Interview With Christine Shields Corrigan, Author of AGAIN: Surviving Cancer Twice with Love and Lists

Can you share a bit about the journey to turn all your bits of writing and journaling into this amazing book? What was the process like? How did all those separate pieces come together?
Writing Again: Surviving Cancer Twice with Love and Lists was quite the journey. The joke is—Again was supposed to be a list, not a book. When I was almost finished with chemotherapy in June 2016, I went to a breast cancer support group that my surgical nurse navigator organized. As I left the meeting, she stopped me and asked if I’d mind writing a “list” of helpful tips or tricks I learned going through breast cancer treatment that she could share with other patients. Without thinking, I agreed. On the ride home, I kicked myself and wondered, “What could I possibly share with other patients?” I was in the middle of my own treatment and had no perspective. In an unlikely move, I ignored my nurse’s request. For. Months.

As I recovered from my breast surgery in the early fall of 2016, my sense of obligation got to me, and I decided I had to write the list for my nurse. I thought I’d write a “Top Ten” list similar to David Letterman’s lists on the Late Show. Once I started writing, I couldn’t stop, and three months later I had more than a list. I had ten essays. I sent the essays to my nurse, and she responded, “Chris, this isn’t a list, but it’s great. You should publish it.” I knew those raw essays couldn’t be published, but her comment made me wonder whether I could write a book.

Around the same time, I turned fifty and had to figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up—whether I wanted to return to law or my legal writing business, or whether I wanted to do something entirely different, like write a book. Using those early essays as a guide, I decided to write what would become Again: Surviving Cancer Twice with Love and Lists.

Although I’d spent most of my professional life writing—first as a lawyer and then as a legal writer and editor—I didn’t know anything about writing a book. I knew I had to take classes to learn how to write a memoir, and I did for almost two years. I work-shopped early drafts in my classes. I worked with other writers as I rewrote my drafts, and one of them suggested that I organize the book like a list, which gave me the idea to start each chapter with a list. I also went to writing conferences and workshops and read a lot of craft books.

After I finished my classes, I joined a newly formed writing group, and over time, wrote and edited my way to a completed manuscript. Belonging to a writing group kept me accountable for pages every week. While I was in the writing group, my mentor suggested I include the story of having Hodgkin’s lymphoma as a teenager. She said, “Chris, you can’t just write a book about breast cancer. There’s so much more here.” My mentor was right and that helped create the three-part structure of Again and allowed me to braid my teenage story into the adult experience. Certainly, my teenage experience influenced how I handled having breast cancer at forty-nine. My mentor helped me dig into those memories and the memoir became much richer and well-rounded.

The accountability to my writing group also kept me at my desk; I had a window every day when I could write while my children were in school. I developed a strict routine: drop off kids, walk dog, work out, shower, and write. I stuck to that schedule (for the most part) over the three years I wrote Again. When I completed the manuscript, I hired a developmental editor to review the manuscript, and I revised it again. (Ha!)

By the fall of 2019, I put together a book proposal and list of publishers and began querying. Shortly before the quarantine began in February 2020, I signed my publishing contract with Koehler Books.

Review HERE!
What was hardest about the writing/publishing process? What was easiest?

The hardest thing about writing is writing. It’s a solitary, arduous craft. Yet, I believe that if a story wants to be told and I’m the person to tell it, that story won’t rest until I tell it. I felt that way about Again. I knew this story wanted telling so that gave me the impetus to sit down every day and write. There were certainly chapters in Again that were difficult for me to write—about telling my children and my son’s subsequent depression. I shed plenty of tears while writing Again.

The hardest thing to learn to live with (I won’t say accept) in publishing is rejection. Getting published is so hard particularly if you’re a new a writer. You have to come to peace with the word, “No.” Then, you have to pitch the work again until someone says yes or rework the piece and pitch it again. Sometimes, you have to let a piece a go. I have plenty of essays that I consigned to the scrap pile. I have plenty of essays that are waiting for me to get back to them, which I will when I’m not promoting Again.

For me the easiest part of the writing/publishing process is where I am right now. I love promoting Again, whether through a radio interview, podcast, author talk, or this tour. It’s time-consuming, but fun. This is why I wrote Again—to share it with others.

Writing this book required you to dive deep into difficult memories. What did you do at the end of the writing day to help yourself leave these dark emotions behind and breath?

Because I had two children at home—one in high school and the other middle school—while I was writing. I had a hard stop on my writing time when I had to pick up my sons. Then, I switched into mom mode—getting sons to practice making dinner, supervising homework etc. I had to focus on my family so I didn’t have time to ruminate over the memories about which I wrote that day. I meditate every night before I go to bed so that also helped to let go of any hard memories.

What does Again offer patients currently dealing with a cancer diagnosis? How can it help them move through the roller coaster of diagnosis treatment and life after treatment? 

I wrote Again to help other patients and survivors. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I searched for a book that would serve as a trail map to help guide me through the experience. In my search, I found plenty of books written by medical professionals about cancer, its diagnosis, and treatment. I found celebrity cancer narratives. I found beautiful memoirs about the meaning of life written by individuals who died—from cancer. I found plenty of pink, inspirational guidebooks and journals. I didn’t find those books helpful. So I decided to write my own in the hope that when other individuals hear: “I’m sorry, you have cancer,” some of my experiences may resonate and help them.

