From mentor to mentee [May 5]
Sometimes it helps to have the tables turned on you.
One of my jobs involves mentoring writers. I try to help them polish their words into publishable stories. Five years ago a woman called Alison Jones approached me with the beginnings of a memoir about living with incurable blood cancer. I was daunted.
Would she have the stamina to finish this book? Would she find a publisher? Would there be a happy ending?
Cancer is terrifying and yet fear did not have a grip on Alison. She just kept writing, listening and polishing. She was indefatigable. Gradually what emerged was an astonishing tale of how one family survived an emotional earthquake.
I can’t remember who came up with the memoir’s title but I know Alison didn’t love it. In the age of short-n-snappy headlines, ‘The Jones Family Food Roster’ is a bit of a mouthful. But it encapsulates so much about this story.
After her diagnosis Alison’s Jewish community created a roster. While she endured a punishing treatment regime, friends and strangers cooked sumptuous meals for her seven-member family every day for a year. The Joneses were cradled by kindness and fed with love.
The treatment worked and Alison’s cancer remains at bay. Last year she finished her memoir and began hunting for a publisher. My mentoring role was over.
Around the same time, two people I love dearly were diagnosed with blood cancers. Suddenly I was immersed in the terrifying world Alison had just emerged from. But because of her book I had already been there.
Through Alison’s eyes I’d seen how intravenous chemo infusions work and I’d learnt what stem cell therapy was. I’d sat beside the beds of newly bald patients and I’d cooked tasty meals for them. None of it was new to me and because of that I was less afraid. And because Alison was surviving and thriving in spite of her cancer, I had hope.
The mentee has become the mentor.
This afternoon I will launch ‘The Jones Family Food Roster’, a bright pink and yellow-covered book published by Black Inc. Any profits Alison makes from her story will go straight to cancer research. My beloveds may well benefit from the courage and stamina it took for her to finish this memoir. Or yours.
(This column was first published by Fairfax in May 2019)