Sunday, October 8, 2017

My Battle with Stage 1 Melanoma

Not the story I usually like to tell, but I think it needs to be told regardless. Obviously, since learning of my diagnosis, I haven't done any work on When Time Stands Still, but hope to get back in the saddle soon.

Did you know that melanoma is the leading cause of cancer death in young women ages 25-30 and the second leading cause of cancer death in women ages 30-35? Did you also know that the incidence of people under 30 developing melanoma is increasing faster than any other demographic group? I didn’t either, until I received my own melanoma diagnosis on July 21st (via a pathology report that was sent to me by email while I was at work).

No one wants to have a cancer story, yet they have a way of finding some of us, demanding to be told. And I feel compelled to tell mine, particularly because of all the “What’s melanoma?” and “Oh, it’s just skin cancer.” responses I received from people when I was diagnosed. While it’s true that melanoma is a form of skin cancer, calling it JUST skin cancer grossly underestimates the magnitude of this disease. It’s a disease where only a mere millimeter in depth can make the difference between receiving a good prognosis and a poor one. It’s a disease where, had I waited another six months, my story may have had an entirely different ending.

Over the winter, I did a double take in the mirror after noticing a mole on my back. It was a mole I’d had my entire life, and it had always been on the bigger side. However, there was something odd about the way the mole looked now. It appeared to be slightly larger, but what was most striking about it was it’s color.

If you Google melanoma images, you’ll be presented with conspicuous, big black lesions that are so obviously cancerous that it’s a wonder they weren’t discovered well before they got to that point. That’s NOT what my melanoma looked like, which is why I feel it important to raise awareness on this potentially lethal condition.

For the most part, my melanoma was the same shade of brown as all the other moles and freckles on my body, except that it had developed a reddish/pinkish hue in the center of it. Knowing that melanomas are usually black (or so I thought), I didn’t think too much of it. After all, I’d had that particular mole looked at some years prior, and all was good then. Yet, over the next few months, I’d catch glimpses of it in the mirror every now and then and think to myself that I probably should get it checked out, if only for my own peace of mind. I finally did in June while I was at my primary care physician’s office for a completely unrelated matter. It was an afterthought then, the mole, and it was only at the end of the appointment that I remembered it, sheepishly asking the nurse practitioner to take a look at it, as I figured doing so would probably just turn out to be a giant waste of her time. After spending an inordinate amount of time looking at it she said that, although she thought the lesion to be benign, she wanted to have one of the doctors in the practice take a look at it. That should have been clue #1.

When the doctor came in, it was clear he expected to be able to take one look at the mole, pacify my concerns, and send me on my merry way. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened. You know something’s not right when a medical professional lets out a genuinely surprised, “Oh!” when looking at something on your body. That should have been clue #2, but sheer denial had prevented me from piecing everything together. After all, according to Google, my mole looked nothing like melanoma. It was decided then that the mole should be removed.

After three separate pathology reports from Bronson (who weren’t entirely certain, but strongly suspected the mole to be melanoma, so they deferred it to Mayo Clinic to deliver the bad news) and then, finally, U of M, my diagnosis was confirmed: Superficial Spreading Melanoma (which, if you’re going to get melanoma, that’s the type you want to have) with no ulceration (another good characteristic), and a low mitotic rate (meaning it was slower growing). However, remember when I said just a millimeter can make the difference between a good prognosis and a poor one? Well, the kicker for me was the depth of my tumor. At 1.5 mm, my melanoma was considered invasive (a depth of only 1 mm dramatically increases the risk of the cancer having spread to the lymph nodes). I was tentatively staged at a Stage 1b (with a 93% likelihood of being alive in 5 years). Had my tumor been ulcerated, my depth would have put me at a Stage 2a (with an 81% chance of surviving 5 years). But I was assured by the U of M Melanoma Clinic and my oncologist (I’ll never get used to saying “my oncologist”) that my melanoma was an early catch and the odds that it had spread were only 15-20% (which, when it pertains to you, may as well be 80-90%).

