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|On tour with his new book, Mike Greenberg discovered the breast cancer community has uniforms.|
You may know I released a book this month called "All You Could Ask For," a novel, which was inspired by the death of a dear friend named Heidi, and the way her closest friends rallied around her, rose up for her, cared for her and loved her during the seven months she bravely battled the breast cancer that took her life on Sept. 30, 2009. You may also know that my wife, Stacy, and I are proudly donating 100 percent of our proceeds from the book to The V Foundation for Cancer Research in Heidi's honor. What you do not know is that the time I spent promoting the book was the most surprising, inspiring, educational experience of my life. You couldn't have known about that because the most surprised person in any of it was me. I would never have imagined I would learn so much from this. The following is that story, of how I gained much more than I could ever give from thousands of people I met during 17 book signings in 14 days.
I put everything I had into writing the book. It took me 18 months from start to finish, and then another 10 months from the day I handed in the finished manuscript until it was released on April 2. So, perhaps in retrospect it isn't a surprise that the first time I saw it on a shelf in a bookstore, I felt as though I had reached the finish line.
You see, writing a book is a lonely business, certainly as compared to my day job, where I trade insults and occasional insight with Mike Golic on "Mike & Mike." Writing is something I made time for at night alone in my bedroom, or tucked away in a back corner of a library, or in an airplane or the back seat of a car. For me, writing is very hard work; rewarding, for sure, but solitary and difficult. And then, once I had finished the writing, that was when the really hard part began. Because the next piece of business was to sell it. And what I quickly discovered was: No matter how popular your radio show is, when you walk into a publisher's office and say, "I'm a sportscaster and I've written a novel narrated in three female voices and I'm going to give all the money to breast cancer research," they look at you funny. Real funny. This was a long shot from the very beginning.
So, when the day finally came that it was in stores and online and in people's tablets and Nooks and Kindles, I was thrilled. I breathed the longest, loudest, proudest sigh of relief of my entire career. "I did it. It's over." But what I didn't realize at the time was that the really important part hadn't yet begun.
I went on tour with the book, as I had my previous two, fully ready to tell stories, shake hands, take pictures, sign copies. I looked forward to seeing a lot of sports fans, answering questions about their favorite teams and players, and laughing over all the ridiculous things Golic and I have said and done during our 14 years together. But what I found, in New York, Connecticut, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Columbus, Indianapolis, Chicago, New Jersey, Raleigh, Charleston, Charlotte and Myrtle Beach, was a world I didn't know existed. And a community of people I will forever be proud to call my friends.
They are a community that come in all shapes and sizes and colors. They speak in an endless variety of tones: some in conspiratorial whispers, others in bold proclamations, a few in clichés, three or four on the verge of tears. They are people for whom cancer has entered their lives and set up shop, taken over, started making all the rules. The image I have in my mind is of cancer as a horrible houseguest that will not leave; it plops itself down in the middle of your life, puts its feet on the coffee table and defies you to ignore it. "Go ahead, try to live your life as though I'm not here."
But most of the ones I met are fighting back. They may not be able to throw the unwanted houseguest out the door, but that doesn't mean they aren't protecting what's theirs. I met a man in Pittsburgh who told me his wife had a double mastectomy in January; she's training for a marathon in the fall. A woman in Columbus told me her sister died a year ago; she organized a charity dinner in her honor, they raised six thousand dollars. I've seen people raise a lot more money than that, but I've never seen anyone prouder of it than she was. I had a man in Charlotte break down when he told me how badly his wife wanted to come to the signing but she just wasn't strong enough; he gave me a check that she signed for 50 dollars and asked me to give it to the V Foundation. In Dallas, a girl who couldn't have been more than 6 years old told me her mom died but that doesn't mean she can't talk to her anymore. There are a lot of brave people in the world. None of them braver than people staring down cancer.
I live most of my life in the world of sports, where we can tell which team someone plays for by the uniform. What I learned on my book tour is that the breast cancer community has uniforms, too. They're pink, they're usually T-shirts, and they're all a little different from each other. But the one thing they have in common is they are all strong. I never saw a single T-shirt that said: "I have cancer, pity me." Or: "My life will never be the same again." To the contrary, the shirts were all wonderful. I asked some of them to send me photos and those are what you see displayed in the photo at the top. One of my favorites, which unfortunately I did not get a picture of, was worn by a woman who had to be 6 feet tall, long curly hair, beautiful and no more than 30 years old. Her shirt said: "Sure they're fake. The real ones tried to kill me." It took me a minute to understand the message. Once I did, that was when I decided I would write about this.
So, these are my words of thanks, to everyone, for your support of my project and for much more than that as well. It was a privilege to meet all of you, to be invited for a few moments at a time into the very personal world each of you inhabits. And I assure you, no matter how much money I eventually donate on your behalf, I will have received far more from this experience than I have given.