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How Cancer Cured My Broken Soul #ourgoodlifebooklist

Every October since 2009 I have taken time to acknowledge my year-long run with breast cancer.  I marvel in what my body was able to endure, and the lessons that I have learned along the way. This year, I have taken a quieter approach, being year 11, and have spent my time in reflection.  When I learned that my former colleague and friend, Nicole Czarnomski had written a book about her cancer journey, I decided that this would be one of the ways I would celebrate my 11 years away from breast cancer.

However, after I finished the book, I knew I would not be able to remain silent.

Nicole has written the book that I wished I could have read before all my decisions for cancer treatment. Her no-nonsense, yet humorous, and deeply emotional story helped me understand, even after 11 years, that the journey I went through was incredibly hard, but not without its defining moments.  This book is a gentle reminder of that fact.

From Amazon: Nicole L. Czarnomski debuts an intimate portrait of her breast cancer journey and how she was able to find herself through the process. After she was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer, she was forced to make decisions no forty-two-year-old woman should have to make. She is candid about her bilateral mastectomy, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, Tamoxifen, and a back injury immediately following treatment. Amidst fear, horror, and devastation, she learns to laugh, live in gratitude, love deeply, and accept imperfections. She shares her tips for dealing with each phase of treatment while celebrating milestones with her tribe. Although her journey begins in fear, it ends with a precious gift, the belief, and knowing that she is strong, resilient, graceful, and loved by many people. She journaled through her treatments and wrote this book to help others in the face of adversity. Her newfound love for yoga and meditation is a gift given to her in one of the darkest most difficult journeys of her life. Whether you are facing a similar illness or you are supporting a loved one, this book offers ideas to celebrate milestones, ways to manage setbacks, shows you how to work with fear, and reminds you there can be joy in the darkest of times.

I mentioned that Nicole and I are former colleagues.  I had the wisdom and blessing to hire Nicole to teach art to 600 K-5th graders. I have an innate fondness for artists, and one of my hiring practices for art teachers was to hire someone who does art as part of their every day living. Nicole brought that joy of creating, that spark of magic that only one who understands that art opens your soul.  It was no surprise to me that Nicole could write a book of this caliber, one that would deepen my understanding of my own cancer journey.  I found that some of our experiences were the same (no kidding, Nicole, I had a drain tube that wouldn't stop and I also laughed hysterically when that drain tube was removed from my left side.  W.T.F.  Honestly, the single most inhumane treatment throughout the whole journey!)

I highly recommend How Cancer Cured My Broken Soul by Nicole L. Czarnomski for all caregivers and breast cancer patients.  Nicole tells us the nitty-gritty through her personal experiences, making us feel all the feels, yet coming out the other side feeling victorious and strong in spite of all that cancer takes away.

I want you to get to know Nicole as a person, too, so I asked her these questions:

1.     As an artist, you probably have a definitive personal style. Describe that for us, telling us your influences along the way.

Color! I love color. As a young artist studying drawing and painting in college, I idolized Howard Hodgkin, a British painter, and Dale Chilhuly, an American glass sculptor. Both artists use brilliant color. They are abstract in nature while also pushing the limits of creativity and emotion. Matisse and Picasso were also artists that I admired. I really like unique pieces, things that make you stop and do a double take. While my fashion choices are usually very classy with clean lines, I love little touches of pizazz or sassiness.

These artists made me feel like having or showing emotion was a good thing, though sometimes my emotions have been a bit misguided. I have learned how to redirect them in a positive way, usually through the written word.  Journaling and writing allow me to put emotions on paper and let them go, especially negative emotions. I process them and move on.

2.     In the book, you mention classic rock a couple of times. Where do you think that love of classic rock came from?

My dad for sure! He loves Stevie Nicks, Creedence Clearwater Revival (CCR) and The Who. I was also a child of the 80s. My first concert was a Poison concert in Columbia, Missouri. I was in 7th grade. I still remember all the words to Every Rose Has Its Thorn. I had the biggest crush on Brett Michaels. Guns n Roses was also one of my favorite bands. I often sing Patience on my karaoke machine.