If the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes (Stage 3), my odds of survival in the next 5 years would be reduced down to 40-78%, depending on how many nodes were affected. Because, as it turns out, this JUST skin cancer is a tricky SOB with the capability of traveling ANYWHERE in the body it pleases, often landing in organs such as the lungs, liver, and brain. It can also remain dormant in a person’s body for months, years, even decades before reappearing again. In order to figure out whether or not my melanoma had spread, I was scheduled for a wide excision and a sentinel lymph node biopsy on September 21st (two agonizing months after my initial diagnosis).

For two months, I waited, unsure whether I would remain at a Stage 1 or become a Stage 3 (I didn’t even want to consider Stage 4). Would I be able to make plans for next year? Would I get to see my girls grow up? There was so much uncertainty and the not knowing whether I still had cancer in my body and where it had traveled was, at times, unbearable. It seemed like September 21st would never arrive, but arrive it eventually did.

After my surgery, my husband was shocked to see the 15 staples that closed the incision on my back, an incision that runs from one shoulder blade to (almost) the other. Such an incision is standard for melanoma to ensure that they get any remaining cancer cells that may have been left behind from the initial biopsy. Along with the incision on my back, I have another two inch incision underneath my arm from where six lymph nodes were removed and biopsied to see whether the melanoma had made its way down there. Approximately 99% of the time, melanoma, if it has spread, will travel to the nearest lymph nodes. These lymph nodes are found during a painful procedure called a lymphoscintigraphy, where a radioactive dye is injected at the site of the melanoma and is tracked to see which lymph nodes it travels to.

The week following my surgery, I was a nervous wreck waiting for the pathology results, knowing that with each day that passed, the more likely it was that the call coming in would be from my oncologist’s office with results that could undoubtedly change my life forever once again. That call finally came on September 28th and the results were that there was no residual melanoma found in my back and all six lymph nodes came back negative for cancer cells. I would remain a Stage 1b.

I feel as though I dodged a bullet and am unbelievably blessed that my cancer hadn’t spread, considering I allowed a mole that so obviously had changed go for at least six months before finally getting it checked out. Had I gone in as soon as I initially noticed it, I may never have progressed to a Stage 1 and could have spared myself two months of torture. Now, I will forever be looking over my shoulders (both figuratively and literally) as there is always a chance (albeit a small one) of a recurrence, and I’m also at an increased risk of developing another primary lesion (as are members of my family). This is why I implore anyone who may not be going in for regular skin checks to get your skin checked. Don’t ignore any new moles or freckles that have suddenly appeared on your body (no matter how small), and in particular, never ignore one that has changed in any way (whether shape, color or size). Above all, please quit using tanning beds. I have no doubt that the use of them in my late teens and early twenties helped contribute to my development of melanoma at the age of 35. In the cancer world, tanning beds are considered a level one carcinogen and are on the same level as cigarettes in terms of the damage they do to your body.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Cover Reveal: The Living and The Dead

Thank you, Mia Hoddell, fellow author and creative mind behind M Designs, for creating the perfect book cover for The Living and The Dead. Anyone looking for beautiful cover art for their books may want to check out Mia's website:

I've taken a little break from finishing The Living and The Dead, somewhat due to personal circumstances out of my control and partially because I've been working on the summary for the book. ...I think you will find that most writers would agree that writing a summary can be even more challenging, more frustrating, and almost as time-consuming as writing the book itself. However, I am still planning for a summer release.

For now, here is the summary for The Living and The Dead:

Dying is optional.
Living is forbidden.

The year is 2111, and scientists have discovered how to cheat death by extracting memories, thoughts, and personality traits from the dying, methodically implanting them into artificial bodies. At the time, it seemed too good to be true, never having to lose anyone to illness or time, and maybe it was.

Rejected as being nothing more than imposters of the living, the dead are shunned by society. Their families, friends, and neighbors, having grown to fear them, erected walls around their cities to keep them out. Over time, those cities were replaced with colonies overseen by governors to keep order.
At seventeen, Zaila Lockhart has only known isolation. Isolation from the world that extends both outside and inside her colony. As the daughter of the unpopular governor, she is the target of resentment, especially now that resources are becoming more scarce, since all trade between the colonies has been interrupted by a group marauders. Starvation seems imminent, and a war between the living and the dead over much-needed provisions looms on the horizon.

