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Health Activist Authors: Casey Quinlan's Cancer for Christmas

As part of our monthly celebration of Health Activism In Real Life (IRL) and offline advocacy – we will be looking at a way members of our online health network have made a splash writing offline: authorship. Today’s interview is with Cancer Warrior and Health Activist – Casey Quinlan who blogs over at Mighty Casey and has written the book, Cancer for Christmas.


When and why did you start writing?

Casey: Like everything else, it was a process. I remember bedeviling my mother when I was 4 to teach me how to write, and I’ve been on a roll ever since.


What inspired you to write your book? Tell us a bit about your book.

Casey: As far as the journey to my first book goes, I worked in major media (network TV news) for 2+ decades, so storytelling is a central feature and focus of my life.


From 2000 through 2002, I managed my parents’ medical care, advocating for them in the last 2+ years of their lives (they died 29 days apart at the end of 2002). I was already pretty fierce on any average day – living in NYC and working in net TV news pretty much guarantees that you’ll have the negotiation skills of an arbitrage banker combined with the cut-to-the-chase forward thrust of a pit bull on crack – and I discovered that I needed every imperial ounce of that ferocity as I advocated for a father with advancing Parkinson’s and a mother with a buffet of issues including dementia and massive endocrine-management challenges.


When, five days before Christmas in 2007, I got a cancer diagnosis myself, it seemed karmic destiny that my 1st book (which was in the 2008 annual plan, but was *not* planned as a managing-health-care book!) would be “Cancer for Christmas: Making the Most of a Daunting Gift”.


The book uses my trip through what I call the “health care car wash” as the central thread of a call for everyone to take an active, participatory role in managing their own health, and health care. I talk about the decisions I made, how I evaluated those decisions, and how I selected team members (a/k/a doctors) for my treatment team. And, because I’m a recovering stand-up comedian as well as a recovering journalist, it’s also funny as hell.


My philosophy in a nutshell: Life is 100% fatal. Let’s have fun while we’re here.



Any tips for fellow Health Activists who may want to write a book?

Casey: Rather than think “I’m going to write a book” – which can be a scary hill to climb for some people – work on journaling your story in small chunks. I took that approach while writing C4C, mostly because I was recording almost 10 months of treatment, so journaling/blogging the journey was important so I could capture events, not a distant memory of events.


Work with one or two trusted friends who are good wordsmiths themselves. Have them read drafts, and welcome their feedback. I was lucky enough that a good friend, who’s a creative writing teacher at a top university in my area, asked to edit my manuscript, gratis. That’s a gift beyond price.


Plan to self-publish, unless you’re already a celebrity. That will cost you some money up front, but you’ll be in total control, and can get some great editorial and PR help. Traditional publishers don’t give you much on either of those, really, and you have a huge slog through the book proposal/book pitching cycle to get published by a traditional house. You get what you pay for, in publishing as well as everywhere else in the marketplace.


Finally, If you’re not confident in your own writing ability, take the Keith Richards’ approach: talk your book into a digital audio recorder, and deliver the audio to a writer. It’s what he did for his autobiography “Life”, and it worked incredibly well!


Thanks for sharing with us, Casey. You can learn more about her book Cancer for Christmas by visiting the Cancer for Christmas site.




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