Monday, October 31, 2011

The Power of the Mask

Happy Halloween my fellow bloggers and blog followers. Today I have guest blogger Elizabeth Means talking about The Power of the Mask--and her new release, Dangerous Charade.

Welcome Elizabeth!

All Hallows Eve…the night ghosts of the dead return to earth to wreak havoc upon us mere mortals.  That’s what the Celts believed some 2000 years ago.  They also believed if one absolutely had to go out on this most treacherous of all evenings a mask should be worn for protection.  The theory being  the wicked spirits would be unable to identify anyone wearing a mask and therefore would pass them by without causing harm.  

Perhaps the dead can easily be fooled by something as simple as a mask but I don’t believe the living can be.  It seems to me, rather than hiding our identity masks only serve to better reveal the true personality of the one who wears it.  It is liberating to shed our everyday persona and pretend to be someone we’re not.   Do things we normally wouldn’t dream of doing.  All without the fear of judgment or repercussions thanks to the anonymity of a mask.  Who among us doesn’t find the notion at least a teensy bit tempting? 

No doubt this is why masquerade balls have been popular social events for centuries.  And why they’re still wildly popular today in many historical romance novels.  They provide the perfect setting for flirtatious banter, coquettish games and the intricate dance of seduction.  They also provide the ideal backdrop for mystery and dare I say…murder. 

 So what are you doing on this evening of opportunity?  Chances are you plan to hand-out candy at the door.  Then around nine o’clock you’ll see there are only a few Snickers left so you’ll turn out the light, eat them and go on about your normal routine. 
Live a little.  Go get a mask, put it on…and play.   Seduce your lover in a way that blows their mind, fool your neighbors, play tricks on little goblins that come to your door.  Throw restraint to the wind, just for one evening.

It’s Halloween!  What are you waiting for?

BLURB: Dangerous Charade
To escape an arranged marriage Gabrielle Broussard flees her home to become an undercover investigator with an elite, all-female investigative agency.  Her first assignment, as governess at Westford castle to investigate the suspicious death of the Countess of Westford, quickly becomes complicated when she finds herself attracted to her number one suspect.
Lord Julian Blackwell is a survivor.  After his father’s bankruptcy, he becomes a self-made man in Victorian England’s booming industrial era.  Trapped into a loveless marriage, he has survived the shock of his wife’s sudden death.  But now he must survive rumors and outright accusations.  Hiring a private agency to investigate and prove his innocence seems like a good idea…until desire threatens to compromise both the case and the life of the investigator.

EXCERPT: Dangerous Charade
Gabrielle raced across the lawn toward a side entrance most often used by the servants at Westford. Dawn was breaking and she needed to move fast. If anyone saw her, she would be hard-pressed to explain why she was returning from a ride at this time of day, in the dark. And carrying a fancy parasol, no less.
She’d almost reached the door when Julian’s voice cut through the still morning air like a knife.
“Oh!” Her free hand flew to her mouth as she whirled toward the sound of his voice. He stood close to the building, hidden in the shadows. “My lord, you nearly scared me to death! I didn’t see you there.”
“Just what are you doing out here, lurking about in the shadows?” she demanded, adrenaline pumping.
“What am I doing?” He stared at her incredulously. “Not that I owe you any explanation for my actions while on my own estate, but I came out to watch the sunrise. What the devil are you doing?”
“I was…checking on Buttercup. I’m told she’s been acting strangely.” Gabrielle took a few more steps toward the building. “But—good news—it appears she’s doing fine.”
In a flash Julian was between her and the door. He regarded her closely. “That doesn’t explain why you’re lugging a parasol around in the dark.”
Gabrielle swallowed hard. She saw his green eyes narrow. “One never knows what one might encounter lurking about in the shadows. I may have needed it to defend myself from something. Or someone,” she added pointedly.
Julian stepped closer to her; they were less than an arm’s length apart. “Do you think you need it now?” The suggestive tone in his voice was unmistakable.
Her breathing quickened, and she averted her gaze. “What I think is that you are most unnerving.”
Julian reached out and tilted her chin up with his fingers. “What kind of game are you playing, Gabrielle?”
She didn’t answer. And he didn’t ask again. Instead he brought his head down very slowly and claimed her mouth with his own.

Thanks Elizabeth for joining us today. Hope everyone has a safe and fun Halloween. And be sure to stop by Elizabeth's website to learn more about this amazing new author. And if you're looking for a good read, check out Dangerous Charade

Friday, October 28, 2011

Toni V. Sweeney's Breast Cancer Message

It's still breast cancer awareness week and today's message to women is from fellow author and breast cancer survivor, Toni V. Sweeney.
Good to Go for Another Year

Dear Ms. Sweeney:
            The radiologist has interpreted your recent mammogram and/or breast imaging study, and we are pleased to inform you that the results are normal or benign (no evidence of cancer).
            As you know, early detection of cancer is important

