What is your name, age, and location?
Lisa Bonchek Adams, 40 years old, I live in Fairfield County, Connecticut.
What is your profession?
I’m a stay-at-home mother of 3 children and a writer.
What did you study in school and what degrees do you have?
I double majored in sociology and psychology. I have a Master’s degree in sociology as well.
What was your first job?
My first job was in high school, working at The Limited. I worked in retail all through high school to support my clothing habit. I earned minimum wage and between jobs at The Limited and the Gap I perfected the art of folding sweaters. My closet still shows my mastery of the technique.
Who or what inspired you to break into your current line of work?
I began writing out of emotional pain. I was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 37, when my youngest child was 7 months old. After having a double mastectomy with reconstruction, chemotherapy, and eventually an oophorectomy (ovary removal), I was repeatedly asked by others for advice about coping with the dual jobs of being a mother and being a full-time patient.
My father spent his career as a heart surgeon; my mother spent hers as a psychologist focusing on grief and loss. I took the insights I had from growing up in a unique home and combined them with my own sociological perspective. I started writing pieces that answered questions such as, “What should I say when a friend is diagnosed with cancer?” and “How do I talk to my children about cancer?” I also wrote about my fear of dying before my children grew up and informative pieces about each step of my treatment.
My youngest child was born with congenital defects in his spine and hand, and while I was being treated he needed multiple corrective surgeries. Then two years after my diagnosis, my beloved mother-in-law was killed in a car crash. My world was again turned upside down. I found my experiences and outlook, as well as description of my emotions, resonated with readers.
Name/describe what has been your most rewarding project so far?
I have to split this into two parts, because I really do feel that I have two careers: one as a mother and one as a writer. As a mother, my most rewarding moments have come with seeing my children grow and being alive to help my family cope with the tragic loss of my mother-in-law.
As a writer, my most rewarding moments come anytime someone who has read my words tells me that I “hit the nail on the head” in describing what they or a family member are feeling. Writing about grief, loss, and cancer might seem depressing to many people; however, I always view my writing as uplifting. I think it shows the triumph of a strong individual who has been confronted with many obstacles in a short time period. When people read what I write and are moved by what they read, that is the greatest reward.
Name/describe one incident when being a woman has helped your career?
As a writer, being a woman is integral to the difficult experiences I’ve had. My disease, breast cancer, is a cancer primarily of women. The only reason I am alive today is because the body parts affected (or potentially affected) were able to be removed. I have lost breasts, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. I have had to modify the way I think of myself as a woman: sexually, aesthetically, emotionally. These experiences have made me suffer; however, as a mother and a wife my ability to openly and honestly discuss cancer, death, and emotions form the foundation for how my family deals with these hardships. These issues are the center of my writing, and being a woman has been integral in connecting to them.
Name/describe one incident when being a woman has hindered your career?
I really don’t look at it as a “hindrance” but if pressed to answer the question I would say that being a full-time mom makes writing more difficult these days. My health status at any given time and the desire to be with my children whenever I’m able to be cuts into writing time. In the end, though, I’ve never found being a woman to hinder anything I’ve wanted to do. It is who I am, and I am proud.
Who is your role model or mentor (alive or dead)?
I am very fortunate to surround myself with strong individuals who inspire me daily. My parents and my in-laws have certainly been my main role models. I have always looked at their character, their drive, and their devotion to their families. To me, the greatest personal attributes are those of character and strength. With a resilient spirit one is best equipped to handle life’s challenges.
My mother was diagnosed with stage III cancer five years ago. She was the only person I knew who had had cancer when I was diagnosed. She was my trailblazer, my example of how to “do it right.” I tried my best to be as strong as she was. My recently-deceased mother-in-law raised 6 children with her loving husband. They had an amazing family life and she is, even after her death, a role model in her patience and endless love for family. I miss her greatly.
My father inspired me in his ascent from the humblest of beginnings to reaching the pinnacle of his career as a renowned cardiothoracic surgeon. Having survived numerous life-threatening medical situations in his own life, he is an example of resilience and strength.
If you could give one piece of advice to a woman starting out in your field, what would it be?
Don’t put off having children. One of the greatest joys in my life is that I am watching my children grow. I can see their personalities, their talents, their development. I don’t know if my cancer diagnosis will cut my life “short,” but if I had waited until later in life to have a family (I’m now 40) I might have had fewer years with them. No matter what I accomplish with my writing career from this point on, I will die knowing that I have brought 3 wonderful human beings into this world. There isn’t anything more rewarding to me than that.
I only had the life experiences that inspired me to write after I had my family. I needed to be a mother to truly be able to write with the conviction and ability that I do now. It’s been a great life.
– Interview by Haley Hogan