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What the Campaign is About: I’m asking for help to raise $2,500 to self-publish my next book, a thriller called The List.

There are two ways to live a life – in theory or in practice. One involves talking about what might happen and the other requires taking risks and letting go of the outcome. I was stuck in the first camp for a long time, which meant I preferred to turn over most of the work, the rewards and what I saw as the risk of failure to a traditional publishing house. The results are Wired, The Sitting Sisters and A Place to Call Home – three great books that have been well received. It seemed like enough.

But then in 2009 I was told I had cancer and only a one percent chance of living longer than one more year. I walked out of the doctor’s office shaking, trying to come up with something comforting to say to my 21-year-old son, Louie. Instead, he looked at me and said very firmly, “You weren’t listening. They said there was hope.” Something clicked and I realized that I was going to have to figure out how to be present for every day I had left rather than stare at my death.

It turns out that for now the doctors were wrong about the year but I’ve had four more operations for cancer since then. I’ve had to learn how to live with cancer without making it the focus and to be grateful for the rewards that come along with being reminded that life isn’t a guarantee.

The biggest reward I’ve gotten so far is learning how to ask for help from friends and family. At times I’ve really needed it because I couldn’t walk very well or because my face was bandaged and I couldn’t speak. I’ve learned that help can also be about just needing comfort and company like watching a scary movie with friends or throwing together a potluck or learning how to ride a bike again. That one took four spectacular spills but eventually I stayed on the bike. This past year I even started acting like I plan to live a long time and lost 86 pounds.

It doesn’t have to be complicated.

So, I’m doing my best to let go of old ideas about everything and learn to live in the moment. To make writing more about why I started – to share something – including the journey to get the book in your hands as well as every conversation afterwards. If you want to join in you can take a look at the different things you can get by making a donation. You can even be a part of what is turning into an amazing journey just by letting your friends know about The List Campaign. Share the link Or use the share buttons at the site.

Thank you so much for your ongoing love and support. I am really looking forward to seeing what comes next, whatever it is – and to walking through it, to enjoying it with all of you.

What the Book is About:

The List is a novel of suspense about a happy family caught between two old political powers that have always existed behind the scenes, invisible to most of the public. The two sides have battled over control for hundreds of years actively recruiting new members at a young age to groom them for politics, Wall Street, Corporate corner offices and the military. Good Old Boy networks, private clubs and political action committees were all formed with the same idea in mind to grease the wheels of life because we all want to ensure a nice, fat piece of the American pie, especially for our children. However, families find out a little too late that once they’ve joined there’s no out clause.


What You Can Do & What You Can Get*:

  • First Level: $25 – You receive a signed copy of The List.
  • Second Level: $35 – You receive a signed copy of The List and your name in the dedication.
  • Third Level: $50 – You receive a signed copy of The List, your name in the dedication AND a password that lets you read the next three chapters of the sequel, The Keeper.
  • Fourth Level: $100 – You receive a signed copy of The List, your name in the dedication, a password that lets you read the next three chapters of the sequel, The Keeper AND a Skype visit from me to a meeting of your book club.
  • Fifth Level: $250 – You receive a signed copy of The List, your name in the dedication, a password that lets you read the next three chapters of the sequel, The Keeper, a Skype visit from me to a meeting of your book club and a character in The Keeper named after you. (Only two available at this level.)
  • Sixth Level: $500 – You receive a signed copy of The List, your name in the dedication, a password that lets you read the next three chapters of the sequel, The Keeper and a Skype visit from me to a meeting of your book club, AND an appearance by me, to speak at an event** for the local charity of your choice. All proceeds from book sales on that day will go to your charity.


*All rewards will be processed after March 31st at the close of the campaign.

**Event to be organized by the person or group who chooses this level.


Photo by OhBuoyancy!

I’m grateful I have dental insurance. I’m grateful I have a great dentist. I’m sorry I’ve seen so much of her lately. The dentist is my least favorite place to go. I dread it almost as much as I dread going to the Oncology Department at Northwestern University and I freeze up just about as much as I approach their door. (And by the way, one more semi-annual healthy visit to the cancer doctors and I get to stretch that out to a year.) For me, that means that I grow more silent and have to consciously answer questions and at least be polite.