Okay, so I can breathe easier for another year.  Had my yearly oncology check, my mammo, and I’m A-OK and good to go.          
It’s been ten years now since I had the mammogram that wasn’t benign, or normal.  Ten years since I detected that small lump during a self-exam.  Ten years since I sat in an exam room, waiting for the confirmation of what I was afraid I was going to hear.
When I found what I thought was a lump, I didn’t delay making an appointment and going to a doctor.  I’m usually a wait-and-see person but this time, I decided to meet the problem head-on.  Surprisingly, it was my doctor who dilly-dallied around.  Perhaps it was because I was unemployed and uninsured at the time, I don’t know, but after the biopsy confirming his diagnosis, I was told to “go home and wait,” that he’d call me with a referral to a surgeon.
Four weeks later, I was still waiting, and becoming panicky.  After several phone calls which weren’t returned, I tried to think what to do.  I was a stranger in a strange city in a new state, so I turned to the only place I could think of:  the American Cancer Society.  Three days after speaking to someone on the phone, I was on a gurney, being wheeled into surgery for a lumpectomy.  I didn’t know that a few hours later, as soon as I walked through the door of my apartment, in fact, I would get a phone call asking me to come back—right then!—because they needed to do a second one.
Everything went well.  I proceeded through radiation therapy, driving myself to the sessions each morning for six weeks.  Then, I was started on Tamoxifen therapy instead of the traditional chemo.  I gained 60 pounds on that route, going from a svelte 109 to a lumpy 165.  Never going to lose it, they tell me, but—hey! You’re alive, so stop your complaining that you’re not attractive any more.  (Forgive my sarcasm here.  That has been, and always will be, a source of psychological upset to me.)
As to the rest of that letter…”early detection…is very important.”
Don’t I know it! 
The year before I was diagnosed, I saw an ad on TV, stating that very thing, and the man I loved made me promise I’d do those self-exams and have a mammogram each year.  I assured him I was already doing that.  Soon afterward, he died, but my promised stayed in place.
The point of all this rambling is that, no matter what the AMA or any other medical association says, I personally think self-exams are important.  Early detection counts.  Train yourself to do the exam at the same time every month.  After your period is a good time, because then the breasts are sensitive to touch and you’re able to find lumps easier.  Some women prefer to do them in the shower, using soap and water to aid sliding fingers over surfaces; some prefer to lie prone; some stand in front of a mirror…but all do them, and that’s what counts.  Even if you find what you think is a lump and it turns out to be simply a swollen gland…well, that’s good, too, because you found something and you had it checked.
Keep doing just that, and let’s head off breast cancer at the pass!
Toni, your story is similar to so many stories I hear as a mammogapher. I'm so glad you did NOT ignore the lump. Too often, women ignore those lumps and the warning bells in their heads. They justify not going to the doctor because they assume it's just another cyst or feel secure because they don't have a family history of breast cancer. I didn't have a lump or a family history but I was diagnosed with stage 1 (sneaking into the stage 2 category) invasive carcinoma and DCIS (ductal carcinoma insitu) on a screening mammogram.
So, please ladies, don't ignore ANY changes in your breasts. Do self breast exams. Know your breasts. If you feel a lump, see your doctor. If you are under 35, he may not order a mammogram because of your breast density, but please insist on a breast ultrasound. Breast cancer in women under 40 isn't common. But it happens. EVERY day. So be aware. Get informed. And if you're over 40, schedule an annual mammogram. 

And now a bit about Toni~
Toni V. Sweeney was born some time between the War Between the States and the Gulf War.  She has lived 30 years in the South, a score in the Middle West, and a decade on the Pacific Coast and now she’s trying for her second 30 on the Great Plains.  Her first novel was published in 1989. An accomplished artist as well as writer, she has a degree in Fine Art and a diploma in Graphic Art.  Toni maintains a website for herself and her pseudonym Icy Snow Blackstone, and has been associated with the South Coast Writer's Association, the Pink Fuzzy Slipper Writers, several other writer’s loops, myspace, Facebook, and YouTube. Her latest novel is Runaway Brother (Class Act Books, and her next book, due for released November 15, is Blood Bay, a thriller, also to be released by Class Act Books.  It will be her 27th novel. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Breast Cancer Screening Update

In 2009, the US Prevention Service Task Force (USPSTF) a government agency, issued new recommendations  for mammograms and breast cancer screenings. This controversial new recommendation suggested women younger than 50 without a family history of breast cancer didn't need an annual mammogram. They also recommended that screening exams for women between 50 and 74 were needed every OTHER year, not annually. This reversed the USPSTF's 2002 recommendations and went against the American Cancer Society and the American College of Radiology, both of which recommend baseline mammograms at age 35 and annual screenings of ALL women after age 40. There's also no cut off age, as healthy women in their  early to mid 80's should still have mammograms.
The USPTF's recommendations to NOT screen before age 50 was based on a study that showed screening 1,330 women over age 50 saved one life but it took 1,904 screening mammograms to save the life of one woman in the 40-50 age group.  Hmm. I'm betting that one woman was damn glad she got screened!
The agency also suggested that screening led to false positives which then led to negative biopsies. They implied the biopsies were unnecessary. I don't know about you, but I'd rather have 4 negative biopsies than 1 positive one. Oh. Wait. I've had one of each. And let me tell you, after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, I was relieved my 2008 biopsy was negative. 

The thing is, doctors are not going to biopsy women willy nilly. If a doctor recommends a biopsy, it's because the radiologist saw something suspicious in the breast. It may turn out to be a cyst, lipoma, fibroadenoma, inflammation, or fibrocystic changes. But it could also be cancer. I'm not willing to bet my life on it and I don't think most informed women would either.
The truth is, doctors have been ordering mammograms since the 1940's but it wasn't until the 1990's that the government (and insurance companies) recognized the need for early detection and the need for screening mammograms.  From 1940 to 1990, the death rate from breast cancer remained unchanged. From 1990 to present day, more women are getting screening mammograms and the death rates from breast cancer have decreased by 30%. That in itself says a lot about the need for early detection. Also, breast cancer is usually more aggressive in women younger than 50. 

Honestly, I think extending the life expectancy of everyone is a good idea, but it is an especially good idea for women under 50. Early detection saves lives and women in a breast cancer screening program who are diagnosed with breast cancer are more likely to be diagnosed in stage one than women who find a palpable lump. Any woman who has annual clinical breast exams and a mammogram is in a breast screening program. And the program works better if the patient has their mammogram at the same facility each year. 
If you decide to change facilities, remember to have your prior mammograms sent to the new facility.
Many doctors have chosen to ignore the US Prevention Service Task Force's mammogram recommendation. Unfortunately, the task force recently denounced self-breast exams. The agency claimed women didn't know how to do them and would therefore, stress needlessly if they found a lump that was actually normal glandular tissue. Now imagine how much more stress those women would undergo if they followed the government guidelines and stopped doing self-breast exams and were later diagnosed with breast cancer after the doctor found a palpable lump on clinical breast exam. I'm betting most women would rather find a lump that wasn't a lump than not find a lump that was cancer.

