Jill Foer Hirsch, a breast cancer survivor, writer, and humorist, is the author of the new book When Good Boobs Turn Bad: A Mammoir, which recounts her experiences with breast cancer. She lives in the Washington, D.C., area.
Q: Why did you decide to write your book?
A: I had a blog when I was sick, on CaringBridge, and everyone was really responsive to that, and by everyone I mean friends, family, and a circle outside that. People were sending the link to other people who had cancer, and unfortunately everyone knows someone. The response was that this was really inspiring. I didn’t [think of myself[ as inspiring; I thought I was a goofball having fun. But it’s OK to laugh sometimes, even in the worst situations.
CaringBridge is an amazing resource—it’s a free site for anyone going through an illness or a family emergency. I was overwhelmed at first with e-mails and calls. I was grateful that people cared about me, but I don’t know: Does everyone want to know that I get my stitches out today? I set up the website on CaringBridge. It reduced a lot of the stress, especially on my husband.
Q: What has the response been to your book?
A: Most people [like it]. When I was working on it, on occasion I talked to someone who was offended by it—it’s not a book for those people. I went to Sibley [Hospital] to the infusion center to give copies of the book to the nurses, and they instinctively know which patients to tell about the book. I went back and forth on the title—If the title is a problem, then the book is not for you!
Q: How did you come up with the title?
A: Many, many times thinking things through.
Q: Your family members appear in the book—what do they think of it?
A: My family is incredibly supportive. As with a comedian, they frequently are the fodder [for my writing]. Everyone in my family has a very strong sense of humor.
Q: How was the process of getting the book published?
A: It’s really tough. It’s a whole new business for me. I was very naïve—I thought if I had something great, I would just e-mail it to a lot of publishers. Then I realized I need an agent, a business plan, a platform.
I got an offer from one agent, who wanted to change the flavor of the book, and that didn’t feel right, so I didn’t go with him Of 60 queries I sent out, this was the only agent willing to move forward. Even if this was my only shot, I learned to trust my instinct.
I talked to other authors who had self-published—[in the past,] that idea had left a bad taste in my mouth, the idea of a vanity press. Now it’s a completely different model. I figured, I had already written the book, and with print on demand, it was a shame not to do it.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: When you hear you have cancer, for many people, it’s, I’m going to die, or This is going to be hell. Frequently, unfortunately, that is the case, but for a lot of people, it’s not. People should take one step at a time when they hear that word, and not assume it’s going to be terrible or fatal. Of course, that’s easy for me to say because I didn’t have a terminal illness, but [one] should start out thinking there’s something they can do about this.
Also, my advice is to start a website on CaringBridge. It took so much pressure off the people taking care of me.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb