When New York Times bestselling author Barbara Delinsky was diagnosed with breast cancer 17 years ago, she fought a very private battle with a disease she already knew all too well.
Breast cancer was definitely not something talked about back when Delinksy’s mother died of the disease in the 1950s. Delinsky herself wasn’t even told why her own mother died until several years later, when she was a teenager.
Because of her family history, she was not surprised to receive her own diagnosis, however, “I didn’t tell anyone. It was personal, and I’d been waiting for it all my life.”
Her doctors were all business, treating the disease but not the emotions. “My way of dealing with it was to do everything I had to do medically and then move on,” said Delinksy. She didn’t want people to feel sorry for her, and even feared that publishers would avoid giving her a contract if they knew she had breast cancer.
As a writer, Delinksy eventually found her voice to deal with a disease that lingers in the back of the mind of all survivors.
At first, it became part of one of her novels. “I wrote Coast Road about five years after my diagnosis. A secondary character [Katherine] in the novel had breast cancer. I got more reader mail about that character than I had every received before. She was a role model – going on with her life,” Delinsky recalled.
Coast Road was Delinsky’s first hardcover novel to make the New York Times Best Sellers list, and she determined that part of the book’s appeal may have been tied to that role model character.
About two years later, Delinsky was inspired to write her first piece of non-fiction – Uplift: Secrets from the Sisterhood of Breast Cancer Survivors – a book of, for, and by breast cancer survivors. “I conceived of doing this book, but I didn’t want to just use my story.”
She reached out to her mailing list, which at the time was about 14,000 people. The response was overwhelming. “They came of the woodwork,” she said. Anxious for the book’s success, Delinsky and her agent shopped the book around. “It’s the only book I’ve shamelessly promoted myself,” said Delinsky.
The first edition came out in September 2001 – within days of the 9/11 tragedy. She later issued a fifth anniversary edition, and the tenth anniversary edition was released in late September. She has added stories to each edition, and felt it was important to re-release the book. “I want people to see Uplift – people who need to see it and don’t know that it exists. This way the booksellers will treat it like a new book.”
The most recent version of Uplift has stories and suggestions from 400 different people. It’s like a handbook, a support group of people who become your friends that you can even access in the middle of the night. “There’s no book like it,” Delinsky said.
Some of the anecdotes are humorous; all are practical. For example, when you are undergoing radiation, you can’t use regular deodorant. “It’s bad enough to have cancer, but to go around with body odor is horrible,” Delinsky said. Uplift has advice about deodorants that can be used throughout the radiation.
All of the proceeds from the sale of Uplift benefit the Barbara Delinsky Charitable Foundation, which supports a research fellowship for breast surgeons at Massachusetts General Hospital that is now in its eighth year. “We need a cure, but we can’t get a cure without research,” Delinsky said.
“Uplift is about the lessons learned beyond breast cancer. We all have bumps in life, and this is one.”
Barbara Delinsky will be appearing at in West Hartford on Wednesday, Oct. 19, from 5-7 p.m., and copies of Uplift will be available for signing.
Lyn Evans Potpourri Designs owner Linda Evans Shotkus, who is also a breast cancer survivor, is thrilled and excited to welcome Delinsky to West Hartford. “Her coming to the store endorses our culture and my culture – being supportive of causes I believe in. When we’re involved in the community we try to be involved 150 percent. Instead of just being there as a business, we’re more engaged. I think having Barbara there solidifies what [we all] believe in – that we can try to help as much as we can. Every bit helps," Shotkus said.
All proceeds from the sale of Uplift will benefit the Barbara Delinsky Charitable Foundation for Breast Cancer Research. A raffle will also be available with prizes donated by other West Hartford businesses, and proceeds will further contribute to cancer research.