So please, follow the recommendations of The American Cancer Society, The American College of Radiology, The FDA, and a mammogapher who happens to be a breast cancer survivor. If you are older than 20, do self breast exams. If you are older than 25, have your doctor or medical health provider do a clinical breast exam each year. If you are 35, have a baseline mammogram and then once you turn 40, have a mammogram every year. If you find a lump, have unilateral nipple discharge that is bloody or green, see your doctor. If you have a mother diagnosed with cancer before age 50, subtract 10 years from her age and that is when you should have your first mammogram.
Know your breast. Be informed. And get screened!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Conquering the Abyss by Mackenzie Crowne

Today's blog needs little introduction. So, I will just say thank you to my new cyber friend and fellow TWRP author, Mackenzie Crowne.

Though it’s not a four-letter word, it sure conjures up a lot of them.  Fear, sick, pain, loss, hell, dead, you get the drift.  I can’t tell you the first four-letter word that popped into my mind when I got the call diagnosing me with stage-three breast cancer.  My mother would wash out my mouth with soap. 
At the time I was a healthy forty-seven years old.  I’d been married to a great guy — since about the end of the bronze age — we’d raised two wonderful boys to special men, and I’d just become a grandmother.
It was October.  You know — Breast cancer awareness month.  Suddenly everywhere I looked there were pink ribbons, and survivors were coming out of the woodwork like members of a secret society, calling to me to enter into the fold.  But I didn’t feel I belonged.  I wasn’t anything like those women.  They danced, victorious on the other side of an abyss, while I staggered under quiet disbelief.
I’m normally a, the glass is half-full, kind of woman, but these circumstances weren’t normal.  My glass had dropped to the floor, shattering into a thousand different pieces, a thousand different emotions.  I was overwhelmed, and no amount of superglue, or duct tape, was going to put my glass back together.
Some wise person once said, ‘Life happens.  It’s time to pull on your big girl panties and deal with it.’
Big girl panties in place, I took those first, staggering steps toward survival. Three life-altering years later, I have somehow found my way from cancer patient to survivor.  I didn’t do it alone.
My family and friends were there for me as I went through double mastectomies, chemotherapy, radiation, and numerous reconstructive surgeries.  They were there for me when I was scared, when I hurt so badly I cried, when I lost my hair, and when I was too sick to stand.  I can’t express how blessed I am to have them all in my life.
Having said that, the one thing they couldn’t do was fight the battle for me.  I had to do that on my own.     In an effort to remain sane in the midst of insanity, I relied on many different internal forces.  There are too many to mention here.  The following are the top three on my list of lifesavers.

Number one is my faith.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to belittle the many doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals I’ve become acquainted with in the past three years.  I’ve met some very talented, very dedicated people.  But even as well-trained as they all are, what they do is not an exact science.  They couldn’t give me assurances.  The best they could do was increase the odds of my survival.  I needed those assurances.  I found them in my faith. 
I can’t tell you how many times I climbed into God’s lap, spiritually speaking, to rest in the confidence of His love. I think of the practice as slipping into Scarlett O’Hara mode. 
‘I can't think about that right now,’ Scarlett said. ‘If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow.’
Scarlett, I know the feeling. 
I was Scarlett so often during the past three years, I may as well have been wearing a dress made out of drapes.  I think I even started to speak with a southern accent.  As long as I didn’t have any cancer related appointments on my calendar that day, I handed future stresses to God, and considered myself on cancer vacation. 
Thank you, God, and thank you, Scarlett.

Number two is remembering to laugh.

Chemo days- Mac with her granddaughter.
Many of the things I heard during my battle were ridiculous.  Like the day I was asked, ‘When would you like to start chemo?’  Um, let me think.  Never?  Others things were downright funny.  Believe it or not, I am a woman who was once asked the question, ‘Where would you like your nipple?’
Then there was the day I was changing clothes in front of a mirror and noticed a dime sized blood-blister at the center of one of the incisions from reconstructive surgery.  It was on the side where I’d had radiation, and my first thought was, Oh crap, what now?
My daughter-in-law took one look, and said, ‘Mac, that isn’t a blood blister.  That’s your implant!”
By ten that morning, I was booked for emergency surgery.  I’d already spoken to the doctor, the hospital, and my insurance company when the phone rang.  The call was from my plastic surgeon’s office assistant.
‘We have a problem,’ he said.                                     
‘What’s that?’
He went on to explain that the implant contact at the hospital was on vacation, so he hadn’t been able to procure the new implant I would need.  They had implants on hand at the office, but with the doc in surgery all day, he wouldn’t be returning there before he was to meet me later that afternoon.  A courier could be called, but we’d be cutting it close, time wise.
‘So, you want me to come get the implant?’ I asked.
‘I can’t believe I’m asking this, but yes.  Would you mind?’
I could have said no, and let a courier deliver it, but hey, how many woman can say they’ve driven across town with their boobs in the passenger seat?  So, I walked into the hospital with my new boob, and two spares, in a box.
‘What have you got there?’ the registering nurse asked as he led me back into pre-op.
‘I picked up the new implant from the doc’s office,’ I explained.
He opened the box and looked inside, the looked up, confused.  ‘There are three in here.’
“Yeah, well,’ I said.  ‘I think the doc is planning to make me into a Picasso.’
Remember to laugh.

