Upon arrival of illness: Coming to terms with the dark companion

After his niece died of cancer at age 41, leaving behind a husband and two young children, Mike Savage honored her with a writing competition.

Savage Press, located in Superior, Wisc., publishes books of regional north country interest. Savage is also a commentator on Wisconsin Public Radio and columnist for The Daily Telegram in Superior.

“As Kelly’s uncle, knowing she did a tremendous amount of writing about her diagnosis, treatment, fears, and joys, I want to honor her memory and promote writing as therapy through this contest,” he wrote. He also wanted to provide a memorable trip to western Ireland, he added, “a place Kelly wanted to visit.”

The contest was mentioned in a Sunday column in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The submission deadline was in January (entry fee: $25), and the book was released in October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

The competition was judged by Laurie Hertzel, senior books editor for the Star Tribune. Savage said he read all the stories and did proofreading, editing and layout.

Is he glad he did it? “Yes, I am,” Savage said. “It turned out to be more involved than I thought it would be,” he added, but it was worth the effort.

The book is starting to find its way into hospital gift shops and waiting rooms, he said, and when sales are sufficient to bring the project into the black, he will begin donating proceeds to cancer organizations.

The entry fee money helped pay for the winner’s trip to Ireland and printing costs. Other prizes were donated.

Lynne Jonell of Plymouth won first prize for her essay about Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Two Forest Lake-area writers submitted stories. Neither won the 10-day retreat in County Clare, but their essays are among the 94 published in the book, “Upon Arrival of Illness: Coming to Terms with the Dark Companion.”

Holly Harden, a writer for Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” on Minnesota Public Radio, lives in Forest Lake.

Her essay, about reacting to the news that her mother has had a breast lump removed, won second honorable mention. Titled “The Gift of Shadows,” the story appears on pages 7 to 9 of the book.

Harden will lead a writers’ class through Community Education this winter. Her Forest Lake Writers’ Workshop will be held at the high school on Monday evenings from Jan. 21 to Mar. 25 and will cost $85.

Heidi Schauer, who runs Photography by Heidi Schauer in Wyoming, wrote about her grief after her father died.

When she received her copy of the book from Savage Press, Schauer read the essays and realized “the book would be perfect in the waiting rooms of clinics and hospitals, as a gift to people going through treatment and getting diagnosed, and as a valuable tool for family members and friends.”

She hopes many people will read the book and dreams of creating “an online community where people can connect and share stories, and not feel so all-alone with whatever battle they may be facing.”

Schauer has set a goal of positively affecting 34,000 lives before her 34th birthday on Jan. 23, 2013 by sharing the book’s “brave, honest stories” about cancer, depression, grief, loss, Alzheimer’s and mental illness.

Read about her mission, called 34,000 Lives, at www.Facebook.com/34000Lives. Click “like” to become part of the community and “share” to help Heidi reach her goal.

The book is available for $14.95 at the gift shop of Fairview Lakes Regional Medical Center and online at www.SavPress.com.