Her part of the story was over. The story she was writing, that is. Christina Baker Kline finished writing her latest novel, “Orphan Train,” in 2012. She was already an established novelist, having written four other books.
Kline just had to go through the editing process and wait for the book to be published the following April. But then her life took a dramatic turn. She was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer.
What should have been a time to enjoy her success turned into a very real, very scary true story.
Kline was among nearly 7,000 women in New Jersey who received a breast cancer diagnosis that year. While it took time to get past the emotional and physical scars of her ordeal, she and other area women say they have since used their traumatic health experiences to lead fuller lives.
Kline was one of the speakers at AtlantiCare’s “Wings of Resilience” health event Thursday. She and others spoke to a roomful of cancer survivors and their families and friends.
“Learn that you’re not alone, that other people had very similar feelings, feelings you thought were unique to you when you were going through it,” Kline said. “It never hurts to build a community. That is part of what I hope to share in telling some aspects of my story and how I got back to normal life.”
After learning the stage of her cancer, Kline entered into a clinical trial for an intensive treatment. She had just left the hospital after being treated for a bout of infections later in 2012 when her 73-year-old mother suffered a stroke.
As the oldest child, Kline took responsibility to travel between her home in Montclair, Essex County, and Maine to care for her mother even though she was in the middle of her own treatment. Her mother passed away three months later. Kline went into remission in March 2013.
“I feel very much that when you come out from cancer treatment, it makes you aware of how precious life is,” she said. “It’s kind of a cliché, but you have a newfound appreciation for ordinary moments, people’s kindness.”
She’s now dedicated to spending time with her husband, David, and her three sons. Kline said cancer has taught her to “realize how short life is and spend your time so that it has enough value for you,” which means supporting organizations she cares about.
Kline said she came out of the experience as a stronger writer, with more tools to use when she sets off in her next fictional world.
Carol Fragale Brill is no stranger to writing. The Lower Township author has written two novels, “Peace By Piece” and “Cape Maybe,” both published in 2013. She’s no stranger to cancer either, being a survivor of uterine cancer.
“Every cancer story is unique. Early on, I was freaking out, and health care providers, close friends, nurses said uterine cancer is very treatable,” Brill said. “But my cancer was more aggressive than normal cases.”
Despite catching it early in April 2014, the cancer quickly spread, and the next year included a hysterectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. Brill said good days were when she had enough energy to go bike riding or take a long walk. She spent bad days resting her body after a chemo treatment.
She watched her hair fall out and went through a rollercoaster of emotions but continued to do things she enjoyed in life. Brill said only recently has she began to feel as she did before she had cancer.
“Through it, I had days in the beginning where I was very scared and depressed,” she said. “Right before my chemo started, with support from family and friends, I realized I had more control over my day that I was giving myself credit for.”
Brill said she has been focusing on her blog recently and plans to eventually write about her experiences with cancer. Those experiences have changed her.
“I push myself in ways that I hadn’t ever pushed myself before,” she said.
The “Wings of Resilience” event also featured the “Bra-vo” art exhibit, in which 11 breast cancer survivors expressed their dedication to fighting and overcoming their cancers through works of art, mainly using bras. Kim Turner, of Galloway, createde a piece titled “Hakuna My Tatas” about her recovery from breast cancer in 2010.
Turner has been in remission for five years, but she still gets anxious when she goes to see her doctor or when she feels lumps or sees bruises on her body. The anxiety hasn’t gone away, Turner said, but moving forward, she wants to help other women realize that they are not defined by their cancers.
Kline had the same message.
“As someone who has come through cancer, I make decisions every day about what to take with me moving forward and what to leave behind,” she said. “For now, I feel like I’ve been through a kind of war and I want to claim that. I want to keep fighting.”