Number three is the keeping of a journal.
As a writer, I suppose writing down my thoughts was a natural thing for me to do, but I’d never actually kept a journal before.  The daily focus helped me deal with the wild swing of emotions I was experiencing.  It also had an unexpected benefit. 
Shortly before I began chemotherapy, I read back over my entries from those first few weeks.  I was concerned at what I found.  The entries documented my nearly complete absorption in the diagnosis.  It was as if my real life, the one that had come to a screeching halt with that fateful phone call, had all but disappeared. 
My words described the thoughts and fears of a victim.  I had become a woman with a dark present, and a bleak future.  Externally, I was waging battle.  I had chosen the most invasive of surgeries, and the most aggressive of treatments, but internally, I seemed to be embracing defeat.
In contrast, interspersed throughout the dark entries in my journal, were a handful of positive memories that stood out like bright beacons of light.  I was drawn to them.  They were glimpses into the soul of the woman I used to be, before the diagnosis had left me paralyzed.
Disgusted, I made an effort to find more of those moments; like my wonder at the rainbow off my back patio one morning, or the beauty of the hummingbird that visited the feeder several times a day, or my laughter at some silly comment my granddaughter had made.
If you’ve received a similar diagnosis, I know what you’re thinking.  Really, lady?  You’re telling me to look for rainbows, hummingbirds, and silly comments from a toddler?  I’m facing having a chunk of my breast removed, or the whole of it, and having toxic chemicals shot through my veins until I’m so ill I can hardly stand. 
Yes, you are, and I’m the first one to agree, that sucks.  But if you’re going to beat breast cancer, treatment is an inescapable fact.  There’s no getting around it, and no matter what protocol is prescribed, some of it won’t be pleasant. 
The next year, at least, is going to be jammed full of cancer related appointments, constantly reminding you of your diagnosis.  The cancer battle can easily become a vortex, sucking you in, until nothing else exists.  It’s debilitating and demoralizing, and human nature being what it is, it’s very easy to let yourself come to be defined by your cancer. 
But by definition, fighting cancer is a battle.  I didn’t want it to be my cancer.  I wanted to defeat it.  I wanted it gone. 
It may seem insignificant to focus on the flight of a hummingbird in the midst of mastectomies and toxic treatments, but amazingly, focusing on the world beyond the vortex reminded me there was a whole existence out there that had nothing to do with cancer.  It was a turning point for me.  Thanks to those little blips of joy life delivered, I began to claw my way back from the dark, and I was able to take those first tentative steps toward the other side of the abyss.  Toward victory.

As I write this, it has been almost four years since I found the lump that changed my life.  It’s been a long and arduous adventure.  I’ve experienced a range and intensity of emotions I never expected, and if you’ve received a similar diagnosis, you will as well.  If you’re like me, you’ll know disbelief and fear, anger and frustration, but you’ll also know humor and hope.
Yes, being diagnosed with breast cancer is devastating. Yes, it’s frightening, and the treatment is horrendous.  And yes, my life has changed.  So will yours.
Keep in mind that not all changes are bad.  Facing this kind of illness strips you down to the bare bones of life, and forces you to focus on what is important.  In my case, that change has been a positive development on so many levels.
It goes without saying that family and friends come first, but since my diagnosis, I’ve also learned to allow myself my dreams.  These days, I treat my love of writing with more respect.  Five manuscripts later, six actually, as I finished another just this week, I’m seeing results.  GIFT OF THE REALM, my first published novel, will be available this spring through The Wild Rose Press, with more to come.   

I’ve met many women who have gone before me, and many of them faced this disease without the incredible medical and technical advances that we have at our disposal today.  If there is one common characteristic I’ve seen in all the survivors I have met, it would be strength. 
If you are just beginning your walk through this frightening disease, you probably don’t feel strong.  Don’t beat yourself up if that is the case.  You’ll get there.
Remember that everything they throw at you is doable.  Take cancer vacations as often as possible.  Allow yourself to take things one-step at a time, and try not to stress over what comes next.  It will come whether you stress over it or not. 
Remember to laugh, and try Scarlett on for size.  She not only dressed well, she was a smart woman.  Lastly, whether you know Him or not, God knows and loves you, and hears your pleas.  His lap is always available. 
Mac today, posing with a good friend.
So, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and take that first step toward conquering the abyss.  I’m dancing on the other side.  I’ll see you there.

You can find Mackensze on Facebook at

And coming this spring, her first published novel, 
Gift of the Realm will be available from The Wild Rose Press.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Sarah Grimm- Rocking Romance

Today I'm interviewing romance author, Sara Grimm, whose hot romance featuring a former rock star and wounded piano player is earning rave reviews. I've asked Sara a few questions about herself and her new release.

1-    1-  When do you do your best writing? Morning? Evening? Or mid-day? And how do you organize your writing time?

I do my best writing in the morning when the rest of the house is still asleep.  I wake up around 4:30 seven days a week. Not necessarily by choice, my internal alarm clock just goes off at that time. If I don’t sit down and write in the morning, chances are good I won’t get any writing done that day. I’m too easily distracted by the million other things I need to get done – grocery shopping, the day job, orthodontist appointments, or house cleaning.

Ug. Housework!

2-    2-  Are you a reader as well as a writer? What have you read lately?

I love to read!  The only problem is that lately I’ve been working 55+ hour weeks so that doesn’t leave me much time. My To-Be-Read shelf is literally overflowing with books. Just because I haven’t had time to read doesn’t mean my purchasing has slowed one bit! My list has grown considerably longer since I began participating in Six Sentence Sunday – an event where every Sunday writers, published or not, post six sentences from one of their books. It’s a great way to find new books, and as an author, this has really helped me tighten my writing. Looking for six sentences to draw the reader in, forces an author to look closely at their writing.

I don’t get online much on the weekends. But I have seen your Six Sentence Sunday and love it. I don’t have as much time to read any more as I’d like either. But my Nook has twenty new books waiting for me to make time and After Midnight is one of them.