In search of food and other supplies, Zaila takes it upon herself to secretly venture outside her colony’s walls. Joined by Pax Muldoon, her only friend, the pair are ambushed by a group of scavengers. Identified as being the governor’s daughter, Zaila is brought back to the scavenger’s base in a city occupied by both the dead and their living sympathizers.

Zaila thought she knew everything there was to know about her captors, that the history being taught in the colonies was rooted in fact. But some lessons are better learned outside the classroom, where the living have grown to fear life, and the dead are the only ones truly living.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Dystopian Authors Collide Facebook Event: Featuring The Legacy Series By Ellery Kane


Happy November, Readers!

Whether you love or dread thoughts of the end of the world, there's no denying, this is one hot genre! This week, I'm joining Ellery Kane and some of the best of the best for fun, prizes, and most awesome of all, books! Some of these authors may be familiar, some may be new, but they are all amazingly talented and ready to party! And if you're wondering about that amazing giveaway, read on to the end of this newsletter on how to win a Kindle!

So what are we doing?

A Facebook Party!

Join us from 5:30-10PM EST on November 13th. There will be games, giveaways, and great discussions so don't miss out. Join the Dystopian Authors Collide Facebook Event:

Book Sales and Spotlights!

Dystopian Authors Collide Covers

Check out the books of our authors! Some are free, some $0.99, but they are all spectacular. Authors Include: Sara Furlong Burr, Christine Redding Manzari, Cameo Renae, Chrystalla Thoma, David Litwack, Kim Wells, SJ Pajonas, Angela Cavanaugh, Grace Hudson

You can see them all here:

And the Giveaway!


In addition, we've pooled together to bring you a mega giveaway, including a Kindle!

Enter here:

And don't forget to come hang out with us on Friday!

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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Excerpt from One Crazy Night: "Reanimator" by Sharon Stevenson


 Up next from the upcoming One Crazy Night anthology, here is a short excerpt from “Reanimator” by Sharon Stevenson:

“The cat hissed and batted one paw full of razor sharp claws at my hand.  The cut drew blood that burbled up thickly enough to run and stain the cuff of my new shirt, but that wasn’t what made me want to throw up inside my mouth.  I straightened and tried to breathe more deeply.  It didn’t help.  I’d just brought my sister’s beloved fur-baby back from the dead.”
Learn more about Sharon Stevenson and her books here:
Pre-Order One Crazy Night here: 

If you haven’t joined the release party for One Crazy Night, join it here:


Sunday, March 1, 2015

Excerpt of Elements by M.H. Soars from One Crazy Night

With the release of One Crazy Night just days away (on March 10), I thought it would be fun to share excerpts from some of the other authors who contributed stories to the anthology.

First up is the very talented M.H. Soars with an excerpt from “Elements”:

"The lights on the yacht began to flicker, and a moment later, they went out completely. I called out to Tammara and Amber until I lost my voice. My heart hammered in my chest and tears mingled with the salt water. I pictured Mom, Dad, and Camille, hoping that I would be able to see them once more.

I looked up at the sky, expecting to see angry, stormy clouds that would explain such a drastic change in the sea. The sky was blessedly clear, the full moon now mocking me with its beauty.

All at once, the yacht dipped down at an impossibly steep angle, pointing almost straight down. An ominous, rogue wave advanced toward the boat. I had seen The Perfect Storm. I knew there was no surviving that. I braced myself for the impact, aware I would have to let go once the boat capsized. The wave curled over the top of the bridge and came crashing down. I was ripped from my safe spot and it was all darkness and unbearable pressure for a moment. I was inside a vortex of foam and didn't know which way the surface was. Water filled my lungs and panic began to overtake me.

Through the gloom I saw the fluorescent blue light again. It hovered only a few feet from me and it wasn't a fish. It had the shape of a man. Impossible. He raised his hand as if reaching out and the whirlpool around me stopped. I stood paralyzed, not knowing if I was hallucinating or if I was already dead. The apparition vanished a second later and my body screamed for air. No, I wasn't dead. Not yet."

