Interview with memoirist Antoinette Truglio Martin

Writer Antoinette Truglio Martin joins me today to
share a bit about her memoir, Hug
Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer.
Bio:
Antoinette Truglio Martin
is a speech therapist and special education teacher by training but is a writer
at heart. She is the author of the children’s picture book, Famous Seaweed Soup (Albert Whitman
& Company) and was a visiting author in schools for several years. She was
formerly a regular columnist for Parent
Connections (In A Family Way
) and Fire
Island Tide (Beach Bumming)
. Personal experience essays and excerpts of her
memoir were published in Bridges, Visible Ink, and The Southampton Review. Martin proudly
received her MFA in creative writing and literature from Stony Brook/Southampton
University in 2016. As a Stage IV breast cancer patient, she does not allow
cancer to dictate her life. She lives in her hometown of Sayville, NY with her
husband, Matt, and is never far from My Everyone and the beaches she loves.
Welcome, Antoinette. Please
tell us about your current release
.
Hug
Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer
is a memoir about my first year with
breast cancer. As a well-documented wimp, having to have to manage the
treatment protocols and the emotional upheavals while keeping my life somewhat
normal was going to be an incredible feat. I did not believe myself to be brave enough. It was my community of family
and friends—My Everyone—and the power of the written word that honed the
courage I needed.
I journaled through that
first year of cancer treatment in a shabby notebook. Cancer didn’t deserve a
pretty journal. Because it was so difficult to talk about and repeat what was
going to happen and would have happened, I found that emailing my family and
friends to be so much easier. I did not have to articulate or hear the cancer
words. The writing also helped me see what was important and strive to be part
of the story rather than a sad sidebar.
I have a large posse who
were genuinely wanted to know how I was doing. I have daughters, a husband,
parents, sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, in-laws, and a sea of aunts,
uncles, and cousins. My friend circles not only include colleagues and
neighbors but also those I have kept up with since high school and college.
There were a lot of people. There was a lot email.
I saved the journal and
emails with the plan that I could write a light, whimsical book about breast
cancer. It would make a funny, great
book. The problem was when I started to compile and begin the process; I re-lived the fear all over again.
Cancer was not a whimsical journey. So, I put everything away, never wanting to
face cancer again.
Almost five years after treatment, cancer did return. I
now have metastatic breast cancer—Stage IV. There is no cure. It’s forever. I
was really scared and so much wimpier. I dug up that shabby journal and those
emails. This time, I disregarded the idea of whimsical. I focused on being
honest and included the authentic voices from the emails. With the help of my
advisers and fellow writing students at Southampton College MFA program and my
mentor from the Visible Ink Writers project at Memorial Sloan-Kettering, I was
able to start and finish the manuscript.
What inspired you to write this book?
I was inspired to write
the book when I was diagnosed with the Stage
IV cancer. At first looking back over my journal and emails help me see that I really was brave because of the incredible love and support from My
Everyone. They made sure I was going to be part of the life story.
It was hard to write. I
didn’t want to confront that fear again especially now that it is so much more serious, and I am going to have to live with it.
But it was a good exercise. I understood what I needed to do. And I have been
very fortunate, so very fortunate that this new tumor was caught so early
before any real damage. So far, treatment has not been debilitating nor does it
intrude on every day too much. I can
make the cancer a story in my life; not
the story of my life.
As I was writing and
sharing excerpts and pieces, I was given
kind and constructive feedback. Many exclaimed that this is a story needed to be told. This
was a story that was important. It could offer so much hope to so many. It is
not only for women with breast cancer. It is pertinent
to all women, men, and the families and friends
who have been touched by cancer. I hope that my
book gives others hope and courage to reach out to their communities and live a
life full of stories.
Excerpt from Hug
Everyone You Know: A Year of Community, Courage, and Cancer
:

The phone was problematic.
I cringed every time I said or heard the words biopsy, cancer, and tumor. It
was grueling being cheerful while the reality of my situation bore down on my
fragile calm. But I had sisters, my mother, and close friends to inform. I
needed them.
Over the previous few
years, I had used e-mail as my preferred mode for quick communications. I had
never been very chatty on the phone, even with my closest friends. Email
allowed me to keep close with people whom I could not see on a regular basis.
It allowed me to send quick messages, letters of encouragement, and carefully
crafted words of advice and gratitude so much more thoughtfully than I ever
could in my stumbling dialogue. I quickly realized that this was another time
when e-mail would most likely serve me
best.
So, that first night, I
stayed up late (sleep was evading me anyway) to write a light e-mail to my sisters. What a relief to type the
words without listening to them!
From: Antoinette
To:
Barbara, Irene
Date:
Thursday, February 8, 2007 at 3:52 a.m.
Subject:
FYI
I
am sorry, but I cannot make any more phone calls. I am sure that you have
already heard through the rapid-fire grapevine that a biopsy I had was positive.
So I am on a journey I didn’t sign up for.
The good news is that it is small, and I am in good hands at the NYU Clinical
“C” Center. I think this will be a nuisance—a bump in the road more than
anything else. I’m OK, Matt is OK. The
girls were told (worst part), and Mom and Dad are OK too. So, right now, we are
OK. I will keep you in the loop. Take care of yourselves.
Hug
everyone you know.
Ann
From: Barbara
To:
Antoinette
Date:
Thursday, February 8, 2007 at 12:03 p.m.
Subject:
FYI
You
are right—this is an annoyance, not a catastrophe! While you are under the
knife, do you want anything tucked? (hehehe)
OK, stress makes this stuff so much worse, so plenty of time in the hot tub and
being pampered is prescribed. Kisses!
Barbara
From: Irene
To:
Antoinette
Date:
Thursday, February 8, 2007 at 7:01 p.m.
Subject:
FYI
Yes,
Mary did call last night. In talking with my cancer patients, it seems that the
waiting is the hardest part. Imagination is a powerful thing. But with the size
of the mass and your rapid access to the right MDs, it sounds like your
description, a bump in the road, is perfect. I am sure telling the girls was
the most difficult thing to do. Running home
is probably the first thing they wanted to do. I hope they are OK. Thank you
for keeping me posted. Your phone must be ringing off the hook with information
seekers. E-mail works for me. Let me know when the surgery is scheduled. Lots
of LOVE and positive thoughts.
Irene
P.S.
I hope you are journaling the journey you did not sign up for.
Journaling
the journey?
My sisters
knew that I scribbled in pretty covered notebooks. From my earliest memory, I
had always said, “I want to be a writer when I grow up.” But a practical life
robbed me of the time and energy necessary to be a true writer. I’d had a few
essays published and wrote regular columns for a couple of local papers. My
proudest writing accomplishment thus far had been a children’s book, Famous
Seaweed Soup. What a thrill to see my story illustrated so beautifully, bound
and sitting on library shelves and children’s laps. As incredible as it was, I
soon learned that one cannot quit the day
job after writing one children’s book. My other children’s stories languished in
a box, filed alongside stacks of rejection letters. I let writing become a
hobby rather than the calling it began as—one that grew dimmer as grownup responsibilities mounted. But
journaling remained a constant in my life. I aimed to write daily but typically
managed to do so only sporadically.
Irene was right. I should
journal this journey I did not sign up for.
It could be a way to navigate through this nightmare without having to say the
words out loud. Cancer did not deserve a pretty notebook with a ribbon to mark
my place. I dug a cheap spiral notebook out of a drawer. Perfect. I would
dog-ear the pages to mark my place. Here I could rant, ramble, recount, list
questions, and scribble notes. Hopefully, writing in this journal would relieve
all the chatter in my head and keep cancer out of earshot.
Photo credit: 

