Author interview with Not in Vain, A Promise Kept by Melissa Mullamphy
Melissa Mullamphy does not want others to learn the hard way as she and her family did during her mom’s 8-month battle with ovarian cancer. Melissa is passionate about patient advocacy and helping others find their voice in a complex and increasingly dangerous healthcare system. Melissa has had many jobs in her life, from corporate America to psychiatric emergency rooms. Still, nothing could prepare her for watching her mother suffer from medical mistakes, miscommunication, and errors. This book is raw as it gets and unique as a memoir/self-help.
What is your book about?
Not in Vain, A Promise Kept is a memoir/self-help that takes the reader through my Mom’s journey fighting ovarian cancer in a complex and dangerous healthcare system. It is organized monthly from her initial diagnosis to her passing away. It is not an easy read, and some early reviews revealed: “ it is what many who have been there having felt but never put into words.” My goal in writing this book is to keep the promise that I made to my mom … to share her story so others don’t go through what she and my family went through. It digs deep into her facing her mortality and fears and the many roles my family played during the process.
There are a few periods of hope and many periods of rage and hopelessness. . Each chapter ends with what I learned and what I suggest the reader does (tips) to advocate for their loved ones. The entire book is full of raw and actual events that changed my mom’s care and, I’d say, the outcome. I want the reader to understand they have a say in their loved one’s care or (their own care), and even though they are not on the healthcare provider’s payroll, they are a vital part of the patient team. Finally, another goal is to share transparently, peel off the scabs of my grief, help others understand how to advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves, and understand that although academia says grief comes in stages, we are all different. There is no right or wrong way. Even with a fancy degree, I failed at it miserably.
Why did you want to write this book?
I was angry for a lot of years. If I’m honest with myself, I’m still pissed off, but it doesn’t consume me. While my mom had a horrible diagnosis and disease, she suffered from medical mistakes. I will never forgive, forget or get over this. What happens to the people that have nobody? What happens to the patient who doesn’t understand their rights, medicine, prognosis, treatment options, and the ability to have a say in their care? All of the physicians and healthcare facilities in the book are anonymous, but there is not one bit of fiction. It is not an easy read but a necessary message to let people know what can happen and what will happen if you don’t pay attention. I also had a private conversation with my mom one night late when she was having yet another side effect of cancer, and I told her that I would one day share her story to help others. At that time, I didn’t think she would die; I still had hope. She lost the battle, but I needed to keep my promise to her, and I did.
What was the most difficult part about writing the book? The most rewarding?
The most difficult part was going through my mom’s medical records and going through it all again. I have every healthcare interaction in a spreadsheet. It brought back a lot of pain and anger. The most rewarding part is hearing from reader reviews that they are going to use what I suggest in each chapter to find their voice and care for their loved ones, or they feel at peace because although what I wrote was raw and personal, they, too felt these emotions. It gives them peace and comfort knowing that they “are not the only one.”
What do you hope other people will take away from reading your book?
Find your voice. Do not take no for an answer. Do not be afraid to ask tough questions. Trust but verify. Write things down and hold healthcare accountable. Befriend the nurses because they are extremely important. Finally, understand when it’s time to stop treating, and that decision, although painful, is ultimately up to the patient.
If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Watch out for scams. The world of publishing has changed dramatically. There are many sharks in the water. Read any contracts and do your research.
How long did it take to write your book?
Ten years of starts and stops due to “life” and my emotional ability to write the best version of the truth. It took me time to allow myself to be vulnerable to my grief and reduce my anger to try and write the best version.
What was the biggest challenge in writing your book?
Editing. I have about five versions of this book based on the headspace I was in at the time. I’m glad it took longer than I wanted because I grew, learned more about the business, networked, and found the right balance of my message.
Who are your favorite authors (and why)?
What is your favorite book in the same genre as your work?
What does literary success look like to you?
What’s the best writing advice you ever received?
What do you know now that you wish you’d known at the beginning of your writing journey?
What do you do when you are not writing?
What’s next for you?
Speaking, advocating, and helping others find their voice in healthcare. I write a blog on my website that covers a lot of this including emerging issues, healthcare, mental health, grief, and current events.
I have the skills and voice; I just need the connections.
How can our readers get a copy of your book?