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On The Table Read, “The Best Book Reader Magazine in the UK“, author Melissa Mullamphy discusses her career, and the experiences of the healthcare system that made her write Not In Vain, A Promise Kept.
Written by JJ Barnes
I interviewed Melissa Mullamphy about her life and career, the experiences that made her want to write Not In Vain A Promise Kept, and the work that went into it.
Tell me a bit about who you are.
My name is Melissa Mullamphy. I live in New York and have a history of many diverse occupations. After graduating high school, I never planned on going to college because I was a drummer in a band and my only plan was to tour the world playing heavy metal. When that didn’t work out, I decided to enroll in community college, then to a state school to ultimately graduate from Marist College with a graduate degree in counseling psychology.
I worked in mental health for many years, from step-down houses to psychiatric emergency rooms. I married my high school sweetheart and lived outside Camp Lejeune for a couple of fun years right on the beach in North Topsail Beach.
I spent just shy of 20 years working in the reinsurance industry. What is reinsurance? We insure the insurance companies. (I knew you were going to ask). I had a miracle baby at 39 after losing many and being told that I would never be able to have children.
My life was forever changed when my Mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in May of 2010. She lost the battle in 8 months.
Today, I’m able to stay home and raise my son and have published two books. Not in Vain, A Promise Kept was published in December 2021.
When did you first WANT to write a book?
I wanted to share my mom’s story and battle with cancer after she passed away, but it didn’t come to fruition until ten years later. I had many stops and starts based on my mental health throughout the process. It is a memoir/self-help. I have 2 inches of medical records, notes, and spreadsheets of every step of her treatment plan. I have many versions of this book, but thankfully I waited to publish it because the early versions were full of rage, anger, and almost unreadable.
When did you take a step to start writing?
I took my first shot in 2017 with a children’s book about my dog, that became a paraplegic. “Me, My Dog and a Sheep” is a story about my dog Grizzy’s journey to defying the odds and walking, his relationship with my son, and his non-quitting spirit. This was a learning experience in the craft of writing and publishing.
How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?
Me, My Dog and a Sheep took about a year and a half because I was taken advantage of by a publisher. I was able to get all of my money back and went with a hybrid publisher that went out of business, and ultimately, I self-published.
How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?
Ten years. It took ten years because I was a mess after my Mom died. As discussed above, I have many versions, but the latest was as good as it was going to get. I’m glad it took this long because I was in a better headspace mentally to allow myself to be vulnerable to my own grief, family roles, self-sabotage, you name it, so that others can learn from my mistakes.
I also learned a lot about the publishing world throughout this period and self-published using professional editors and designers. I did not have the time or patience to wait for a literary agent.
Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Not In Vain, A Promise Kept?
My Mom was diagnosed with cancer in May of 2010. She suffered every day from diagnosis to death. There were many mistakes made along the way. Medical errors that made a sick lady suffer more. I promised her one day, while we were alone in her hospital room, that I would tell the world about her story so that others did not have to go through what she (we) went through.
Each chapter is a month from diagnosis and everything that happened during that month. Each chapter ends with “what did I learn, what should you do, how do you reduce the potential for medical errors, and how do you advocate for your loved ones.”
What were your biggest challenges with writing Not In Vain, A Promise Kept?
The biggest challenge was bringing back the bad memories of her suffering. My family’s suffering, looking myself in the mirror and being accountable for my behavior, depression, grief, self-sabotage, and PTSD. I put every medical record she had into a spreadsheet to do this right, so everything was accurate. Looking at the doctor’s notes, pathology, and numerous mistakes brought back a lot of anger, resentment, and rage, but; it is a story that must be told.
What was your research process for Not In Vain, A Promise Kept?
The only research I had to do was find statistics on ovarian cancer, current treatment protocols, and an updated survival rate. Unfortunately, in 2021, nothing has changed.
How did you plan the structure of Not In Vain, A Promise Kept?
I designed it as it took place. There is an intro to “who we are,” a “letter to my mother (telling her what has taken place since she passed and my missteps, family change, and roles” and the other chapters represent each month from diagnosis to passing away.
It closes with a “New Normal” chapter I added in August of 21 when we were coming out of Covid-19, and I added a chapter on modern-day healthcare and my own experience with medical malpractice.
Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Not In Vain, A Promise Kept need?
This was another learning experience. I had a lot of starts and stops and went through some wasteful spending on editing. I found someone online that I clicked with, and by chance, her mom, too, passed away from cancer. She was a nurse as well and knew all of the medical terminologies even though I intentionally toned it down.
What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a book?
Trust but verify. There are a lot of snakes in the grass that promise you many things. In the beginning, you are very green and think you will be the next J. K. Rowling, but that is a very far stretch. Anyone can write a book and publish it today. If you want growth, sales, and influence, you must be disciplined and willing to learn. There are many free networking opportunities online and places like Fivver.
You can find professional consultants to help you with everything from book launch and marketing design to website development. Please take advantage of it. Look at your genre and the competition to see where your idea fits, how it differs, and would you yourself be interested in reading it. Is there a need or service you are offering, etc.?
Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?
I probably have a couple more books in me. I think my next one will be about family dynamics after losing a loved one. Family roles, dysfunction, and grief. After everyone leaves the funeral, what next?
And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?
Yes. If I can help one person with a sick loved one find their voice in a complex healthcare system and save a patient from suffering, I feel fulfilled.
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