Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Fighting, Surviving, and Romance Writing ~ Heather McCollum

I'm turning my blog over today to a real-life heroine, Heather McCollum. Read how she fought for her hero and their three children. It's a post that may change your life or the life of someone you love...

The Day the Words Stopped

As a writer, my days are filled with words. They describe who I am. Mommy, wife, girlfriend, author, daughter, dog-lover. In 2011 words swirled daily: 40-year-old, soccer player, pancake flipper, Maine vacationer, runner, cancer... my world and its words stopped.

April 4th will never be just a day to me, for in 2011 it was the day I learned I had ovarian cancer. I woke up after surgery, and “it’s cancer,” stopped everything. I stood on a precipice afraid to look over, because I knew once I did, the ground would rush up to shatter me. The doctors had lots of words then, while I just tried to breathe. The wind blew and I fell over the edge.
Major surgery, clinical trial, fifteen months of chemo, six months of recovery, a 70% chance of living.

“I’m selling sea glass necklaces to give money to ovarian cancer research, mom,” my 12-year-old daughter said and showed me her newly painted teal toenails.

“Promise me you won’t die. Just promise,” my 10-year-old son begged.

“Mommy,” my 4-year-old baby girl asked, “who will you play with in Heaven if I’m not there?”

So after a few initial weeks of total, cry-your-heart-out panic, I put on my big girl panties and became Xena, Teal Warrior Princess, slashing the beast during each six-hour session of chemo each week for five months and then every three weeks for ten more months.
I lost lots of things: hair, eyelashes, taste buds, GI health, toenails, strength, my runner’s body...and my words. As an author, writing is as essential to me as loving. And yet I couldn’t write a word of fiction. The word “cancer” had slashed through my belief in happy endings, and a romance writer who doesn’t believe in happy endings is not a romance writer.

My husband, who is my own Highland hero, held me up so I could fight (sometimes literally). I wrote about him and his strength in an anthology that just came out for Valentine’s Day. All proceeds from the sale of the book goes to a women’s domestic violence shelter. It’s called Scribbling Women: The Real-Life Romance Heroes Who Love Them. My chapter in the book is called For Better or Worse. Anyway – my guy realized pretty quickly how much worse I seemed when I wasn’t writing.

Him: “Write something.” (those Highland heroes like issuing orders)
Me: “I can’t write my stories. It’s too hard.”
Him: “Then write what you know, right now, what you’re going through.” (brings me my laptop on the back porch)

So I started blogging about my everyday life. I have about a hundred entries and developed quite an amazing following. I wrote about the fear, pain, and the anger I felt. I wrote about the love poured out on me by friends and even strangers. I wrote about the things I was learning as I fought and sat and watched the world around me.
And as I wrote, I noticed a change. More and more I wrote about how we (because I started to include my readers) could move forward and how moving forward was the goal, that moving forward was winning no matter what the lab tests showed. My husband brought me this quote and it became my mantra: Winston Churchill – “When you are going through Hell, KEEP GOING!”
Some days KEEP GOING meant doing yoga. Some days it just meant getting out of bed. But I refocused my emotional and physical energies on health instead of fear. During that time, something wonderful happened.
My fabulous agent, Kevan Lyon, who had said that she knew I’d win the battle for life, sold CAPTURED HEART, my 16th century Scottish romance with paranormal elements, to Liz Pelletier at Entangled Publishing. Liz then also bought the sequel, TANGLED HEARTS, which just came out at the end of January.
My editor, Libby Murphy, Liz and I came up with time lines that gave me lots of room for recovery. I began reading my first draft, editing. Editing takes much less mental energy than creating new words. Between the blogging and rereading my story of love and hope and never giving up, I started to believe in happy endings again.
Ironically most of the heroines in the Highland Hearts series are healers. They conjure a magical blue light which can be used to heal wounds and cure illnesses. Since my diagnosis, I’ve envisioned it as a teal blue light. Teal is the color for ovarian cancer.
So I dedicated CAPTURED HEART to all the teal warriors out there fighting against ovarian cancer. And to my amazing teal army for helping me believe that I can win this battle. The symptoms of ovarian cancer are so quiet that most women don’t hear them until it’s too late. I now list them in the back of all my Highlander books.

  • Bloating,
  • Eating less and feeling fuller,
  • Abdominal pain,
  • Trouble with your bladder.
  • Other symptoms may include, fatigue, constipation, menstrual irregularities, back pain, pain with intercourse, and indigestion.