It’s moments like these that I’m really not a big fan of chit chat and do my best to bury my nose in the Newsweek from last spring.

So, this morning when I headed out to see what could be done for a molar that had lost half of a very old, silver filling I did my best to keep repeating, this too shall pass.

That phrase has gotten me through a lot of things in recent years; some of it big stuff and some of it petty and momentary. Frankly, sometimes it’s the petty things that trip me up the most and cause me to get in my own way.

I’ve noticed, though, as my faith in God has grown so has my willingness to just see where something is going and to believe, more and more that the destination is a good place. Lately, I’ve even had the thought that I’m already on the journey.

I mentioned to a friend, who asked me how I was doing, that I was good. I wish I was thinner, richer and happily married but I was good. She replied, and quickly, that I had lost a lot of weight, had a better job and God probably had something in mind for the rest too. Good answer.

Now, I have a temporary filling, a placeholder, till the fancy one from the lab is back and it’s not the best but it’ll do for now. It’s just a piece of the same journey and well, this too shall pass. More adventures to follow.


The List - a new political thriller - excerpt on the Books page

It seems like I keep working on the same things but at deeper levels. The only difference is that over time I’ve gotten some miracles of sorts that can act as proof while I try to take yet another contrary action into the unknown. Moved to New York City and had a blast for a couple of years – check. Moved again, this time to Chicago, my second choice and set up a home and got to know my son again – check and check. Found a good job, bought a car, made some good friends – all check. Lost 70 pounds so far and have relearned how to ride a bike, gotten faster in swimming and can run farther – still all check.

Okay, here’s where things get a bit rocky. Wrote my 4th book under my name, a thriller and set out to get an agent and get it published. Hold it right there – in fact hold on for a few years. For a variety of reasons, which really don’t matter, the relationship with the agent didn’t work out, we parted ways and here I am starting over again.

It’s tough when a dream that’s a pretty big one that has some traction doesn’t exactly take off. However, I have a new agent out of New York, Lori Ames, who’s on fire about the new thriller and this week we take off. Sometimes, I think the hardest emotion is hope because hope requires us to keep going despite the old evidence to the contrary. However, when I was told I only had a year left to live back in 2009, my good friend Juanita asked me what I wanted to believe for. I said I wanted to believe I was going to live for a good long time and would beat the cancer. She said, calmly and with conviction, “Then that’s what we’ll believe for.” My resolve grew from there.

So, a publishing deal for my best writing yet and a really good, fun political thriller is what I’m going to believe for.


Jenn Gibbons showing us all what it looks like to inspire others by our actions.

Jenn Gibbons is a good friend of mine who gives of her time and her talents to others and now she needs your help.

Jenn has been attempting to be the first woman to row Lake Michigan solo and was set to row to Beaver Island a little over a week ago when she was attacked and sexually assaulted by a man in the early morning hours. Investigators believe the assailant traveled a long distance to commit the assault.

The suspect is described as a white male in his 30′s, approximately 5’8” to 6’ tall, with a fair amount of facial stubble hair, but not a full beard or mustache. The man has light eyes, an average to athletic build and shorter well-kept hair. He was wearing a grayish, green t-shirt, jean shorts and tennis shoes. A bright yellow Jeep Wrangler was seen in the area with a spare tire on the back and a yellow smiley face on it. Investigators are seeking information about the Jeep and anyone with information should call the Michigan State Police toll-free at 1-866-411-0018.

Prayers and awareness and love for Jenn along with an inner knowledge that a lot of us have earned the hard way, including Jenn.

Jenn is not only going to be okay, she’s going to triumph over this. Evidence of that truth is already apparent. When you read this Jenn will already be back out on Lake Michigan rowing again, this time with a pit crew keeping her safe. Her spirit is far more powerful than one man’s violent act and Jenn’s on a mission to kick cancer’s ass. More on that can be found at Row4Row.

I don’t see myself as a survivor or a warrior, although I’ve been called both. I’m not defined by those things. I hold hope that love really does trump everything and I’m willing to keep going to set that truth free and find out where the edges of that truth lies. I’m willing today to risk it all for that truth.