Your parents sound like they were incredibly supportive, even at long distances (they live in Missouri and you in Minnesota). What advice can you give caregivers about what was helpful for you while you were dealing with all that comes with having breast cancer?

My mom actually helped me shower just days after my reconstruction. She was incredibly supportive when she saw my incisions, calm and reassuring. I was terrified to look at my body after that surgery. It was the best thing she could have done – she didn’t freak out. She also came to one of my chemo treatments. This was a big step for my mom. She hates hospitals, snot, puke, poo, and all bodily functions. My point is you may have to do something that is way out of your comfort zone. Just do it!

My dad did what my dad has always done. He found humor in many situations. I couldn’t scrub my armpits for the first several days because of the drains. He chuckled one day while we were sitting outside and said, “I better sit upwind from you since you haven’t scrubbed those armpits.”

When they weren’t physically by my side, my parents also made sure there was a package in the mail with peanut butter (high in protein), ginger chews (good for nausea), and encouraging notes. You don’t have to do anything monumental, sometimes the littlest things mean the most.

4.     Favorite decade for fashion. (stolen from book reviewer HastyBookList)

Such a great question. I grew up with every single fashion magazine produced in the 90s. I had a very patient mother who let me write and tape anything and everything to my bedroom walls. They were plastered with designers including Calvin Klein, Prada, Gucci, Alexander McQueen, Jean Paul Gaultier and Donna Karan. I loved the sleek and classy lines of slip dresses and oversized suits. I loved wrap skirts and dresses and scrunchies that matched. I hated acid washed jeans but loved when I could afford Guess jeans. It made me feel uber cool. I also loved to wear oversized t-shirts and grungy flannels. I was all over the place. I just loved a little of everything! 

The book has been published since April. Who would you like to thank now, that didn’t get in the book?

Thank you for asking this question. Hands down, my friend Erika Goldsmith. She is just lovely. She made an effort to stop by my house after surgery. I don’t remember much from her visit. I think I was still a little loopy from the anesthesia. I think she may be one of my biggest fans too. She came to my benefit and later to help me celebrate my last radiation treatment. When I published my book, she was probably the first one to buy it and then she sent me a message to tell me how proud she was of me and my accomplishments. I just love her! We continue to get together for coffee or drinks when time allows.

I also want to thank the woman that crocheted multiple hats for me. I don’t know who did it, but my friend Kathy, who I mentioned in the book many times, brought them by my house one day. I loved those hats and so did my cold, bald head.

You can purchase the book through Amazon with the link below.  In addition to the book, Nicole has created a journal that goes along with it for breast cancer patients.  Be sure to grab one of those, too! If you do purchase from the links below, I will make a small commission!

Would you like to comment?

  1. This sounds like an inspiring book. I will have to pick it up. I am so glad you survived as well. I imagine that must've been frightening.

  2. I need to read this book. This is the kind of thing that really puts all my small, petty problems into big perspective.

  3. I wish I had that book when my aunt and mom were going through their cancer treatments. Congratulations on being cancer-free for 11 years! That's awesome.

  4. This sounds like an incredible book, and oh gosh, Nicole's parents are just the sweetest. Humor and love is what makes the journey a little bit easier.

  5. This sounds like a really amazing book. Thank you so much for sharing!

  6. Thank you for sharing your story and your feelings. I can't immagine what you went through. I need to read this book too!

  7. Nikki Wayne4:42 AM

    Glad to know you survived cancer, thanks for sharing your story.

  8. Sounds like a very inspirational book! I hope you continue to be well. Take care!

  9. I'm happy to know that you survived cancer. My Mom died a few years ago after two years of battling cancer. Wishing you all the best. -LYNNDEE

  10. What a beautiful story very inspiring. I'm happy to hear that you survived cancer using that book how I wish my aunt can read this book she died 3 years ago because of breast cancer.


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