If symptoms persist almost every day for three weeks, get a pelvic exam. Don’t put it off. My tumor grew and spread in only five months. Yep – from normal feeling ovaries to a 12cm diameter mass in five months, and it was spreading already. If anything feels abnormal during the pelvic exam, your doctor should send you for a trans-vaginal ultrasound and have a CA-125 blood test performed. Please also know that breast cancer and ovarian cancer are linked, so if you have a relative with breast cancer, you have a higher risk of ovarian cancer as well. Also, PAP Smears do NOT detect ovarian cancer (that’s cervical cancer), so a pelvic exam should be performed.
Almost three years later, I’m finished with chemo and in remission. My digestive system and nerves are healing. My hair has grown back and I’ve started taking kickboxing. My baby barely remembers the time when I was too weak to hold her. My two older kids once again expect me to do everything a non-sick mom does. I don’t look like a cancer warrior on the outside anymore (except for some battle scars), but I will always carry the lessons I learned on the inside. Those lessons of the heart and soul will forever be part of my author’s voice, for now that my own happy ending seems possible, I’ve found my words again.

For more information about Heather McCollum, her books and her ovarian cancer journey, check out her web site at . She can be found on Twitter at @HMcCollumAuthor and on Facebook under HeatherMcCollumAuthor.

Growing up on a pirate ship, every day was full of adventure for Pandora Wyatt. It was also the perfect place for her to use her magic without persecution. But after her surrogate father is imprisoned in the Tower of London, Pandora leaves the safety of the vessel to rescue him before he’s executed. She expects her mission to be difficult, but what she doesn’t expect is to have her life saved by the sexiest man she’s ever met.
Highland warrior Ewan Brody always wanted a sweet, uncomplicated woman by his side, but he can’t fight his attraction to the beautiful enchantress who’s stumbled into his life.  He quickly learns, though, that Pandora is not only a witch, but also a pirate and possibly a traitor’s daughter—and though she’s tricked him into playing her husband at King Henry’s court, he’s falling hard.
Soon, they begin to discover dark secrets leading to the real traitor of the Tudor court, the one Ewan was hired to capture. Now, Ewan and Pandora must uncover the truth before they lose more than just their hearts.

A note to my guests: Heather and I welcome your comments and questions, however, Heather will not be able to respond to them until later this evening or morning. She'll be indisposed for a diagnostic procedure. Join me in wishing her great results. 


  1. Such courage! I admire your strength and wish you all good things from now on.

  2. Phew. It never ceases to amaze me. And my tears are rolling. To Heather! Cheers to regular life! Love, Kate

  3. Your story's remarkable. Thank you for sharing it. I'm so happy to read the word "remission."

  4. What a powerful way to start the day. Sandy, thanks for insisting we read her blog. I'm going to do my best to lead others here, as well. Heather, I pray your procedure goes well today. Thank goodness for your own Scottish hero who knew exactly what you needed--to write. Blessings!

  5. What a beautiful, touching post. I too have tears rolling down my cheeks. Thank you so much for sharing. Prayers and positive thoughts for your procedure today. So glad you found your words again.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing, Heather. You are so correct..."when you're going through Hell, keep moving!" Will send some healing prayers and positive thoughts your way.

  7. Thank you all so much for your prayers and kind thoughts. My CT scan come back normal - yay! Although, it took a while for them to really look at a few tiny growths in my liver. After a full day of the radiologist and my oncologist reviewing my old scans (I've had 6 in 3 years), they finally concluded that they are little water-filled cysts and not cancer. They will of course keep tabs on them with another scan in 6 months and more blood work in a month. So my roller coaster continues.
    While waiting to hear the outcome, I fell apart. I'd had only 4 hours of sleep (from meds and nerves) and knew they weren't telling me something, so I assumed the worst. Lucky for me, my Highlander was home and put me back together, sent me out for a walk and called my nurse : ) I've given permission for him to hear everything regarding my health and my nurse spilled the beans about them looking at my liver to him : ) Then she called me later with the official - you're in remission declaration. It was a tough day.
    I hope this will get easier the longer I go without the cancer returning. I will continue to search out peace no matter what.
    Thanks again for your lovely thoughts. And thank you, Sandy for having me today : ) Heather

    1. It was my absolute pleasure, Heather. I'm so happy for your good results today. We all wish you many healthy, happy years with your handsome highlander.

  8. Thanks for sharing your story, Heather. Prayers and hugs are sent your way for continued good news and great health. <3

  9. As I read your story, Heather, I remembered my own OC scare in 2000. I had tumors in each ovary that quadrupled in size between first discovery in July and my total hysterectomy in Oct. All those initial fears you described--my god I wanted to curl up and fade away before it got 'bad'. I wondered who would love my three young daughters if I left. Then the tests and ultra sound came back with benign results and, though I was still scared (what if the tests were false?), I felt immense relief. A week in the hospital and several more of recovery and I'm well today. I'm so very glad you're in remission now and able to love your babies. I can only imagine what you went through. God bless you, and thank you for sharing your story. <3

    Congratulations on finding your words again and selling!