Jenn was back on her voyage only days after the attack accompanied by volunteers who supplied bikes and equipment so that she could keep going but on land for awhile. And friends who are into cycling showed up to keep her company on her journey. Now, at last she is back with her beloved boat and is rowing. Keep going, Jenn and show us all what can be done when we believe for the better. Help us all set our truth free. (You can also see more from Jenn on The 5K Project Page at this site in the videos.)



Look at that view - Diving in the clouds with tandem instructor, Rudy. Photo by AJ Gebhardt

There are these narrow points in any long journey where it takes courage to push through and keep going but the view from the other side is breathtaking and life unfolds in completely new ways that are unexpected, bold and sweet. I’ve been passing through one of those since October of 2009 when I was told I had melanoma, Stage II, Clark Level IV and this past Saturday was the postscript with an enormous celebration thanks to PROskydiving at Chicagoland Skydiving Center, Infinity Multisport, Sydney Owen, Doug Smith, Dave Smith and Mo Wills. That’s just the start.

First of all, the great doctors at Northwestern saved my life despite the early diagnosis that there was only a year left on this life. Then came the struggle, or at times battle to walk again normally. After the initial surgery that removed part of the left side of my left leg I had to learn to stride with a normal gait.

Frankly, standing in one spot for long periods of time or walking great distances became a great and often painful challenge. I was determined to push through though as far as I could but at the same time I was looking for grace to accept what might turn out to be my new limits.

Martha and Rudy skydiving

Thank goodness for Sydney Owen and Twitter. During my very first hour of figuring out how to tweet I said something about wanting to try a 5k to show my son that I’m okay now, still not really sure if I meant it and at the same time I commented on someone else’s tweet about skydiving. I said that I had done it once and after I landed I got up and wondered why I was doing anything that no longer served me.

My entire life changed after that, including finding out I had cancer five months later when a small mole was biopsied from beside my knee.

Sydney offered to have PROskydiving sponsor me in that 5K and then to come out and jump at Chicagoland Skydiving Center in Rochelle, IL that same day. Doug Smith is the owner and his brother, Dave, a triathlete got his trainer, Mo Wills from Infinity Multisport involved who showed me the art of chi walking. I picked the Champions 5K in Chicago on August 6th because it was a ways off on the calendar and I really wasn’t sure I could pull off one mile much less 3.2 long miles.

Thank goodness I’m wrong as often as I am. [click to continue…]


Good to the Last Drop

For awhile in 2005 I carried around a white, cotton handkerchief that was worn soft from use after my father, Dabney died suddenly and quietly at the age of 81. The handkerchiefs were a small connection back to him that I could hold up against my cheek and feel his presence once again.

It’s a paltry replacement but it made the pain of losing him as a touchstone of advice and bad jokes a little easier to bear until time and the rhythm of life took over and carried me out into a new pattern.

That’s the way it is when events upend our routines and snatch away the people who know everything about us and yet continue to come back for more. We need a little comforting from somewhere to ease the sharp ache until we can figure out a new way of doing things and the vacuum is filled, once again.

Sometimes, we need something on a grander scale like in 2001 when my best friend, Gloria died from breast cancer and I started running for miles at a time. The constant sound of my feet hitting the pavement and the mental efforts it took to get me out the door early in the morning before the southern summer heat took over pulled me out of myself just long enough to be able to honor Gloria while at the same time I was letting her go.

Fortunately, there’s now an entire company that gets what it’s like to have a chronic illness that stretches on over time or to lose someone and feel the space they once filled in so many little, meaningful ways. Spoonful of Comfort, is dedicated to sending homemade chicken soup in large glass jars tied up with a bright yellow, polka dotted ribbon, nestled against oatmeal cookies, soft rolls and fuzzy socks.

It’s all packaged by hand, no artificial ingredients in any of it and sent out across America as a way to honor the love and memory of a good mother.

It all began in 2007 when Marti Wymer, CEO of Spoonful of Comfort found out her mother, Mona Bowes who lived across the country, had lung cancer. Marti couldn’t be there as much as she wanted to but she wanted to be able to share something that would give Mona comfort.

The mail-order market was flooded with cookies or flowers or jewelry but there was nothing that pulled out of someone the deep sigh that comes from knowing we’re loved and someone is hoping for the best. [click to continue…]

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Jenn Gibbons, founder of Row4Row on a practice run

My late father was fond of saying that my worst quality was also my best quality. He saw me as stubborn and with every passing year I see a deeper level of wisdom to what he was trying to get across. I don’t always know when to walk away and let something go because it’s been over for awhile. I may have in the past even at times managed to drag others into trying to resuscitate some threadbare project or a relationship to no avail.