3-     3- How do you spend your free time when not reading or writing? Do you even have free time?

I have very little free time, but the time I do have I prefer to spend with my husband. Whether we go out to dinner, a movie, or just sit at home together, as long as the time is spent with him, it doesn’t matter to me what we do.

I hear you. My husband and I enjoy going to Emerald Isle, NC and walking on the beach, even in the winter.

4-  4-    Since I love to travel and seldom do, I like to hear about other places. It’s one reason I love to read and write. I get to travel in my head. Much cheaper that way. Lol!  So, where do you live? What’s the climate and topography like?

I live in Michigan, home of Detroit – car capital of the world;  the Mackinac Bridge – one of the longest suspension bridges in the world; and the longest freshwater shoreline in the world. Specifically, I live in West Michigan, in a small city that sits right on Lake Michigan. It’s a truly beautiful area surrounded by rivers and lakes, full of trees, greenery and sandy beaches. 
This is our Pier. Beautiful, isn’t it?

Although, at least three months out of the year, it looks more like this:

              Gorgeous pictures. Thanks for sharing. I love lighthouses. Not so fond of all that snow. Wow!

5-      Where is the most exotic place you’ve ever visited?

As a child my parents took us camping in nearly all of the 50 states, so I’ve seen the Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore, I’ve visited Niagara Falls, and I even walked the mighty Mackinac Bridge on Labor Day. Outside of the United States, I’ve only been to Canada - Stratford, Ontario, specifically - for their Shakespeare Festival.

6-      Was it vacation, business, or research? And, have you ever combined travel and research?
The places listed above were all for vacations. Unfortunately, I don’t get much vacation time, and I haven’t had a chance to combine travel and research. Perhaps, now that my sons are older, I’ll get some time away from home. I’d love to visit England and Scotland!

Scotland and England are on my list too. My daughter is actually visiting Scotland over Thanksgiving. Can’t wait to see the pictures.

8-      Where is your most recent release set?

AFTER MIDNIGHT is set in Long Island City, the westernmost borough of Queens, New York. Known for its waterfront parks and high concentration of art galleries – and also the famous Silvercup Studios sign (which I will forever equate with the movie Highlander) – this area just felt like the ideal place to set both a private recording studio and Izzy’s bar. My heroine, Isabeau Montgomery, has been hiding from her past for years, and while most of the book takes place in either her bar or her apartment one floor above, there is a quick jaunt to London, England, hometown of my hero, Noah Clark.

9-      Tell us something about the book
She wants to forget her past. 
He wants to reclaim his.
Sometimes the moment that changes everything comes After Midnight.

AFTER MIDNIGHT is a story that is near and dear to me. The story of Isabeau, owner of Izzy’s Bar, child prodigy, piano phenom—a woman who is hiding behind a lie of her own making. Here is the official blurb:

Thirteen years—that's how long Isabeau Montgomery has been living a lie. After an automobile accident took her mother's life, Izzy hid herself away, surviving the only way she knew how. Now she is happy in her carefully reconstructed life. That is until he walks through the door of her bar...

Black Phoenix singer/front man Noah Clark came to Long Island City with a goal--one that doesn't include an instant, electric attraction to the dark-haired beauty behind the bar. Coaxing her into his bed won't be easy, but he can't get her pale, haunted eyes nor her skill on the piano out of his head.

Can Noah help Isabeau overcome the past? Or will her need to protect her secret force her back into hiding and destroy their chance at happiness?

The fantastic Amie Louellen made a book trailer for me. You can see it here:

10-   Lastly, what are you working on now?
While writing After Midnight, one of the secondary characters kept telling me he needed his own story, so I’m writing that one now. Midnight Heat is a reunion romance, and although I had no plans to give Dominic his own book, about half-way through writing After Midnight, I fell so in love with his character I had to make sure he got his own happily-ever- after.

I routinely post snippets from all of my books on my blog:

Friday, October 7, 2011

Beating Breast Cancer- My Story

October is breast cancer awareness month. And I am a breast cancer survivor. My journey began when I was 47 and had a screening mammogram that showed a lesion in my right breast.

The radiologist ordered a diagnostic mammogram for additional views. On Thursday June 28, I had a breast needle localization. On July 3, the day before leaving for the beach for an extended holiday weekend, I got the news. I had breast cancer--DCIS-ductal carcinoma insitu AND invasive ductal carcinoma.

Because there was an invasive component to the cancer, I had to have a second surgery--a lumpectomy. Even though I'm a mammographer and for some strange reason, had mentally thought of what I'd do in the event of such a diagnosis for years, I still wasn't prepared. I just knew I wanted to survive--and survive with dignity. I documented my journey in a blog on My Space. Below are some excerpts from that blog--edited for content.

July 10, 2007
Today I had my first oncology appointment with this 12 year old oncologist who looks like Doogie Howser's little sister. They have the rest of my path report back. My hormone receptors were negative.That means I can't take tomoxofin. I can't do the hormone therapy in conjunction with the radiation. What that means is, my ass is going to be bald...okay, maybe not my ass, but possibly my head! I'm going to have to have chemo! That little tiny, less than 1cm tumor was an aggressive little bastard with high proliferation margins and no hormone receptors, so if I want to decrease my chances of a relapse ten years down the road, then I'm going to have to take chemo.

July 11, 2007
I feel just fine....for now...until the damn chemo starts! Just goes to show you that health isn't everything. You can feel like crap and be perfectly healthy OR feel great and be dying and not know it. There's some paranoid food for thought.

July 12, 2007 Today is Thursday. The day before my second surgery and the day I realized what tomorrow is. I arrived at work just fine. Friday the 13. That's when it hit me. I'm having a biopsy on freaking Friday the 13th!

