine, and it forced her to confront her deepest fears of illness, death, and loss of control as she struggles to face cancer again. She takes readers on a journey that of course has some sorrow, but it is also loaded with grace, forgiveness, and resilience.
This fiercely honest, poignant story, which also conjures up some laughs along the way, is an amazing read for anyone, but for those who find themselves in a similar situation it is a must read, offering them practical advice along with an epic dose of hope so that they too can forge a path beyond a diagnosis. Recently we caught up with this talented writer to find out more about her, her work, and yes, what is next for her.
“Again: Surviving Cancer Twice with Love and Lists” recently hit the bestseller list, what was that like for you?
When Again: Surviving Cancer Twice with Love and Lists ranked as the No. 2 bestseller on three Amazon lists, I felt like my book had started “getting its legs,” as my publisher likes to say, and reaching more people. I hope that the readers will find Again helpful in dealing with their own or loved one’s cancer experiences. While the bestseller ranking are exciting, they’re fleeting. It’s far more meaningful to me as an author and a survivor to know that my words are touching others’ lives. I love making connections with the readers and hearing how Again resonated with them.
Personally, I found the chapter “Be Okay” to be particularly compelling, what was it like for you to write that chapter, and what do you hope readers take away with them when they read it?
“Be Okay” is the next to last chapter in Again, and its title belies its content because my family and I were anything but okay during the first year following my diagnosis, treatment, and surgeries. I struggled with anxiety and fear of recurrence. I became short with my family every time I had a follow-up appointment with my oncologist. The tension in our home on some days was palpable.
Then, I took my sixteen-year-old son for his annual physical and learned that he was exhibiting symptoms of depression and had felt them for about a year. His doctor and I spoke with him about when he started feeling depressed and why he hadn’t said anything. He broke down in my arms and told me that I couldn’t have handled the news. He didn’t want me to worry about him. He wanted to protect me.
His words rocked me to my core. Parents, and I believe mothers in particular, have a visceral instinct to protect their children. My son’s revelations shattered my heart. The signs of depression were right in front of me—his moodiness, disinterest in school and his activities, and withdrawal from the family—but I missed them. I chalked up Tom’s behavior to general teenage malaise when it was so much more. I felt that I’d failed my child.
The difficulty in writing this chapter lay in the fact that my son felt that he couldn’t rely on me to help him. In trying to shield me, he sacrificed his mental health. So, the takeaway for readers who may find themselves in a difficult situation—whether illness, loss, or some other trauma—is to check in with the kids. Ask friends, teachers, and coaches to keep any eye on them because it’s entirely possible to miss those cues when you’re in the middle of your own crisis. The good news is that we were able to get our son into therapy and medication to improve his mood; it took a year to get him back to his outgoing and personable self.
This chapter also reveals my own mental health struggles. For years, I prided myself on how well I kept things together. I was organized. I got things done. After I finished my cancer treatment, I felt unmoored and anxious. My husband finally sat down with me and said “enough.” I had to do something to get my anxiety in control. I started psychotherapy and unpacked all of my Hodgkin’s memories and faced them. As painful and scary as that was to do, I’m glad I did. Through that process, which took a few years and continues even today, I found a way to be “okay,” to accept that anxiety and uncertainty will remain with me for the rest of my life, to make peace with the undesirable, and to live with equanimity. The take away for readers experiencing post-treatment anxiety is not to be afraid to seek professional support.
Writing a book is not for the faint of heart, especially one as personal as this one. What did you learn about yourself while writing “Again: Surviving Cancer Twice with Love and Lists”?
I learned several things about myself. First, I learned that I’d lived much of my life in fear, perhaps not consciously, but my deeply rooted fear of cancer and recurrence manifested itself in my need to control, plan, and order my life. Second, I learned that no matter how hard I wanted to control my life, I really didn’t have any control over uncertainty after all. I still make plenty of lists, but I use them more now as guideposts, not absolutes. Third, I learned that I remained a child of my family’s history. For years, I swore left, right, up, down, and sideways, I would never keep information from my children. And then, I did. I had to own that fact and my history. By accepting my past, I was able to forgive my parents for keeping the truth of my illness from me when I was a teenager. As a parent myself, I could understand and empathize with them. That realization helped me come to peace with my Hodgkin’s story.
What was the most interesting feedback or question you have received from a reader?
I’ve had several readers tell me that Again read like a novel and that they couldn’t put it down. I had other readers tell me that they wished they’d had Again when they were in treatment and that they found so many of my experiences relatable. The most impactful feedback that I’ve received to date came from a young Hodgkin’s survivor who shared how much she feared recurrence, like I had, and after reading Again, she knew that it would be possible to face cancer again if that occurred.
I’ve heard you have another book coming out, can you tell us a bit about it and when it will be coming out?
I had the opportunity to participate in a project called: (Her)oics: Women’s Lived Experiences During the COVID-19 Pandemic, which will be published on March 11, 2021 by Pact Press. I’m honored that my essay, “Not Back To, But Forward,” about how my cancer experiences helped me cope with COVID-19 is included in this powerful collection.
The anthology draws together the stories of fifty-two women across the US during the pandemic and shares their perspectives on a number of topics including, being front-line responders and recovering patients; going out to work, staying home to work, and losing their jobs; living with multiple generations and living in isolation; women grieving loved ones and celebrating new love; women preparing to give birth and supporting the dying. Although the authors differ based on location, age, race, and health, their essays share the unique capacity of women to bring their strength, ingenuity and love—for others and for self—in an uncertain time.
“Again: Surviving Cancer Twice with Love and Lists” is available on Amazon.