However, my sales pitch was so good that a lot of time and effort was wasted going in directions that were over and kaput, if only I’d admit it.

The flip side of that though is that when the going gets tough I have an amazing ability to hang in there. Some have referred to it as endurance and that’s gotten me through training for a marathon, moving unexpectedly on my own from New York to Chicago, raising Louie on my own, persisting as a writer and a whole host of other things. That’s a useful trait to reach some of the bigger goals.

The tricky part in the equation is being able to recognize which of the two situations I’m in and then taking action. In the past I wanted to get to the action part so quickly and fix things that there was no time to figure out if I needed to go or keep moving forward, no matter how difficult. Pausing for a moment to let things unfolds would have taken some faith that most things work out and some of them take time.

But, as I’ve said before, I was more of a ‘who stole the other half of the glass kind of girl’ and was always staying alert trying to prevent any upcoming disasters. Somewhere in there I also thought that meant preventing the disasters of everyone in my immediate circle so I didn’t have to deal with the fall-out there, either.

That appears generous and soft-hearted at first but there’s a lot of selfishness in there mixed with a dollop of arrogance that I’m the best one to fix it or that I can even do anything about whatever it is.

I thought of myself as a team player but I was really thinking of myself most of the time.

Now, as most everyone who reads this column knows I’ve been trying to figure out how to get more exercise and lose weight for quite some time with stops and starts. It would seem that I’m often trying to accomplish that with the least amount of effort but I’m working on that part too.

One of the things I’ve had to also factor in after the cancer surgery on my leg is a new paradigm that says I can’t do everything the way I used to do it. A flexible leg brace is necessary for almost every kind of exercise now and I’ve stubbornly refused to wear it.

However, there’s one exception to the list and that’s rowing. I can row on an erg and get plenty of exercise and never put on the brace. I even found a great organization in Chicago, that is made up of female breast cancer survivors and founded by Jenn Gibbons, a great coach and advocate. They practice and row as a team out on the water and cheer each other on in general. [click to continue…]


Ann Ogden Gaffney, founder of Cook for Your Life

Ever since I was diagnosed with cancer I feel an instant kinship with anyone else who’s had the same label slapped on them. It’s an afterthought to me to find out what kind.

The word cancer though actually encompasses a myriad of forms of cells growing out of control inside the body. But hearing that someone else has the Big C, whether it’s the same form or not, instantly creates a bond.

I know what it’s like to have the idea put into a more concrete form that I may not live as long as the rest of you.

It’s after that initial wave passes that a strange and wonderful thing happens to a lot of survivors. We look for ways to insert ourselves back into life while being of service to others with our newfound appreciation.

Blessings pop up as we create a way for all of our fellow survivors to plug back into a new definition for their life.

Ann Ogden Gaffney who is a 10 year survivor of kidney cancer and a five year breast cancer survivor took that universal philosophy and melded it with her love of cooking and created, Cook For Your Life, in 2007 by teaching patients at St. Luke’s in New York City and that’s when she saw the huge demand and decided to make a change.

Classes are held in the NYC area for both cancer patients, survivors and even caregivers to offer them a chance to learn how to cook, pour their emotions into chopping and stirring and find some understanding among fellow travelers. “The cooking classes help them get through difficult times,” said Ann. “It’s a warm situation with a lot of chopping and chatting.” Classes are also offered in Spanish and Ann hopes that Cook For Your Life will eventually spread to other cities.

I’m hoping Chicago is next.

Somewhere in the middle of being diagnosed so many times with skin cancer I realized that eating better would probably benefit my immune system. The trick was going to be finding a way to learn how to eat what they call “closer to the ground”, or less packaged food without overwhelming myself. [click to continue…]


Louie Carr talks about helping his Mom, Martha Carr recover from melanoma and the removal of part of her leg, to learn to walk and to live again and about the 5k Project. Runners from Infinity Training and PROskydiving are going to run and then skydive at Chicagoland Skydiving Center on the same day in celebration of life. Money will be raised for the Northwestern Dermatology Research on Melanoma fund.