July 13, 2007
Had my second lumpectomy, sentinel node biopsy, and port-a-cath placement.                                             
I went to bed really late last night talking to my husband, Johnny. But I woke up this morning at 6:30 and it's Friday the 13th and I'm in my own body. It's in God's hands.

Clean nodes and clean margins, God. Okay? Thanks.

July 14, 2007
Yesterday was my surgery. The nuke study was a bit embarassing. Dr. Stoll had to stick a needle in just above the aerola. He and Anthony were both in there, and I'll see them both and have to look them in the face when I go back to work on Wednesday. So of course, I had to crack a joke. They stuck the needle in, which felt like one hell of a bee sting. As they were watching the radition uptake flow from the injection site into the nodes, watching to see where the concentration was highest, and talking as if I wasn't there, and I said, "Gee, if I'd ever had fantasies about being with two men, this wasn't it."

Yep. I'm the queen of corny.
Around 3:30, they took me into OR. I was doing good until the anesthesiologist put that mask over my face. I freaked. I'm mildly claustraphobic, but it honest to God felt like she was putting a plastic bag over my head and telling me to take a deep breath. I remember crying and saying, "I can't breath!" But the next thing I knew, I was in the recovery room and the surgeon was telling me the surgery was over and all 4 nodes had come back clear. 
I have never known relief so profound.

July 16, 2007
Is it normal to worry about being too calm? Since finding out the nodes came back negative, it's like this peace has come over me, as if I know everything is going to be all right. I'm putting everything in my blog because I have to get these thoughts down while they're fresh because with all the drugs that have been pumped into my system, my memory isn't exactly reliable.

My mother reads my blog and feels it's of best seller quality. Trust me. I have no dreams of grandeur. Though I would love to publish a romance novel one day, and I do have an agent who will be submitting two separate manuscripts in the near future. I don't get excited over these things any more. I have a drawer filled with rejection letters.
July 17, 2007

Adriamycin and Cyclophosphamide. (Cytoxin for short)The combo is called AC. My chemo drugs.

The oncologist gave me the choice of taking a 12 week regimen every three weeks or an 8 week regimen every other week. I'm going for the gold. Beginning Tuesday July 31, I will start my first round of chemo--once a week, every other week for eight weeks.

AC blocks DNA production in cells and inhibits enzyme replication so cancer cells can't repair themselves. Since cancer cells reproduce faster than other cells, if there are any cancer cells left in my body, the chemo drug will stop them from reproducing or repairing themselves so they will die. That's 8 weeks of chemo. Two months. I can survive anything for two months. Soldiers put up with a hell of a lot worse for a hell of a lot longer. I can do this!!

July 20, 2007
I cut my hair short so going bald won't be such a drastic change.

July 31, 2007
My first chemo treatment.
First, they sterilized my skin and stuck a needle directly into my port, which was weird. I felt the prick go into my skin, but not the port, which is a disc under my skin that has a catheter that goes into my subclavian vein. Then they drew my blood to make sure my blood count was good, and checked my hemoglobin. Then we waited for the lab to mix my poison. Literally.

AC chemo drugs are so caustic the lab techs have to wear rubber protective gear and mix it under a hood with an exhaust. And I had to have a full 5ml drip of saline and a slowly pushed dose of decadron (steroids) a half hour before they could even start the chemo. The purpose of the steroid is so I don't lose my appetite during chemo. Number one myth of chemo. Most patients do NOT lose weight on chemo. They gain it.

I got home at one thirty and took two nausea pills. I don't feel sick, just very tired. My eyes are gritty as if I haven't slept in days, but I'm good.My last thoughts before closing my eyes last night were, "Dear God, let me get through this first day of chemo without getting sick." And he got me through it just fine. Thank you.

Aug 1, 2007
Well, I made it to work today and even put in a bit of overtime.
I went to bed exhausted, feeling hung over and woke up with a bad case of reflux that was a bit productive. but I didn't really throw up. After poping a couple of nausea pills and my Prilosec, I felt well enough to go to work. I'm not bald, I'm not throwing up, but if the tingling sensation in my scalp is a harbinger of things to come, I expect that after my next treatment, I will have a few less folicles. Because I haven't been making Selsin Blue commercials.

Aug 2, 2007
Everyone warned me, but did I listen? No. I'm hardheaded. Stubborn. All those other names I've been called on occasion. But putting in ten and half hours my first day after chemo was a bit too much because I didn't last four hours today. It wasn't nausea that did me in, it was exhaustion. And diarrhea.

Everything I ate the night before made a grand exit starting at about 2:00 a.m. I was wiped out before I ever got to work and for some reason, my teeth have started aching. Especially, my molars.Am I going to have to add losing my teeth to my list of worries? Will I then be overweight, middle-aged, bald, and toothless when this is done? Hell, as long as I beat the cancer I can always get dentures. At least my teeth will be straight.
But I'd sure like to keep my teeth.

Aug 5, 2007
The beach was just what I needed. But the trip was a beast. I get carsick now. We arrived at the camper late Friday night and I felt like hurling.
We spent Saturday afternoon on the beach. Me, set up under the umbrella with a hat and book like an old woman. Johnny sat in the sun a few feet away. But when I got hot, I waded into the surf to cool down and like to wore myself out just getting back to the chair. Later in the evening, I took a shower and a nap. After the sun went down, we walked back out on the beach and sat in the sand.
I felt grounded and centered. I felt the power of God Almighty surrounding me. And so I prayed. I prayed for strength and courage and then I let go and sat there with an open heart and soul and mind and didn't pray. I just opened up for whatever God wanted to give back to me. And I felt at peace.

Aug 6, 2007
Learned a new word today. Nadiring. Sounds like Ralph Nadar only it has nothing to do with money. Wish it did. Nadir is the chemo killing my normal blood cells, specifically, my white blood cells (WBC's) and making me feel tired and worn out. My Red Blood Cells (RBC's) hematocrit, hemoglobin and platelet counts were acceptable. So, that's good. At least I'm not anemic.Nadir occurs seven to ten days after a chemo treatment. The condition ends about the time they juice me up again. Oh, joy!