Titus Kana
What exciting story are you working on
next?
I have been collecting
family stories. My website, Stories Served Around the Table, features the
stories that have been told and retold. I am fascinated by my family’s
immigrant tales and how my parents grew up in Brooklyn. My mother’s side of the
family had incredible stories. They may have been tough people to like, but
they were wonderful storytellers.
I am currently developing one
story into a historical fiction novel or
series of short stories. It is a story of my great-great grandmother, a Strega (witch), living in the cusp of a new century. I have heard her story all my life. Now
that I have started to put the story on paper, I see the gaps of history and
place I need to research. A trip to Sicily is in order. I am very excited to get lost in the whole process.
When did you first consider yourself a
writer?
I had a small home
business called Playin’ Pals: Playgroups
for Infants, Toddlers, and Moms. My
husband, Matt, finished the basement, built child-sized chairs and folding
tables, did the plumbing and electricity and sheet rocked the walls It was a
fabulous playroom with a separate entrance, paint
and dress-up stations, building toys, small library, and a huge craft
closet. Children and their moms came to play and learn together. My daughters
and I had a community of friends we enjoyed. It was a very fun business.
I worked the whole
operation on a very tight shoestring. I was the director, planner, go-fer, cleaning service, teacher, accountant
(my weakest skill) and counselor. After my daughters had their good-night stories and kisses, I spent nights prepping
for the morning. There were always shapes to cut out, finger puppets to find,
glue bottles to fill.
My advertising budget was
extremely small. It was the
80s—pre-social media era. I made flyers
by hand and copied them on an old hand-cranked ditto machine—ah, I can still
smell the crystal violet. I strolled my daughters in shopping carts and weaved
through the grocery store parking lots leaving the flyers on the windshields of
cars with car seats in them.
My best advertising
campaign came from a freebie periodical
called, Parent Connections. The owner/publisher/editor/saleswoman/distributor,
gave me a quarter page ad space in exchange for an article on anything about parenting. The column was called In
A Family Way
. Writing personal essays for Parent Connections was my
inaugural writing gig. Although I was not paid
in much needed money, I was compensated in advertisement and
confidence. The first time I saw my musings in print sealed my ambition to be a
writer.
Do you write full-time?
I am a teacher and speech
therapist by day, a homemaker and wife in
late afternoons and long-distant Nonny. Sleep
is over-rated. I strive to get a few morning pages written early in the
morning. Journaling observations, gratitude, fear, complaints, and rants is
important. I squeeze in an hour here and there in the evenings. I get a lot of writing
done on a Sunday. I am most productive during the summer when I am off from
school. I am also part of a writing circle of three women. We meet every two
weeks or so to discuss our projects, share what we have written. It gives me a deadline, and I so value their writer’ eye and
friendship.
What would you say is your interesting
writing quirk?
I have to write my first
drafts by hand. I use a pad of paper or notebook. I need the motor component to
keep me attentive and feeling that I am writing. I am a slow reader and terrible
speller; a learning quirk I share with three of my four siblings and many
cousins. Truth be told, I do not type well
at all. My style is just one step up from the hunt and peck method. All of
these create a labored writer, but I still want to do it.
As a child, what did you want to be when
you grew up?
I always wanted to be a
writer, always. I used to write little stories and poems while my sisters
preferred TV. I loved epic stories set in a far-away time and place.
Anything additional you want to share
with
I have been told that this cancer in me is supposed to
be forever, but I am not buying it. I truly believe a cure will be found in my life time. Such incredible
strides have been realized in just the
past ten years. Research and science are so
close.
I may be walking around with a time bomb, but I have not been given a specific expiration date. This is now true for so many Stage IV patients.
I would like to ask your readers to support the research and science efforts in
making it possible to kick metastatic cancer out of our life stories.
Links:

Thanks
for being my guest today!

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