Check out M.H. Soars’ other books here:

Pre-Order One Crazy Night here:

If you haven’t joined our giveaway bash, what are you waiting for? Come on over, if you love books and want the chance to win swag, ebooks and giftcards all you need to do is join the fun:


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Cover Reveal For One Crazy Night!


Book Info:

Title: One Crazy Night
Release date: March 10, 2015
Genre: YA/NA Paranormal Short Stories
Authors: Sara Furlong Burr, Teshelle Combs, Emma Faragher, R. Holland, Louise Nicks, Aoife Marie Sheridan, M. H. Soars, Sharon Stevenson
Format: Ebook

Pre-Order Links:

Amazon | Amazon UK

Add One Crazy Night to your TBR on Goodreads.


Nightshade Reads presents their debut fantasy anthology, featuring nine of the genre’s freshest up-and-coming independent authors. Get ready for One Crazy Night, packed full of magical encounters, dark secrets and shocking revelations.

Get a glimpse into a powerful queen’s dark and brutal backstory in Aoife Marie Sheridan’s Bellona.

In Louise Nick’s Love Magic, a homemade love spell goes disastrously wrong for two amateur teen witches.

A young woman is captured by beautiful, dangerous creatures in M.H. Soars Elements.

A teenage boy falls in love, but things quickly become complicated in R. Holland’s Lady in Black.

Sara Furlong Burr brings a broken man’s troubles to light as he is offered a solution by a mysterious stranger in The Recruit.

Emma Faragher spins a dark origin tale of sisterhood and magic in Necromancer Origins.

The kindness of a stranger takes a homeless young man by surprise in The Keymaker by Teshelle Combs.

Sharon Stevenson’s Reanimator brings death and magic together to change the fate of one young man’s life.

All proceeds from this Anthology's sale will go to The Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research Organisation.

About Nightshade Reads:

Nightshade logo 2Nightshade Reads is a group of YA and NA authors who love to spin Paranormal and Fantasy stories. The group is composed by Sara Furlong Burr, Teshelle Combs, Emma Faragher, R. Holland, Louise Nicks, Aoife Marie Sheridan, M. H. Soars, and Sharon Stevenson.

Connect with the Nightshade Reads Authors:

Sara Furlong Burr | Teshelle Combs | Emma Faragher | R. Holland | Louise Nicks | Aoife Marie Sheridan | M. H. Soars | Sharon Stevenson

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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Seasons of Change Blog Tour and 12 Days of Christmas Giveaway


Talented indie author Mia Hoddell has just released a box set of her fabulous Seasons of Change novels. The Seasons of Change series includes four standalone novellas in the new adult/romance genre and includes Summer Demons, Winter Angel, Autumn Ghosts, and Spring Knight. On this stop of the Seasons of Change Blog Tour, Mia sits down for an interview to talk about her books and writing in general.