Aug 13, 2007
Around four o'clock today I was washing my hands and just happened to notice a lot of hair on my scrubs. I brushed it off and looked in the mirror and noticed that my hair was looking rather flat. I ran my fingers through it and strands came out in my fingers. Lots of strands. I ran my fingers through again and pulled out handfuls. I didn't think it would start falling out until after the second chemo treatment. But apparently, for me, it has started falling out just thirteen days after the first treatment.

So, what is it with me and the number thirteen?

Aug 14, 2007
After supper, I took a shower and washed my hair, but it all started coming out in clumps and grossing me out. There was hair everywhere. Running down my back. Pooling at my feet. Piling up on the drain. It was nasty. As soon as I got out of the shower, I asked Johnny to shave my head. He swallowed hard and grabbed the clippers. My daughter Lauren looked as if she were about to cry. I didn't shed a tear. It felt like taking control. I decided when I was going to go bald. And I did it that night.

Aug. 15, 2007
I wore the wig to work today but the thing is hot and mashes against my ears.I pulled that blasted thing on and off, showing my co-workers my shaved head, trying to get used to it myself--and giving my itchy scalp a chance to breathe. Not a single person made me feel uncomfortable. Had I worked anywhere else, I probably could have gone bald or worn a scarf. But women getting mammograms do not want to be reminded of the reason they were there: to screen for cancer. And I was a walking example of a not-so-good outcome. At work, it wasn't about me. It was about my patients. I kept the wig on.

Aug. 16, 2007
An old high school friend took me for my second round of chemo. Johnny would have taken me to any of my appointments but I told him not too. He needed to work, stay occupied. We needed the money.

The Cytoxan drip tickled my throat and I got a little swimmy headed. When the nurse began pushing the adriamicin in, I got a burning sensation in the back of my throat but this time, I didn't get the pain or sudden tightness in my chest.

Aug 17, 2007
The day after my second chemo treatment, I didn't work. It was my scheduled day off and I took it. I did go to the oncology clinic for my neulasta shot, only to learn I'd gained three pounds since yesterday. Must be the rock that's been sitting in my stomach since last night. I don't feel nauseated exactly, but there is this weight in the pit of my stomach and I feel bloated and just all around "blah."

Aug 20, 2007- Monday
I know what I'm supposed to do. I'm supposed to make myself get up and move around. I'm supposed to exercise, go to work, blah, blah, blah. Whatever. I just didn't have the energy today to put on my wig and my happy face and go to work, so for the first time since all this started, I called in sick.

Last night, I even threw up. Not chunks, mind you, just wet nasty that grossed me out.

Aug. 30,2007
Finished my third chemo treatment. My daughter took me. She carried her book bag filled with books, convinced she would study. She didn't.We talked.When we got home, I had reflux and felt tired. There just isn't a drug in the world that's going to make me feel good after being poisoned. But I'm not going to whine.

We don't always know God's plan and though I refuse to believe he "gave" me breast cancer, He knew it was coming a long time ago. Therefore, other things have fallen into place the way they have for a reason.

Yep. Things don't always work out the way we want but sometimes they work out the way we need them to.

Sept. 7, 2007
I'm still tired and bit and I think I have an electrolyte imbalance.I'm waking up during the night with killer cramps in my calf muscles. I feel queasy if I don't eat. Heavy, bloated, and uncomfortable if I do eat. Not true nausea so my pills don't really help. I don't feel good.

Sept. 13, 2007
Today was my last day of chemo. Mom took me. I got a little sick while the nurse was pushing in the adriamycin. I couldn't tell if I was queasy from the chemo or sick from hunger. I can't ever tell any more.

Sept. 16, 2007
Things I learned from Chemo:
1-Stay hydrated. Even when I went to bed, I kept a bottle of water nearby. Chemo burns the back of the throat like acid and without warning. And if the fire isn't put out quickly, nausea soon follows. Then lightheadedness.
2-Don't lie flat after chemo. For five days after a chemo treatment, I slept on the reclining end of the sofa. I learned that lesson after rushing to the sink with a bad case of early morning productive reflux after my first treatment.
3-Weight gain is inevitable. They give you fluids. They give you steroids. You don't get much exercise. Bread becomes your best friend because it is one of the few foods that do not upset your stomach.
4-You feel sick if you don't eat and sick if you do. But feeling sick on an empty stomach feels a lot worse. Take Prilosec if your doctor allows it.
5- Tastes change. Since those first two treatments when I had to sip a diet Coke because of the burning in the back of my throat, I haven't been able to drink a soft drink/soda since. Carbonated beverages just don't taste right to me any more, which is sad because I really love Diet Pepsi.
6- Stay positive. Keep a sense of humor, crack jokes, and pray. God didn't do this to you. He is not testing you to see if you pass or fail. Sometimes bad things just happen. But God is interested in how you handle things in your life. Ask for his help getting through it, but don't wallow in misery. That probably gets on his nerves.

No one knows at what hour death will come so we have to make the best of the time God has given us. I think that is the true test of God.

Sept. 19, 2007
I'm almost a week out from my last chemo and it's still kicking my butt. I have a bad cough, my back hurts, and I'm short of breath. The doctor ordered a chest x-ray. I don't have pneumonia but my immune system is vulnerable. They sent me home to rest.

Sept. 20, 2007
Tried to work, but got my lab results at lunchtime. My white blood cell count is Dangerously low and I have an infection. That same day, I was scheduled for my first radiation oncology appointment at Duke.

