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Writing is My Therapy: Changing Lives With Books

How One Author Overcame the Odds and Re-Wrote Her Own Story

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One of the wonderful things about being in this business is getting to hear from authors who have put themselves out there and found success.

And every now and again, a story hits my inbox and makes a real impact.

We all deal with personal issues, and it’s a common theme on this blog that often “life gets in the way” of building up a readership or growing a business. Whether that’s kids, day jobs, family issues, whatever it might be – there is always something standing in the way.

But as I’ve said countless times before, everyone will hit roadblocks from time to time. It’s how you deal with them that sets you apart from the 99.99% of other people who give up.

But what if those roadblocks never go away? What if it feels like you can never overcome them?

Today’s article is the perfect example of someone who never gave up. Kelly Strenge, a children’s author from Iowa, USA, dealt with unimaginable family trauma, childhood tragedy, and her husband’s cancer to come out the other end swinging hard.

In the middle of it all was Kelly’s unshakeable dream of becoming an author. A dream that she made come true for herself – despite everything that happened.

This is Kelly’s story…

Writing is My Therapy – How I Re-Wrote my Own Story

By Kelly Strenge

Out of necessity, I have always had a very active imagination. I grew up in a small town in Iowa with a population of about 80 and I was the only little girl. I spent most of my days riding bike by myself or swinging at the playground by myself. Occasionally I played a game of baseball with the boys in town, but they were never very excited to have me around.

I had a loving mother that I did not see very often because she worked the night shift. My Dad instilled fear in all of us for as long as I can remember. He was verbally and sometimes physically abusive. We learned early to walk on eggshells.

I further discovered there was a big difference between me and my two brothers. Dad would say horrible things to them or hit them, and the next day it was like nothing ever happened. They were best buds again. It was not that way for me. I was stubborn from a young age and I didn’t forgive or forget so easily. When Dad screwed up, I held him accountable and he didn’t like that. I waited a long time for apologies that never came. I daydreamed to survive.

 

Then, a month before my ninth birthday, my world changed with a phone call.

My older brother, Nick, was killed in a hunting accident at the age of 11. He was shot in the neck and killed instantly, and my Dad was the one responsible. Needless to say, things went downhill from there. We were all trying to handle our own grief and it was hard to be there for anyone else. My Dad had a very hard time living with the guilt and attempted suicide two times that I know of. Still, after all of this, he never treated his two remaining children any better.

When times got tough, I turned to writing.

I would write in my diary because I could say anything I wanted to and not get in trouble. I also wrote short stories that always had a theme of a white knight coming to rescue the little girl.

Eventually, I grew up, forgave my dad, got a “real job” working as a paralegal, and got married to my high school sweetheart. Little did I know the hard times were not over. My husband, Brett, was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma on June 7, 2007. Our son had just turned one. I have summarized Brett’s battle with cancer for you below to give you an idea of what we have gone through. Not all cancer battles are created equally.

  • June 2007 – My husband was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at the age of 27 years old. What began as swollen glands in the throat had turned out to be cancer. He began ABVD Chemo.
  • November 2007 – He began ICE chemo at Mayo Clinic
  • December 26, 2007 – Began process of autologous stem cell transplant.
  • April 2008 – Scan showed the lymphoma found a way to survive the transplant.
  • July 2008 – Began process of donor stem cell transplant. Had to rent a house in Rochester, MN for 3 months because we were required to be in town and at the clinic and/or hospital every day.
  • November 2008 – Scan showed that the cancer was gone, and my husband was in remission.
  • February 2009 – Scan showed the lymphoma was back. The word cure was officially taken off the table. Brett was put on a clinical study program through Mayo Clinic.
  • August 2009 – Scan showed cancer gone again, in complete remission.
  • January 2014 – Scan showed cancer was back again. Began Brentuximab chemo.
  • October 2014 PET scan showed a new spot in his back.  We discontinued the Brentuximab and started a new clinical trial.
  • On April 10, 2015 there was no evidence of lymphoma. He was again in remission.
  • July 2015 – Lymphoma mass discovered that was partially collapsing his right lung. Began Brendamustine chemo.
  • September 17, 2015 – Scan showed he was once again in remission. He continued Brendamustine for 3 more rounds followed by 10 treatments of radiation.
  • December 11, 2015 – Last radiation treatment was completed, and he has been in remission ever since.

I have always loved writing and used to dream about being an author someday, but my parents told me to “get real.” But now I was an adult and there was no one there to tell me I couldn’t do it. I brought a notebook with me to one of Brett’s checkups and started writing down ideas as we were waiting to see the doctor. It’s amazing the creativity that comes to you when you put away all your devices and just be still and silent.

I continued to write and revise whenever I had downtime, which admittedly was sparse.

At this point though, I wasn’t really taking myself seriously because I didn’t really believe I could ever get published. It was just kind of a daydream that I entertained occasionally.

When Brett’s cancer came back in 2014, all I could think about was how to tell the kids. Braeden was so young when Brett was first diagnosed that he didn’t understand or ask questions. Now Braeden was 8 years old and in 2nd grade and our daughter, Julia, was 3 and picked up on everything.

We decided that honesty was the best route, so we told them the truth in a very gentle way hoping not to scare them.

Julia seemed to take away that Daddy had this thing called cancer and needed medicine but not much beyond that. Braeden was thinking pretty hard but didn’t say much. I reminded him that he could talk to us and ask questions whenever he wanted. He came to me the next day and asked if he could catch cancer from his dad like you could catch a cold. So, we had another long talk about how people get cancer and the fact that it is not contagious no matter what kind you have.

After this, I sat and reflected on how little kids know about cancer and how much a book like mine was needed. I began to really focus on my writing and it was very therapeutic to channel my energy into something positive instead of focusing on Brett’s relapse and how frightening the unknown is.