1.      Tell everyone a little about yourself. What are your hobbies and interests (outside of writing, of course)?

Outside of writing I enjoy reading (obviously) and reviewing books. I also design book covers, love graphic design, and photography. I used to play a lot of sport and have competed at regional levels, but I’ve had to cut back on those for now. I’d love to take up netball again, and I’m interested in learning martial arts.
2.       When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?
I don’t think I made the conscious decision, I just fell into it. I’ve always loved writing—for as long as I can remember—so I think it was a natural progression. Also, the development in technology and self-publishing made it an easier or more realistic goal to achieve so when I ended up writing my first novel (2009), it was the obvious path to follow.
3.      What is the hardest part about being a writer?
I think the marketing because there is so much out there nowadays. I also hate edits and formatting. When I’m reading my book through countless times after my editor’s sent it me back just to look for formatting errors, or any last minute typos, I find staying motivated is hard as I just want the book to be released by that point.
4.       For anyone who hasn’t read the Seasons of Change series, tell them a little about the books.
 Seasons of Change is a series of contemporary romance novellas that follow the seasons (Summer Demons, Winter Angel, Autumn Ghosts, Spring Knight). I aimed to write them as feel-good reads where characters change for the better, find themselves, and overcome fears. All of the novellas are standalone reads and follow different couples. However, they can be enjoyed as a series because characters overlap.
5.      How did you get the idea for this series?
Seasons of Change wasn’t meant to be a long series. In fact when I started Summer Demons I only had two books in mind (Summer Demons and Winter Angel) and they were going to be separate with no links. However, when I started writing Summer Demons, I enjoyed writing quick, light-hearted romances and I wanted to tell the story of other minor characters so it grew from there.
The original idea for Summer Demons/Winter Angel came from coming up with the titles. They were originally going to be paranormal novels, but then I had the idea to play on the word ‘demons’ by using inner demons and confronting fears. I had the similar thought with each book (e.g. Winter Angel’s theme is helping/saving someone), and as the series grew in my mind I realized they all had a theme of change or personal growth, which is where the series title came from.
6.       What authors have inspired you the most?
I have my favourites, but I’m not sure they inspired me. Generally I read for pleasure, but if I had to name one it would be Julia Golding, as without her books, I doubt I’d have started reading when I did and therefore wouldn’t have been able to develop my writing. I hated reading until I was 14, but I guess she inspired me to buy more books.
7.       Some people take a walk, others bang their heads against a wall. How do you handle writer’s block?
 I don’t believe in it and that seems to be working as I’ve never been stuck when writing a book. Of course there are always struggles when planning but I find that’s a natural part of the process when you’re piecing little ideas together.
 Things I find that help me when writing is having a detailed plan before I begin. I do deviate from it as the story evolves, but it helps to know where I’m heading, who the characters are, and any other necessary details. I also never stop writing at the end of a chapter. I always continue to at least 500 words into the next one as I find it maps my train of thought at the time and it’s easier to pick up the next day.
 8.      Of all the characters you’ve written, which one are you the most alike?
All of my characters have a little bit of me in them, but I think Kayleigh from Spring Knight is most similar to my personality. She faces a few problems with confidence and feels most comfortable when performing on stage, which is something I relate to.
9.       Tell readers about your upcoming projects.  What are you working on now?
Right now I’m working on an urban fantasy thriller (is complete) and a NA romance for NaNoWriMo. I’m not going to reveal too much about them though because I like to be secretive about new works. However, I’m also thinking about Seasons of Change Volume 2. I know who the first story is going to be about, but I’m trying to figure out the rest of the books so I can hopefully write them next year.
10.  If any of the books in the Seasons of Change series were made into movies (I’m personally voting for Summer Demons), who do you envision playing the main characters?
This question always stumps me. I never create characters with an actor or actress in mind and therefore I can never find someone who looks like who I have in my head. Can I take the easy option and let the readers decide?
11.  Do you find that you base your characters on real life people, or are they entirely fictional?

My characters are mostly fictional and if I do base them on real people, it’s never just one. Generally I pick out things from a few people—normally small quirks, habits etc.—and shape them into one character. Of course, I may use experiences with real people to help me create them, but I’m never going to reveal who anyone is, if I have. It’s surprisingly a question I get asked a lot “am I in your book?” but I doubt anyone would be able to tell if a character was them because they grow into their own while writing.
12.  Do you have any writing essentials (i.e. music, silence, coffee)?
I can write just about anywhere because I write on my iPod, so I’d need that. I find music helps when it fits the tone of the book, but it isn’t necessary. Also, I do like to be somewhere with no clutter. I don’t know why, but I can’t focus if there’s a pile of stuff around me.
13.  What made you decide to write in the young adult/new adult genre?

It’s the age bracket I fall into so I write for people my own age. They are also the genres I read and enjoy most so it felt natural writing in them.
14.   What is one of the first things you remember writing? Do you still have it?
It was a poem about a giraffe named Jack. I think it was written as a task for school when I was six and everything had to rhyme with Jack. I’m pretty sure I still have it as well.
15.   Do you have any advice for those wanting to take the plunge and begin writing?
I’d say just go for it. The thing I hear most is that people don’t know how to get into writing, and the only answer I can give is to actually sit down and write. You can think and think about it, but the only way you’re going to move forward is to put pen to paper/fingers to keyboard. I’d also say keep your expectations and goals realistic, and find what works for you. Writing is something you grow into and are constantly learning—I still am—and there’s a lot of details on what other authors do out there, but I think it’s best to find how you like to work and do that instead. It has to be enjoyable is the main thing.
16.   Who are your favorite authors and what are your favorite books?