Sept. 25, 2007
Another lingering threat. The radiation oncologist didn't like the results of my second excision biopsy. The medical oncologist believed chemo would destroy any remaining DCIS in the breast and did not think it was a problem. Apparently, my radiation oncologist didn’t agree. In the frozen slides from the second biopsy, there was DCIS in five of eight slides less than 1 mm from the surgical margin. There was only one DCIS on one slide in the original surgery. There shouldn’t have been any DCIS in the second biopsy. The possibility existed that my breast was potentially riddled with DCIS. And doctors usually recommend a mastectomy in a case like that.

I’d already had chemo to destroy any remaining DCIS in the breast. Lots of women have DCIS and never develop breast cancer, and I didn't want mastectomy to be a knee jerk reaction to fear. The pathology report said DCIS in five of eight specimens but the oncologist didn’t know if it was a speck or a boat load.
He scheduled a breast MRI. And I waited, but I felt as if I were juggling knives.

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me."- John 14:1
Trusting in God would help me juggle those knives.

October 8, 2007
Dodged a bullet. The MRI was negative. I didn't need a mastectomy. The decision was mine. I chose to keep my breast and to start radiation treatments.

October 10, 2007
Had my treatment planning at Duke. First they made a mold and shaped it to my body. When it hardened, my left ear was stuck inside the mold, my head slightly turned away from my body so that when the treatments begin, my body will be in the exact same position every time.
Next, they marked off areas on my breast with strips of radiopaque markers and put me in the CT scanner. Once the oncologist and dosimetrist mapped out my treatment plan,they marked me, covered the marks with tape, and I was able to pry myself out of the mold and get dressed.

Radiation was going to be five days a week for six weeks. At least I wasn't having a mastectomy. And I could have the actual treatment at a local hospital.

Oct. 15, 2007
I don't expect everyone to understand why I post a blog. I don't do it for others or to see how many people read it. I do it for me. It's cathartic. It keeps me from getting depressed or upset or from losing my sense of humor. I'm just trying to survive breast cancer. It doesn't just go away. I don't think it's going to kill me. I have to believe that. But cancer is unpredictable and I just started radiation today. It will last for 6 weeks.

Oct. 16, 2007
My second radiation treatment didn't take very long but afterward, I met with my new radiation oncologist.
The good news is that without even trying, I have lost four pounds since getting off chemo. The bad news is my lungs still haven't fully recovered and the radiation could possibly do more damage. But at least I'm alive.

Oct. 24, 2007
Johnny and I went to the beach this weekend. We held hands and walked on the beach. I got very emotional and had a good cry and wonderful conversation with my husband. If I didn't love him already, I would have fallen in love with him all over again. It's nice to have a man say he loves you. Nicer still when he tells you he's proud of you or that he admires your strength and courage.
Then again, the feeling is so very mutual.

Oct 28, 2007
I am so tired of looking in the mirror and seeing just my face and shiny bald head.
Oct. 31, 2007
Halloween. My brother brought my nephews by to trick or treat. And made my week.

Nov. 14, 2007
Nine treatments left to go. I have radiation burns to the chest from mid line of the sternum to the center of my right breast and from the nipple to about six inches below the clavicle (collar bone.). I am also burned to a lesser degree on the lateral side of my right breast. The burn is red like a sunburn, but the skin is raised and feels like sandpaper. It hurts. But Silvadene cream is a miracle drug!

Nov 15, 2007
Had my first booster treatment today. Concentrated, directed radiation to the tumor bed. I have eight more and I'm Done.
Maybe then, my life can get back on track and I won't feel so tired all the time.

Nov. 22, 2007
I have a bad radiation burn under my arm. And it's my first Thanksgiving without Jennifer--my married daughter who lives in Germany. I missed her so much today I cried. But I'm thankful I had my mammogram when I did. I'm thankful I didn't have a mastectomy. I'm thankful I did as well as I did with chemo. I'm thankful my lymph nodes were negative. I'm thankful for my husband and how incredibly supportive he's been. I'm thankful for the love and support of Lauren and Jennifer. I'm thankfulmy cancer has made me closer to my mother. I'm thankful my cancer is curable. I'm thankful I'm almost finished with radiation. I'm thankful for the support and encouragement of family and friends both on and off line. And I'm thankful to God for giving me the courage and strength I need to fight and win the battle against breast cancer.

Nov. 27, 2007- Tuesday
My next to the last radiation treatment. I breathed a sigh of relief. After tomorrow, I’d be done. Unless the cancer came back before five years was up. Then I’d have no choice but to have a mastectomy. Possibly bilateral, depending on how quickly it came back. But when the doctor told me I was finished with treatments, I broke down and cried. I hadn’t really let go and now that it was over, the emotions came in a flood. I’d been such a control freak about it and now that it was almost over, it hit me. I’d made it through chemo and radiation. I beat cancer.

October 14, 2011
My last treatment was anti-climatic. But my battle isn't over. Since that day in 2007, I've had multiple oncology appointments with both the radiation and medical oncologist. I had mammograms every six months from June 2007 until February 2011. I've had two more MRI's and a brief scare with the left breast. But a subsequent MRI guided biopsy proved it wasn't cancer. Still, I sometimes wonder if I made the right choice by not having a mastectomy. Sure, I can still have mammograms to check for breast cancer. But if I didn't have breasts, I wouldn't worry. Then again, without breasts, the cancer could come back in my chest, bones, or other organs. So, there is no right choice. There's just the choice I could handle when I needed to make the decision.

As bad as all this was for me, I think it was worse for my husband. I knew what I was thinking and feeling. He could only guess. And he was never sure if I told him the things I did because it's really how I felt or if I was just trying to save him from worry. To be honest, I don't know either.
Today, I no longer see my oncologist. But I see my primary physician at least every six months. And this February will be my first screening mammogram since June 2007. My cancer was a triple negative. It could come back. But I've been through the fire and survived the burns. And I kept my faith.