Friend’s birthday poem turned into a children’s storybook to help those dealing with cancer.
By ROXIE HAMMILL
Special to The Star
It began as a birthday present—a poem written by Laura Myer for her good friend Lori Lober, who at one time had been given only a 2 to 3 percent chance of living five years.
But for much longer than that, Lober’s cancer has been kept at bay. So has the hepatitis C that Myer contracted. But the poem has blossomed into a self-published book, “Princess Elle and her Isle of Capri.” The illustrated storybook, which came out in February, is aimed at children and parents dealing with a cancer diagnosis.
It’s been a long journey for the two friends, much of it uphill.
Lober, of Kansas City, North, had late-stage breast cancer that metastasized to her liver. She still takes regular chemotherapy treatments, but there’s been no sign of cancer for more than 10 years.
Myer, a former surgical nurse who now lives in Overland Park, has been undergoing difficult treatment for hepatitis C, but she, too, has been free of symptoms for about 10 years.
The illustrator, Angie Prindle of Lee’s Summit, also could relate to the topic. Her mother, Barbara Brewer, is a cancer survivor.
The book is part celebration, part mission. Lober hopes the comforting cadence of the poem and the storybook imagery will speak to children and family members affected by cancer.
Originally, Lober said, the women had hoped to donate the proceeds to Touched by Cancer, but that organization has dissolved. Now Lober, a wellness coach, is more interested in using the book as a tool to help parents and children.
If there are profits after she recoups the $2,000 publishing fee, Lober said, the money will be divided among everyone who donated their work to make it happen. She said she’d happily donate her share to charity. The book is available for $16.99 through Amazon and Barnes & Noble and from the authors and illustrator themselves.
Lober and Myer met about 15 years ago through their husbands’ work with the Home Builders’ Association of Greater Kansas City. At the time, they were typical girlfriends who shared common interests and business.
Then, about a year later, Lober suspected something was wrong and began asking doctors to check her for breast cancer.
She had a type of pre-menopausal cancer that was difficult to detect without a biopsy, though, and she says it was two years before she got a cancer diagnosis. By then, the cancer had spread to her liver.
Myer gave her the birthday poem after Lober had undergone her surgeries but before she’d been declared symptom-free. “She was just really hard to buy for,” Myer laughed.
Myer, in the meantime, developed her own health problems. A year after Lober’s cancer was diagnosed, Myer said, she was found to have hepatitis C, which may have been contracted during her earlier years as a surgical nurse.
The two went from being regular girlfriends to “wellness buddies,” just like that, said Lober.
They learned how to eat nutritiously, went to spas and even investigated a Tibetan monk who touted herbal remedies for metastatic breast cancer.
“Having someone who understands what you’re going through helps. It’s priceless,” Lober said. “You know you’re not the lone wolf, going through it all on your own.”
Lober, 48, has self-published two other books, “Love to Live” and “Still Bigger than Pink” about her experiences with cancer. So after she read and re-read the birthday poem, an idea formed.
“It hit me. Oh, my God, this is so good! We need to turn it into a children’s book and have it illustrated.”
Myer immediately took the poem out to a quiet lake dock and started writing.
“When Lori Lober asks you to do something, you usually end up doing it,” she said with a laugh.
“Princess Elle” is an allegorical tale of a little girl on an island. One day she notices things are amiss, and soon she is in the clutches of a powerful dragon called C for carcinoma. However, she makes it through the confrontation and is helped back to wellness by her many bird friends.
“Feathers are important to me,” said Lober. “Whenever I needed hope or a sign, I would find a feather in an unusual place, as if it had been put there by an angel. I think of feathers when I need hope.”
After Myer, 51, and Lober were done tweaking the words, they set out to find an illustrator by sending out emails. Prindle learned about the project through a student’s parent.
By that time, tragedy had struck Lober. Her son, Colby James McLain, 19, died in a car crash in November 2005. After Prindle got the job, she commemorated Colby by working his features into one of the birds in the story. Since publication, Prindle has given away 60 copies and has held a fundraising event at a Lee’s Summit coffee shop.
Prindle, 44, says she had always wanted to illustrate a children’s book, and so was thrilled when her work was chosen. The book is done in watercolor, ink and Photoshop images of a little girl wandering through the island and fighting the dragon. Coincidentally, the girl in the photos is Prindle’s niece, Ellie, who was 5 at the time.
“It’s always everyone’s hope that you have a happy ending, that you conquered it and can move forward with life,” she said. “People can imagine, if this little girl did it, I can do it, too.”
Story books can be useful for children trying to understand cancer, said Amber Masso, national program director for the American Childhood Cancer Organization in Kensington, Md. In fact, one of the group’s functions is to distribute books and materials it’s commissioned for people with cancer. Those include story books.
“Talking about a journey and turning it into a fantasy is definitely more relatable to children,” Masso said. “It’s good to relate it in terms a child can understand, and it’s also a good tool for a parent to have.”
In fact, one of the group’s functions is to distribute books and materials it’s commissioned for people with cancer. Those include some story books, Masso said.
Myer was struggling with a course of treatment, and could not talk long about her book. But she remains upbeat.
“It’s so funny. I got (the book) the day I started treatment,” she says of her most recent round. “So I’ve had to read my own words and walk my own walk.”