Cancer patient aims to help others with book
When Giovanna Watson started her cancer treatment in 2014, she was struck by the lack of supportive literature available at appointments.
The 40-year-old, who has been very public about her battle with colon cancer, has now written down her own experiences to inspire others on the same path.
She will launch her first book, Dear Cancer, Let Me Introduce Myself, at a special event at City Hall on February 18 before heading back to Boston for more treatment.
“I think people see sickness as a weakness and I think we come from a legacy, especially in Bermuda, of secrecy and keeping things to ourselves and trying to handle everything on our own,” Ms Watson, of Devonshire, told The Royal Gazette.
“The unfortunate side effect of that is that it leaves a lot of unanswered questions for future generations. Hopefully, with this book I can encourage people to talk.”
She added that her goal “was to have this book and books like this in hospital waiting rooms and healthcare facilities around the world because there was nothing positive for me to pick up and read or skim through for advice or other experiences to relate to while you were waiting for your appointments”.
“You can be sitting in a waiting room for 30 minutes to an hour sometimes and a magazine on housekeeping is not inspiring. It’s not giving you a purpose or something to look forward to or make you think of things in a different way.”
She also wants to see it translated into other languages.
Ms Watson’s tumour was found during a colonoscopy on Valentine’s Day three years ago.
“When I got the diagnosis, it was new to me and it was also new to my family and friends,” she said. “We have aunts, grandparents, who get diagnosed but they never talked about it.”
She took a somewhat unconventional approach to the diagnosis — she threw an announcement party. She also shared the news on social media and her subsequent posts detailing her treatment garnered a substantial following.
“My message throughout all of that was that I am still enjoying life through this. Cancer is not who I am — it’s just something I’m going through,” she said.
Ms Watson endured two surgeries, eight IV chemotherapy treatments, 26 bouts of radiation, took more than 500 chemo pills and suffered months of painful side effects.
Upon her return to Bermuda, she kept getting asked what she was going to do with all of the information she had shared.
“My initial reaction was ‘nothing’. I just did it to remember the journey.”
But when they insisted it could help others, she decided to turn them into a book, which she started drafting at the end of September 2014.
“Each stage of treatment is a chapter and at the end of each chapter I put the lessons that I learnt during that stage, and then I also have reactions from friends, family and co-workers.
“I’m mostly proud of it because this will now be my legacy. To officially be an author at 40-years-old and officially have it in my hands is a milestone.
“I am more in disbelief and shock because I didn’t see this coming at all. But I love the end result.”
Features of the book include the lessons she learnt, reactions from family, friends and co-workers, a body chart to show how the chemo affected her body, as well as pictures, quotes and poems.
Ms Watson, who credits her close friends with helping keep her spirits up during the journey, said: “It’s what I had to go through. It’s very real. But I still managed to keep a sense of humour, even writing the book.
“One of the things I mention in the books is that you have to know your strengths and weaknesses when you go through something like this.
“My weakness is that I tend to overthink or internalise a lot of things. By me going public, it forced me to talk about it, to acknowledge it and to figure out a way to get through it.
“If I hadn’t done that, I could see myself going down a road of depression.”
Although Ms Watson got the all-clear after 18 months of treatment, doctors found out in August that the cancer had spread to her pelvis.
“After I have my release party on February 18, I am flying away for what can only be my last major surgery because if this doesn’t work, there is nothing that chemo or anything can do.”
The surgery could take up to 17 hours and she will be recovering in Boston for six weeks. She plans to keep her followers updated.
And while she would not necessarily encourage other cancer patients to take her approach, she urged them to learn “when to have fun in between chemo, the radiation or taking the pills”.
“You do what you have to do to get better but you still pick those moments to enjoy life,” she said.
“When you have the strength, do things you would normally do, or do things that are maybe a little outrageous and that breaks up the monotony of treatments and being at home.
“I also encourage people don’t treat cancer like it’s your friend and encourage it to stay. Take the power back.”
Ms Watson has also come up with a concept for a second book, with which she hopes to explain cancer to children.
The book release party will be held at City Hall from 7.30pm to 10pm.
The paperback version will cost $34.95, whereas the hardback will sell for $44.95.
Limited copies will also be available at The Bookmart and Brown & Co. To reserve copies in advance of the launch, call Ms Watson on 705-8423.
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