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  • Writer's pictureSally Kalksma

Never Quit

Life Gets in the Way: Powering Through Adversity with Grit and Grace Cover Shoot with Tom Zapcic
Shooting with Tom Zapcic in support of my book, Life Gets in the Way: Powering Through Adversity with Grit and Grace

The past month has been a learning experience for me, as I have never published a book before. My editor, Claudia Volkman, pushed me to write and re-write over and over until my story was just right. I never knew what a process writing a book could be! Now my publisher, Karen Strauss, is working with me to complete a wide variety of administrative and legal tasks before my memoirs go to print. I have to admit these final stages aren't that fun, but it will be well worth my efforts to be able to share my story with the world. Okay, so not all these tasks are horrible. Last week, I got to be a diva for the day, which was quite enjoyable! After much deliberation, we decided the cover of my book wouldn't be an illustration like I originally imagined but rather a photographic solution, featuring me! I was pampered like a movie star. I didn’t even go to a spa, my glam squad came to me! They made sure I had my nails done, my eyebrows shaped, and my hair styled. Even my makeup was done for me. After 4 hours of primping, I was finally ready to appear before the camera. And that I did for another 4 hours. Wow, all I could think during this experience is that supermodels have a great 8-hour workday! Some may think this experience would be absolutely nerve-wracking, but I was very comfortable especially in front of the photographer. I have been photographed several times before and surprisingly the photographer, Tom Zapcic, is a dear friend of mine! Tom and I have known each other for close to ten years. We met through the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF) when we were both invited to run for their Power Team in the Empire State Building Run Up. Not only is Tom a "Step-brother", but Tom is also a Multiple Myeloma survivor.  Getting to share my special day trying to communicate the grit and grace it takes to overcome cancer through still images with Tom was an absolute honor. As survivors, we share a certain bond that only warriors can understand. And for that, I was reminded all day why I wrote my book and why it is important to finish what you started even if it's not fun anymore and you just want to give up. Power through it and enjoy the process.  We are stronger than we think. My book Life Gets in the Way: Powering Through Adversity with Grit and Grace will be released this holiday season! Here is an excerpt from my book recounting one of my lowest days as Multiple Myeloma patient, what a stark contrast my day as a diva was for Tom and I in comparison to this:

I hit my lowest point on Day Plus 9. My absolute neutrophil count hit zero, and my platelets, white blood cells and red blood cells were almost as low. My poor visitors that day witnessed my body go into shock. They sat and watched the first of two-emergency blood transfusions. The second blood transfusion was given the next day before a platelet transfusion. I didn’t have any brain cells left at this point, not that I had many to begin with. Fortunately, I enjoy writing, and I kept journals about my stay. If I hadn’t kept these journals, I wouldn’t remember a majority of what happened to me. The hallucinations from the chemo did not help my situation either. One night I just sat in bed and watched the walls turn different shades of purple. As the days went on, I wrote less and less in my journal. It’s not that I didn’t want to; I simply couldn’t. It became too hard for me to think clearly, and it definitely was too difficult for me to write. Thank goodness, I kept a guest book. I asked everyone who came to visit me to sign in. I still love to look back and read all the encouraging messages.  I was so blessed to have visitors every day except for that one day, and I was pleasantly surprised at who made the trek from various places. I was also disappointed at who didn’t. I remembered Pete once saying, “You find out who your true friends are by who comes to visit you in the hospital.” It was hard not to feel let down. I tried to remind myself that everyone has something going on in their lives too, but the same stages of grief I went through when Pete passed were reemerging again: remorse, anger at everyone and everything, and betrayal. Only this time I did not have the energy to take my negative feelings out on a workout. I had to work these feelings out in my head. I was also mad at the Multiple Myeloma patients who were still in the smoldering stage yet complaining of their diagnosis. To me, these patients hadn’t gone through the treatment, the same rites of passage we did, the patients whose cancer progressed into full-blown Multiple Myeloma. I felt even more disdain toward cancer-free people who had no idea what is was like to be a patient. And don't tell me about being a caregiver. It's not the same. I’ve been there. Linda told me not to expect anything from anyone so I wouldn’t be disappointed. She was right. To keep an upbeat outlook, I had to remember what I told myself before treatment: I wanted to be a better person when it was all over. I told the cancer, “I have you; you don’t have me. Nor will you ever. Although you are trying to get the best of me, there is no doubt that I will win. I will do everything possible, physically and mentally, to annihilate you, destroy you, and kill you. And when I’m done, I will help other cancer warriors fight too.
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