I included the “tips and tricks” that I learned along the way about dealing with a diagnosis like bring a trusted person with you to appointments so they can take notes or ask questions because the information can be overwhelming. I included practical guidance about going through chemotherapy, such as what to bring to an infusion, how to deal with side effects of treatment, and how to handle the many well-meaning people who will say the wrong thing or offer unhelpful “advice.”

 The most important part of Again for patients and their caregivers is the third section of the memoir, Closer to Fine, which chronicles the years following my diagnosis. Honestly, those years were harder than the year of treatment and surgeries. While I was in the middle of treatment, I focused on getting through it and “getting back to normal.” I didn’t realize until about two years later that I wasn’t getting normal back. My life had irrevocably changed—physically, emotionally, sexually—and I had to give myself time to grieve those losses. 

I also became incredibly anxious about recurrence. I eventually began seeing a psychotherapist to work through my teenage memories and trauma, which I’d never resolved. I just avoided it for thirty-five years. That worked fine, until it didn’t. That therapy took a lot of psychic work, but I’m so glad I did it, particularly since it was outside my comfort zone. Writing Again also helped me bring closure to my teen experiences; it was cathartic for me. Over time, I learned to seek peaceful coexistence with the undesired. I learned that no matter how many lists I make, I have no control over how life will turn out. That’s okay. I try to infuse the beautiful ordinary with meaning, appreciate each day, even the hard ones, and to hold onto hope.

What do you most hope readers that have never faced cancer take away from reading Again? How might it help them more effectively support loved ones facing this battle?

It’s hard not have been touched by cancer in some way, perhaps not personally, but given that 1.8 million people are diagnosed each year, almost everyone knows someone whose life has been touched by the disease. I’m frequently asked what should people do if they find out a loved one or coworker or neighbor has cancer. I’ve included many suggestions in Again. But, these are my top three pieces of advice for caregivers, friends, family, and coworkers:
  • Remember the person with the diagnosis is the same person that you’ve always known. Their essential self—quirks, tastes, hobbies, favorite movies, sports, and books—hasn’t changed. So don’t treat them like they’re broken. They have to face a really crappy disease, and it’s an opportunity for the people who care about them to care about them. Don’t ghost them now.
  • If you don’t know what to say, then say so. And then listen if they want to talk and be respectful about the information they choose to share. If they don’t want to talk about the diagnosis or treatment (because maybe they’re exhausted from having those conversations) then let them know that you’re here when they do.
  • If you want to help, make a concrete offer. For example, don’t ask, “What can I do to help?” Most time the individual with cancer will say, “I’m fine, thanks.” Rather, ask, “When is your next treatment day? I’d love to drop off a meal or order your kids pizza/ you dinner from their/your favorite place.” Or, “Do you want company at your next infusion? I’m happy to sit with your for an hour.” Or, “Let me carpool your child to school, practice . . .” These types of offers are more likely to elicit a positive response. Then, most importantly, follow through.
How has publishing Again affected your life? Has it encouraged you to do more writing? Step on stage to speak? OR?

Publishing Again has changed my life for good! I’ve met so many people who have shared the positive impact Again has had. I spoke to a book club last week, and one of the members sent Again to a former neighbor who had received a breast cancer diagnosis. That person, whom I never met, shared with the book club member that Again has helped her on her journey. Other people have told me that they wished that they’d had Again when they went through treatment. A podcaster from Mubai reached out to me on Instagram to speak about Again to her audience on the other side of the world. How cool is that?!

Having a published memoir also has allowed me to begin teaching creative nonfiction writing, which I enjoy. I also lead journaling workshops for cancer support groups. It’s so satisfying to help others use writing as a tool on their own healing journeys.

Writing Again also helped me write subsequent essays. Most recently, I participated in a project called: (Her)oics: Women’s Lived Experiences During the Coronavirus Pandemic, edited by Joanell Serra and Amy Roost, which released on March 11, 2021 by Pact Press. The anthology draws together the stories of fifty-two women across the US during the pandemic, including Not Back To, But Forward, my essay about how my cancer experiences helped me cope with COVID-19. I saw many similarities between going through a cancer diagnosis and treatment and the COVID-19 pandemic experience, particularly in those early months–the fear, the concern about one’s mortality, the isolation, and how a single moment in time can irrevocably alter all that’s to come—and I found that I could deal with the uncertainty of the pandemic because I’d learned to live with uncertainty as a result of my cancer experiences.

I would love to close with a favourite quote of yours. It can be on any subject or have any focus, just one that lifts you up.

Only one quote? I could say anything written by Anne Lamott, but that’s bit broad. Instead, I’m going to share two of my favorite poems that capture the essence of Again’s themes.

The first is by rupi kaur from The Sun and Her Flowers -
to heal
you have to
get to the root
of the wound
and kiss it all the way up

The second is by Emily Dickinson -
“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me

Connect with the author:  Website  ~  Twitter  ~  Facebook ~ instagram


  1. This seems like a powerful, beautiful, inspiring read. I can't wait to read it!

    1. That it was and it talked about things I haven't heard talked about before such a fingernails smelling and the lack of feeling in a reconstructed breast. I so appreciated her honest.


Post a Comment