It was the crisp turning of the seasons in Northern California. The time of year where the sun shines deceptively bright for the cooler temperatures that kiss naked skin not yet covered for the cooler Autumn days that lie ahead. I had recently moved into my studio, living alone for the first time in my 40-year-old life. I had abruptly separated from my wife of 10 years after having survived an extensive health crisis. During the course of the previous 12 months, I had a bomb decimate my life. In the aftermath I was left with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, the discovery of two brain tumors, the confirmation that one of the tumors was cancer, two brain surgeries, and moving across the country to undergo months of radiation to the brain generated by specialized technology that spanned 3 stories high. I was simultaneously running an award-winning women’s gift shop, all the while being a brand new mom to my one and only daughter who had just turned one year old. It was easy to conclude I had a lot on my plate.
One of the ways I stayed connected to my loved ones throughout this insanity was by writing updates I posted on Caring Bridge or Facebook. I didn’t post often, yet when I did I was vulnerable and raw. Creative writing had been my love since I was a child. So even something as simple as an update on my health was often worded in a particularly engaging way that only someone who valued the craft of creative writing would take the time to invest. Folks noticed. Time and again I received positive feedback about my writing. Hearing someone suggest I write a book became the norm, so much so I teased, “If I had a dollar for every time I heard that…”
At first, I found the suggestion that I write a book flattering. Every so often I’d let myself daydream that the fantastic wisdom and insight I’d gained by arriving at death’s door only to be denied time and again would morph into great teaching I could share with the world. However most days, I was struggling with the mere basics simply to stay alive: eat, sleep, cry, wonder why, repeat. Any notion of a life where I’d be functioning enough to articulate my experiences and thread them together in the format of a book was about as plausible as my life long dream of slam-dunking a basketball Michael Jordan style. I was in such pain, distress, and suffering, I genuinely didn’t know if I was going to live long term.
Before getting diagnosed my life had been riddled with experiences I have struggled my entire lifetime to find adequate words for. I believe it is part of my life’s mission to find a way to express these experiences. Suddenly, when faced with death before having done so, I panicked. It felt like I would fall short of my destiny if I died before finding a way to articulate the wisdom gained in these extraordinary experiences. I wouldn’t have completed an important part of my karmic path.
I was in quite the conundrum. I was too sick to live, but not sick enough to die. I felt suspended in a holding cell of sorts. I had entered a realm of pure suffering; it felt like everything existed with the sole purpose of teaching me what it was like to suffer at every turn, with no hope of anything ever being different. If I can’t resource the strength to tell my story, then what? I die in pain? In absolute vain?
On the eve of a night that was no different than any other, I had an epiphany. If I was too weakened to tell my story, yet it was destined to be told, maybe I could find a famous author to tell my story for me? Was that shucking my karmic duty? Maybe. Yet if it was fate for my story to be told one way or another, perhaps it mattered not the voice in which it was told?
It wasn’t long before I convinced myself this was my ticket to fulfilling my karmic destiny when an expiration date had been stamped on my forehead. I jumped online and did an internet search for Jodi Picoult, my favorite novelist of all time. As ludicrous as my proposition sounded, I thought to myself, “Crazier things have happened!”
Before I knew it I landed on Jodi’s website, found the “contact us” area, clicked on her email address, and voila! I was writing an email to Jodi Picoult. The cursor blinked at me from a blank, white screen while I stared, frozen. It was so easy to contact her directly. I wasn’t prepared for this moment. An hour ago I was thinking about smoothies and whether or not I wanted kale with my blueberries. Now I sat before a screen that would connect me to one of the most talented writers on the planet. Before I could chicken out I told myself it was highly unlikely she would ever read my email. I reasoned that she received hundreds of fan letters each day and had paid staff to handle her online interactions. I took a deep breath and typed. “Dear Jodi,” I began. The words came tumbling out in a cascade of desperation meets motivation. I was honest. I was raw. I was unedited. I had absolutely nothing to lose. I told her how statistically the chances of being diagnosed with MS and Chordoma, the rare form of cancer I had, are 1 in 1 billion, meaning there are likely only 6 other humans on the planet right now with both diseases. However, the real story my soul longed to tell began years before either diagnosis. Getting MS and Chordoma was only the icing on the cake of an already exceptionally unique life I’d been living. I typed, “I’ve lived a ridiculously riveting life that seems to be getting more unique with every passing moment.” I did my best to respectfully ask her to sit down with me and hear my tale and see if it sparked enough intrigue in her to want to write about it.
Then, before I could talk myself out of it, I clicked send. I let out an audible sigh of relief. I had done my part; I attempted to fill my karmic duty. If my story was meant to be shared with the world at large via Jodi Picoult, then so be it. If I’m honest though, I did feel a twinge of disappointment. It felt like yet another thing I was loosing, my own voice, except this one I had control over. Although I was in way too deep to see it at the time, what was motivating me was fear. I was afraid I was going to die. I was afraid I would fail at what I had been born in this lifetime to do. Contacting Jodi Picoult was my last-ditch effort to appease my soul before I was completely consumed by the ravaging cancer that had hijacked my destiny.
I went to my outbox and reread what I sent her about 10 times. I was getting ready to power down for the night when, I kid you not, in came the notification that I had 1 new message. My heart skipped a beat. It hadn’t been long enough to get a response, I told myself. I held my breath then bravely clicked that number 1. I could not believe it! It had only been 20 minutes on the nose from when I clicked “Send” to when Jodi Picoult had responded! My eyes about popped out of my head. I clicked open the email thinking it was an automated response since it came so quickly. When lo and behold I read my name, “Candra,” she said. No “Hello” or “Dear” or anything other than a total command for my full attention. Jodi Picoult was calling for me and she got me, 110%. Just like that, I was on a first-name basis with one of the greatest storytellers of all time. My eyes were wide, my heart was racing, and I was in a legitimate level of shock. A mere hour earlier I thought today was as ordinary a day as any other. Yet there I was, 60 minutes later reading words one of the most famous authors of my generation had written directly to ME. Here is part of what she said:
“Candra, I understand why you want your life story told, but I am NOT the one to write it. YOU are. It’s your feelings, thoughts, and insights that would make it a viable book. (And you shouldn’t feel badly; I don’t take on story ideas at all from others!) I would really urge you to write it yourself… I do hope you will consider writing, too.”
Too? As in, in addition to
her? Was she inviting me to join her ranks? Would I heed the call? I sat on my purple, velvet couch excited, stunned, and in disbelief all at once. Did I really just write Jodi Picoult and try to shuck my life’s mission on to her? Had she really replied and told me in no uncertain terms that my story is mine and mine alone to tell? Excitement and wonderment began replacing the dread and angst I had felt. Suddenly, in the haze of the bomb that had detonated and flipped my world upside down and inside out, Jodi Picoult was a beacon of light who’s words lit the distant path I am still making my way towards.
Currently, it is 5 years and 5 brain surgeries later. I am free from cancer and beginning to formally write for the first time in my life. I declare this short story as an official baby step toward my book. Jodi Picoult, thank you for keeping me aligned with my destiny. I may have had a brain surgery or two waylay me, however, get ready world! My story is coming.
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