I have a lot. I’d say my top five are: Julia Golding/Joss Stirling with all of her books, Derek Landy – Skulduggery Pleasant, Rachel Vincent for all of her books, J. Lynn – Wait For You Series, and J. A. Redmerski – The Edge of Never (which is one of the rare books that’s made me cry).
17.   If you could be any character in any book, who would you be and why?

Um … Valkyrie Cain from the Skulduggery Pleasant books because she’s amazing. She’s witty, strong, gets funny lines, has a reflection that does all of the boring stuff in her life, and above all she uses many types of magic and gets to solve magical mysteries.

Favorite color: Purple
Dogs or Cats: Cats all the time. Dogs scare me.
Favorite Food: That changes with the season. In the summer I like fruit, in the winter anything that is chocolate or cake.
Day or Night: I get more work done in the night because there are less distractions and it’s quiet. I prefer the day though, if it’s sunny.

Favorite Season: Summer, I need the sun.
Favorite Movie: Moulin Rouge

Laptop or Pen and Paper: Laptop. I tried writing a book by hand once … never happening again.

Seasons of Change Box Set
Books 1-4 + Exclusive Bonus Stories
by Mia Hoddell
Genre: YA Romance
Release date: November 27th 2014
You can now get all four Amazon best-selling novellas in the Seasons of Change series, plus two exclusive short stories, in one box set.

These feel-good contemporary romances follow the seasons as characters change for the better, find themselves, and overcome fears.
All of the novellas are standalone reads, but can be enjoyed as a series because characters overlap. This box set includes:

Summer Demons:
 Jenna Shaw jumped on a plane and flew to Portugal to try and forget her past. However, forced to deal with her memories due to an ill-timed joke, Jenna’s holiday is derailed by the charismatic Ethan Brooks. She sees him as an annoyance; he sees her as a challenge. And when all of his usual tricks only serve to push her away, Ethan has to work harder than ever if he wants to win over and help his mysterious girl.
Winter Angel: When Amy’s suggestion of a beach holiday is overruled in favour of skiing she couldn’t have predicted it might make her break the one, and only, rule she has: not to commit to a serious relationship again. The minute she sees Luke, she knows something’s wrong, and her desire to fix people means she wants to be the one to help him. However, she didn’t go on holiday to fall for someone, and whether or not she can move past her insecurities will depend on whether Luke can face his biggest fear.
Autumn Ghosts: Only one person knows what truly lies in Ellie Jeffords’ heart, and that’s herself. Hating the course she is studying, Ellie is failing and when a friend’s cousin, Justin, offers to tutor her, she jumps at the chance. However, as the pressure of exams starts to break Ellie, Justin wants her to confide in him. The only problem is that he can’t persuade her to talk without revealing his own dark secret, and forcing Ellie to choose between her parents’ dreams and her own will cost her something she loves.
Spring Knight: Kayleigh Barrow is most comfortable on stage where she can pretend she’s someone else, but when auditions for the latest production are opened up to the entire university, the lines between fantasy and reality start to blur. Thrown together with renowned player, Aiden Hanson, she can’t longer hide her feelings for him. However, he’s never had a serious relationship and Kayleigh refuses to be another conquest. When her acting starts to become real and she can no longer hide behind her character, Kayleigh must decide whether Aiden’s worth the risk, or if he will end up breaking her heart.
Plus 2 exclusive short stories:

Summer Revenge: Jenna promised she’d get Ethan back for his prank, and it’s time to cash in. Read about what happened after the couple left Portugal.
Season of Love: There’s beach fun, flirting, and mischief as all of the Seasons of Change couples take part in a beach competition.
Buy it now, save 20% and get more content than if purchased separately.