St. Aubin Stout's breast cancer memoir

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 13, 2011

By Katie Scarvey
Heather Stout was only 24 when she lost her mother, Linda St. Aubin to breast cancer.
Her mother was 44 when she was diagnosed.
Given her sobering family history, Heather has always been diligent about getting her mammograms. In 2006, one of these routine mammograms showed a lump that turned out to be cancerous.
She was 43, a year younger than her mother was at diagnosis.
Today, cancer-free after the initial disease and a recurrence, she’s 47, and she’s written a book about the experience: “Not My Mother’s Journey.”
Heather initially had a lumpectomy and was treated with radiation and chemotherapy.
After her treatment ended, she was told that she was cured, that there was only a one percent change of a recurrence.
Heather relaxed.
Not much more than a year after her first diagnosis, in November of 2007, Heather had another mammogram that was clear. Her MRI, however, looked suspicious.
Heather’s cancer had come back.
She couldn’t help but think of her mother, who had also had a recurrence a year after her first diagnosis. This time, Heather had a mastectomy, chemotherapy and herceptin infusions for a year.
Both times, Heather says, her cancer was caught early, which was key since both cancers were considered to be aggressive.
Stout kept a journal chronicling her experiences, saved all her e-mails and talked to lots of people.
Some suggested that she write about her experience, so from August of 2009 to February of 2010, she did just that.
Part of the reason she decided to write about her experience was that reading the stories of other people helped her, both when her mother was sick and when she was dealing with her own disease.
“I think it helps to share our stories,” she says. “Something people read can help them so they, in turn, can help someone else.”
Knowledge is helpful when dealing with a cancer diagnosis, she says, although it can be both a blessing and a curse. Although you need to be well-informed, going on the Internet can “really freak you out,” she says.
Writing the book was a cathartic experience, she says.
Heather says she tried to be honest in the book, and she talks openly about things that were clearly painful to her, like having a rough time dealing with her older sons and “what some people call their ‘shenanigans,’” she says — including skipping school and underage drinking.
Readers will appreciate Heather’s unflinching candor — and come away with the understanding that battling cancer is often complicated by the turmoil of regular life, which doesn’t politely cease or even recede into the background once a cancer diagnosis enters the picture.
Heather wants those who read her book to understand that she was able to persevere, and that things did get better.
The book also details how her faith helped her cope — and how her religious convictions were strengthened by her experience.
Although Heather self-published her book, she hired an editor who worked with her. At one point her editor observed, “You’re talking about your faith too much; it’ll turn people off.”
Heather didn’t think so. “I felt like it was important to leave it there,” she said. “It worked for me.”
Heather says that these days, she doesn’t worry about things the same way she used to.
Everyone, she adds, will have something difficult to deal with.
“At some point in your life, you’ll be faced with some sort of devastating crisis to get through. The more we can be there for each other, the better.”
Heather enjoyed her writing experience so much that she’s started another book — this time, she’s trying her hand at fiction.
Still, it will broach serious topics.The book will follow four couples as they face different issues in their lives, she says, from adultery to pornography to having children later in life. It’s based on real people and real issues, she says, but the characters are “definitely made up.”