I’m considered high risk for breast cancer, because of the radiation treatment I received twelve years ago to cure me of the cancer I had then, lymphoma. Twelve years. That feels pretty exhilarating to type as well as to say in conversation, on the rare occassions the subject arises.
I’ve talked else where (such as in this interview) of my battle with cancer, and the number it did on my brain for several years afterward, when I was otherwise in remission, my hair had grown back, and I appeared a healthy 30-something woman walking around. What I was, really, was a slightly bewildered ex-fiction writer with her brain in a fog who’d pretty much given up on ever writing again.
God brought me through that dark valley, and five years post chemo I did begin writing again the types of novels that never stopped being my passion to write. The only difference was I settled on the historical genre (instead of fantasy, and contemporary).
Writing historicals takes a tremendous amount of research, especially when one picks an era she previously knew little about. Added to working hard to get back in the discipline of daily writing again without letting it overwhelm me, I had to give myself a crash course in Colonial, Revolutionary, and early Federal American history.
Noooo problem. Except that here’s where a long term affect of chemo fog comes into play in my story. I don’t have much of a long term memory anymore. Things I researched five years ago (okay, honestly? Things I researched a few months ago) are no longer where I put them in my head, and if I find I need them again for the current novel in progress, guess what? I get to research them all over again. So really my researching never ends, because I’m constantly reading up on subjects I’ve already researched. I do this now as a matter of course, because I know it’s not going to stick for long.
In the beginning, it wasn’t this way.
It’s not that I wouldn’t have noticed this memory issue if I wasn’t writing. There are huge gaps in my childhood, teenage years, and even early married years that I no longer recall. Frequently my husband will mention something that happened or someone we knew or somewhere we went decades ago and I draw a total blank. Sometimes I’ll hazily recall it and realize I would never have thought of it again, ever, had he not brought it up.
Now, I’m also twelve years older than I was before I had cancer and chemo, so maybe some of this is simply age, but I tend to doubt that. Mainly due to the conspicuous timing of the onset of this memory issue with chemotherapy.
So what this all boils down to is that I simply have to work harder at the research aspect of historical fiction writing than I probably would if I’d never had chemotherapy. In some ways I’m glad about this. When I become frustrated, knowing I once knew some fact (or many of them) that I need for a current scene, and have to go back to my books to scour them for knowledge I should still have filed away, I think about the fact that I’m writing at all and know that it’s not by my strength that these stories are getting written now. I have to lean on Him, every day. And I’m thankful, every day, for the strength, time, and mental acuity He’s lent me to get these stories out of my head and onto the screen.
And I wonder what Jacob thought about when his hip pained him in the night. You know, the one God slipped out of socket when they wrestled, and gave Jacob his new name, Israel? Did that bum hip remind Jacob that getting by on his own strength, by his own wiles, led to grief? Did that stick he leaned on remind him of the God who invited him to lean on Him in order to walk upright? Did he see it as a blessing of insight, rather than a handicap?
I hope so.
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