In the following paragraphs, Eileen Palma, author of "Worth the Weight," describes how she overcame life-threatening medical issues on her way to a new career as a novelist
At twenty-five years old, I thought I had my whole life figured out. Married to my college sweetheart Douglas and pregnant with our first child, my plan to have four children was in the works. I was also fulfilling my other dream by teaching in an inner city school in Columbus, Ohio while my husband attended The Ohio State University Veterinary School. The only goal I had left to get started on was that great American novel.
I left work on medical leave the last month of my pregnancy with such severe pain in my upper right ribcage that I could barely walk. My doctor was convinced it was because I was carrying a large baby in my petite frame. But it turned out the pain was coming from my inflamed liver. I discovered hours after my c-section that I was suffering from a life threatening pregnancy condition called HELLP Syndrome, which stands for Hemolysis, Elevated Liver Enzymes and Low Platelets. I had full-blown Toxemia, my blood was clotting uncontrollably and I came very close to needing a liver transplant. You know it’s bad when the doctors start whispering over your hospital bed and your maternity ward visitors forget to mention how cute your baby is because they are so busy staring at you with wide, worried eyes.
I spent the next week unsure if I was going to make it out of the hospital to bring home my daughter Molly. When I was released, it was a full month before I was strong enough to hold my own baby. I was actually happy when I finally got to change my first diaper. I survived HELLP Syndrome but was left with chronic health issues as a result; a weakened immune system, severe joint pain, and weakness and fatigue. Imagine feeling like you have a bad case of the flu every day! I had to give up my teaching career and the dream of having that large family because having another baby could cost me my life and I was too sick to adopt.
I was at my lowest point when Molly and I had to move in temporarily with my parents in Massachusetts for the last three months of Douglas’ vet school. I was too sick to take care of a toddler or myself while he was working long hours in clinics. That’s when my mother handed me a Writer’s Market and said, "Now you can become a writer."
My first published article was in a small parent-teacher magazine called PTO Today. Douglas framed the article and hung it on the wall. When the editor asked me to write a second article, Douglas ran out and got a matching frame. Looking at those framed articles gave me strength on some of my sickest days.
I started writing full time when my daughter was in first grade and I had the days to myself. I spent the next two years writing a women’s fiction novel. When that first novel didn’t get picked up by an agent, I enrolled in the Novel Writing workshop at Sarah Lawrence College’s The Writing Institute and began my second novel, a romantic comedy called Worth the Weight. I became part of a strong writing group and found two wonderful mentors in my teachers Jimin Han and Patricia Dunn. I learned at a writing conference that it takes most writers three novels before they make a sale. I was hoping to beat those odds and by making it on the second try.
Rejection is a natural part of the writing process and it can feel like a huge loss when it happens. But, when you come back from a life or death situation and every day of your life becomes a fight to be healthy, rejection is nothing.
I spent a year-and-a-half writing and work-shopping Worth the Weight at The Writing Institute before landing an agent at a writing conference pitch session. I spent another year-and-a-half revising my novel and it to Diversion Books in December 2013.
Losing two out of three of my life goals made me clutch fiercely to that last one. I wasn’t going to give up till I published a novel.
For more about Bronxville resident Eileen Palma and her novel, see "Romantic-Comedy Novel Debuts Next Month Written by Westchester County Author Eileen Palma," by Jerry Eimbinder, March 27, 2014, on Tarrytown Patch and other Patch sites in Westchester County.
Worth the Weight will be released by Diversion Books on April 29, 2014. It is available for pre-order athttp://diversionbooks.com/ebooks/worth-weight.