How to Turn a Malignant Tumor into a Digital Self-Publishing Project

" The Tumor ," cover by  Peteski

"The Tumor," cover by Peteski

I've been a freelance journalist for seventeen years. I've written for magazines and websites, appeared on TV and radio shows, and self-published a 10,000-word investigation of the Great Recession's impact on the adult movie industry, "They Shoot Porn Stars, Don't They?" I've published short stories, and Future Tense Books published a collection of those short stories, You're a Bad Man, Aren't You? I've blogged for Forbes and for Time Warner. At one point, I became a digital copywriter and wrote Facebook updates for a bottle of stomach medicine. But today marks the first time I'm selling one of my original digital short stories on my personal website. It is "The Tumor."

On November 23, 2011, I was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. Over the following year and a half, I underwent five biopsies, two surgeries, three months of chemo, thirty radiation treatments, and a year of IV drug injections that targeted my particularly aggressive type of cancer. Along the way, I went bald, my fingernails and toenails turned brown and peeled off, and I developed what's known as "chemo fog," a chemically-induced state of mind that makes you feel like your brain has been replaced by a bowl of tepid oatmeal. Throughout the process, I wrote. I wrote journalism, I blogged, I drafted a novel. In a way, writing was my therapy.

Eventually, I was declared cancer-free and sent on my way. I went back to life and writing, and I kept trying to write something that captured what it's like when a malignancy shows up in your life, and you're not sure whether you or the tumor is going to win the war into which you have been thrust. I could never quite assemble the words properly. I kept trying and kept failing. The story of the tumor eluded me.

Then, last month, it was time for my annual mammogram. Most mammograms are an unremarkable experience. In theory, one's annual mammogram is no big deal. Still, once you've had one mammogram go sideways, you worry you may pull the short straw again, and it was while I was riding a growing ball of anxiety about this upcoming scan that I wrote "The Tumor."

Of course, if you know my writing, you know this isn't just any story. It's a story about a husband and a wife, and when the wife announces that she has a tumor, the husband's first idea is that he shoot her in the chest in an attempt to eradicate this unannounced saboteur. Things get stranger from there.

I had a terrific time putting this project together, and it wouldn't have happened without the help of others. Clayton Cubitt is an inspiration to all creatives who want to do it themselves and advised me throughout. Peteski made the beautiful cover you see here. Domini Dragoone did a fantastic job creating some of the coolest page design I've ever seen. Susan Clements proved to be a keen and perfect-for-me copyeditor. Lydia Netzer championed my creative efforts, as ever.

As for that mammogram I had last month, the results raised a question mark, a biopsy was done, and it came back benign. I remain cancer-free. For all I know, the tumor has taken up residence on some far off planet. As for "The Tumor," you can buy it online here.