I wanted to write a book that would help the children who read it.

Whether they were the ones diagnosed with cancer or if they just knew someone with cancer. Secondly, I wanted to write a book that would support cancer patients and their families by giving half of all my profits back to cancer charities and research that would benefit them. I needed something positive to come out of all the pain I have endured.

I was very naïve and didn’t know anything when I signed a contract in May of 2014 to publish my book with a vanity press. However, the process of publishing a book provided a great outlet and distraction for me and for the first time in my life, I feel like this is what I was called to do.

At the time, I thought maybe it will sell a million copies and I will raise a nice chunk of change for cancer charities and research.

Or maybe it will sell 100 copies but either way it would help educate and inspire the children who have read it. Even if it only helps one kid, it would be worth it.

In the summer of 2016, The Truth About Cancer had been on the market for a little over a year and after a great start the sales were dwindling. I was feeling defeated and full of doubt. I so desperately wanted to get books out there that would help kids. I contacted my publisher several times because they were supposed to be doing publicity for my book according to our contract. Instead, I had to beg to get book signings set up and do most of the phone calls myself. I thought, “this is it, I loved making this book but maybe I wasn’t meant to do this after all.”

I was sitting in the bleachers at one of my son’s baseball games…

…talking to a good friend about my frustrations. She mentioned that she might know someone that could help. She got me in touch with Jade Eby, who is an author of romance novels but also owns her own company called Author Accelerator to help people make their dream of writing become a reality.

Overall, I have made a lot of mistakes but next came the great part. She filled me with hope. She gave me a lot of great information to keep going and not give up on this dream of mine because she knew how important this was to me. Furthermore, she believed in what I was trying to accomplish. And the best news was that self-publishing didn’t have to cost thousands to do. There were lots of different ways to make it happen. So I cut ties with the vanity press and decided to give self-publishing a try.

I found out how incredibly naive I was when my first book published. I settled on a lot of things because I didn’t have a choice if I wanted them to publish my book.

I acted desperate, instead of confident. That is why after I talked to Jade I knew that one thing I had to do was re-make The Truth About Cancer on my terms this time.

For example, my publisher wanted me to lay out all the pictures that I wanted in the book and then they only used a few of my ideas and the rest they just filled in with their ideas and told me that was how it was going to be. Now I have put all new illustrations in the second edition, and have a much more visually interesting layout. Today, I am proud to have my name on it. Throughout this process I learned that sometimes dreams aren’t dead, they just need woken up.

In an effort to continue to learn everything I could about writing and publishing…

…I would look for all the free webinars that I could because honestly, money has probably been the biggest obstacle holding me back. We reach our max out of pocket on our health insurance every year even when Brett is healthy because of test, scans, and checkups that he needs. I also took a job working at my children’s elementary school that I love but it was a pay cut and we continue to live paycheck to paycheck.

Anyway, I watched webinars from JoAnna Penn and Joel Friedlander and this is where I discovered Nick Stephenson. After a lot of prayer and thought on the matter I decided to take a risk and purchase his Your First 10,000 Readers learning modules. Which, by the way, I would have never been able to do without his monthly payment plan, so I am very thankful for that.

I can’t even quantify how much I have learned from these modules. I continue to put them into practice whenever I can. But, to be honest the progress has been slow because, like I said I have very limited resources to put into my writing.

There is a great Victor Fankl quote that says, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

I have worked very hard to overcome my wounds.  Unfortunately, kids don’t have the power to change their situation but with our help they can change themselves and their outlook on life. I am determined to use my books to spread as much positivity, faith, and hope that I can.

Life is messy, and kids need a hand up. Parents don’t always have the strength, knowledge, or resources to give them the help that they need. Sometimes that help must come from outside the family. I have now written children’s books on the topic of cancer, divorce, and autism. In addition, I wrote a book about what all the iconic symbols we see at Christmas time mean.

Next, I have a Christian fiction series called Princess Faith

Where each book focuses on a different bible verse and how it is relevant to a child’s life. My faith has been growing and changing dramatically over the last year and a half and I am constantly thinking I wish I had this faith when I was young. I feel it would have helped me greatly through my brother’s death, the abuse, the divorce, high school bullies and peer pressure, the list goes on and on.

I also feel these books are a preemptive strike because if they develop a strong faith before something difficult arises, maybe they wouldn’t need my other books to help them cope. I personally think that if more people had a stronger faith and closer relationship to God that there wouldn’t be near as much stress, anxiety, and depression in this country.

I truly am on a mission to improve the lives of children with these books, along with helping better communication between parents and their children. Writing has helped me heal and it is my wish that it will do the same for the children that read it or maybe even prevent the pain before it happens.

 

 

Today, I continue to make my writing a priority along with growing my email list.

I currently have an 11-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter how love sports and make a lot of demands on my time. I also work full time as their school librarian. Further, I am a wife, a Sunday School teacher, and a circle leader at my church. I have very little down time, but I soak up every minute of writing time I can during the evenings, weekends, and on school breaks.

I will never give up on my dream of writing. It is my therapy. And then there are those moments where someone comes up to you and tells you how much your book has meant to them, these moments are priceless.

I may not of had a great start in this life, but I will have a great finish.

Kelly Strenge was inspired to begin writing children’s books during a relapse of her husband’s cancer. Since then, she has written children’s books on a wide variety of challenging topics to educate children and help them cope, and to help improve communication between parents and their children. Find out more about Kelly and get some free resources right here at her website.

 

And now we’d love to hear from you. Have you battled adversity in your life and come out swinging? How does writing help you deal with personal issues in your life? Leave a comment if you’d like to share (we read and reply to every single one).

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