A Chat with Rebecca Durkin, author of 'Chemo on the Rocks: My Great Alaskan Misadventure'

Rebecca Durkin, author of Chemo on the Rocks: My Great Alaskan Misadventure, and her short story, Behind the Smile, is known for her candor and sense of humor.

Rebecca is a featured speaker/creative trainer for an annual women’s retreat in California, where she shares her experiences and provides writing ideas. She is also a volunteer for the Survivors Teaching Students: Saving Women's Lives ® program for the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance.

Rebecca spent the majority of her life living on the edge of the shore, first on Whidbey Island, Washington and then in rainy Ketchikan, Alaska where she lived a waterlogged existence for almost thirty years.  She currently lives in the Pacific Northwest where she enjoys road trips with her husband, hanging with her adult children, playing with her three Bichons—Scuppers, Scuttles, and Teeny Booty—and finding the humor in everyday life.

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About the Book:

Title: Chemo on the Rocks: My Great Alaskan Misadventure
Author: Rebecca L. Durkin
Publisher: Christine F. Anderson Publishing & Media
Pages: 178
Genre: Memoir
Format: Hardcover/Paperback/Kindle/Nook
Chemo on the Rocks is a shoreside seat on Rebecca (Becky) Durkin’s great Alaskan misadventure. It highlights the hilarity and heartache of a young girl who finds herself marooned in Ketchikan—fondly known as "The Rock"—where she remains on her self-imposed Alaskatraz for almost thirty years.

Chemo on the Rocks is witty, inspirational, satirical, and sometimes terrifying. It is a mix of pain and laughter as Becky walks the IV gauntlet, trailing behind the unfettered back end peeking through the drab hospital gown of the man shuffling before her.  Chemo on the Rocks is a hard-fought battle in the fallopian trenches where Becky wages war on ovarian cancer—the ultimate wedding crasher—as it invites an entire medical team into her honeymoon suite.  She slays the cancer dragon and has two children in defiance of the beast, but just when it seems life has returned to normalcy, she prematurely crashes onto Mount Hysteria and wanders aimlessly through the Hormone War Zone in the Land of the Ovary Snatchers.

Everything about having chemo on the rock was made more difficult by Becky’s fears of boating and flying—the only escape from the island—which became more terrifying with each trip to Seattle for surgery or testing. Chemo on the Rocks showcases the many parallels between sea adventures and cancer adventures, such as doldrums while awaiting diagnosis, the skull and cross bones of chemo, the bitter end of a failed marriage, tying the knot of another, listing dangerously, and perhaps a return to navigable waters.

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  • Chemo on the Rocks: My Great Alaskan Misadventure is available at Amazon.
  • Pick up your copy at Barnes & Noble.
  • Discuss this book at PUYB Virtual Book Club at Goodreads.
Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life!  Now that your book has been published, we’d love to find out more about the process.  Can we begin by having you take us at the beginning?  Where did you come up with the idea to write your book?

The idea to write Chemo on the Rocks: My Great Alaskan Misadventure evolved over time. I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when I was a young bride at the tender age of twenty-four. I went through chemotherapy and multiple surgeries, and miraculously was able to bear two children after my cancer ordeal. Eleven years after my battle in the fallopian trenches, as I was raising two young children, a cancer antigen level test revealed a possible recurrence. At that time a complete hysterectomy was performed. I was thirty-five years old and in no way prepared for menopause! My only warning about what I was soon to endure was when a nurse told me I was going to fall off a cliff. I had no idea what that meant, but soon found out. I fell headfirst onto Mount Hysteria and dodged fireballs on the front lines of the Hormone War Zone. I tried many remedies for what ailed me, but nothing helped me make sense of what was happening to my body and my mind. At some point, I took solace in writing. At first it was just silly ditties written on sticky notes that I stuck inside a small notebook. I wrote about my feelings, about cancer, panic attacks, and depression. I wrote about whatever I observed that made me happy or sad or confused. Writing was better than any anti-depressant or anxiety meds. When I finally ascended from the pit I had fallen into, my notebook was heavy with poems and stories. My husband suggested I take all those notes and write my story. It was a long process but the beginning of Chemo on the Rocks: My Great Alaskan Misadventure.

Q: How hard was it to write a book like this and do you have any tips that you could pass on which would make the journey easier for other writers?

Writing my story was easy at first because I was writing for me. When I was encouraged to write a book my entire focus shifted towards readers—trying to determine what would be interesting for them. I spent a lot of time obsessing over what to include. I knew I didn’t want the sole focus to be on my cancer. It certainly was a big part of my life, but it happened in 1985 and I lived many adventures before and after my original diagnosis. So, trying to establish the stories beginning and end was the most difficult part for me. I wanted readers to know me, not just Rebecca the cancer survivor. I wanted them to root for the tenacious little girl who’d been uprooted from Washington State and plunked down on a rock called Ketchikan, Alaska. I wanted the reader to relate to my junior high skirmishes, first loves, and heartaches. I wanted them to laugh at my Alaskan misadventures and share in my joys. I wanted them to care enough for the character to cheer her on during her difficult days.

My tip for making the journey easier is don’t worry too much at the beginning. If something feels right there is probably a reason why it shows up on the page. You can always delete superfluous stuff later. Also, don’t throw away your drafts. You may have written a gem at some point that seemed silly, but then later realize why you wrote it in the first place. It’s sad when you realize you shredded that gem.

Q: Who is your publisher and how did you find them or did you self-publish?

My publisher is Christine F. Anderson Publishing & Media. A fellow author suggested I contact them. I am so happy I did.

Q: Is there anything that surprised you about getting your first book published?

I have been surprised by all the enthusiastic responses to my story—by readers who say my book inspired them and they plan to share with someone who is suffering. I love hearing that I made them laugh, because I did not want folks to focus on a sad story. I’m still alive! I was hoping readers would enjoy it, but have been overwhelmed with positive feedback.

Q: What other books (if any) are you working on and when will they be published?

I started a novel many years ago. It is called Heaping Teaspoons of Sugar. Sugar is a saccharine sweet woman who delights in creating trouble. She is a strong character who completely took over the story. I hope to finish and get it published soon.

Q: What’s your favorite place to hang out online?

I have to admit I love Facebook. I am energized by my connections to people. I moved from Ketchikan in 1999 and Facebook keeps me connected to so many people who share my island experience.

Q: Finally, what message (if any) are you trying to get across with your book?

I didn’t set out to convey any particular message, but the feedback I receive seems to have revealed a theme. It is a gift to know that the resounding takeaway is that I love my life. It’s good to be reminded of that. If I can share a terrible cancer ordeal and have folks relate back to me that they are inspired, then I think the message found me.
Q: Thank you again for this interview!  Do you have any final words?

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity for this interview. My hope is that Chemo on the Rocks: My Great Alaskan Misadventure continues to inspire, generate laughter, and that it raises awareness about Ovarian Cancer. There is a symptoms card in the back of the book and a percentage of the proceeds of my book will be donated to the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you very much for the interview, Dorothy!


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