My work as a writer and health advocate provides me with opportunities to meet fascinating people from all over the world. One way has been through a Facebook group, and its many subgroups, called The Binders (think back to Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women”), a resource for “women and non-conforming writers of all backgrounds and experiences levels to connect, network, ask questions, and learn from one another.”
The Binders is where I met Judy Mollen Walters, a published author and essayist, a fellow New Jerseyan and a lovely lady.
When Judy told me about her upcoming book, A Million Ordinary Days, I was excited about its publication. When she revealed that her protagonist was a mom and career woman who struggled for independence despite a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis I was beyond thrilled!
Her central character is a strong, resilient woman whose struggles mirror the strength and courage of people in the real MS community.
This week is MS Awareness Week and to honor it and also support the publication of A Million Ordinary Days I thought I’d let Judy explain why she decided to write this intriguing story and how she chose her unique main character:
My grandmother died when I was just ten and she was 64, but my memories of her are not the least bit fuzzy or grainy. I see her clear as day in my mind.
She never spoke to me, not because she didn’t want to, or because we didn’t see each other – in fact, my family had Sunday dinner with her every week until she died – but because she couldn’t talk. Literally.
I remember the wheelchair. I remember trying to sit in the weak seat, wondering if it would collapse. I tried to make it go with my short arms and a child’s strength, but it wouldn’t.
I remember the couch she was nearly almost always laying on, especially the last few years. She was covered with a patterned blanket of muted colors that felt a little scratchy to me when I was forced to sit next to her so my mother could take a picture. She wore a white shirt. She laughed at my father’s bad jokes but no sound came out. She wore her jet black hair – hair that I inherited – back with a simple headband. Most likely she didn’t choose the style, but my grandfather, her caretaker, did.
She started needing to go into the hospital frequently when I was eight. For two years she was in and out of the facility, and I wasn’t quite sure why. All I knew was that when she was in the hospital, we ate McDonald’s for dinner because my mother was with her.
She died on a cold day in January.
My grandmother had MS. She was diagnosed when my mother was 10 – the mid -1950s. It was a death sentence then, with little you could do but wait until it was over.
Fast forward many years to when I’m 33. I have two young children, 6 and 3, and I’ve been feeling really sick for a long time. Years. I’ve lost a ton of weight. Some days I can’t get off the couch. A colonoscopy reveals I have an auto immune disease, too – Crohn’s Disease. My long dead grandmother and I have more than our dark hair in common.
I’ve been battling my disease for 16 years now. For me, it’s not necessarily a death sentence, though I could die from it, I suppose. It’s more a disease of life – turning it upside down, limiting it, causing pain and discomfort, frustrating me.
And I know people who have MS. And it’s not necessarily a disease that will kill them, though they could die from it, I suppose. But it’s turned their lives upside down. They may not be able to work, they may have setbacks, they might not be able to drive or sit up, even, at times. It can wholly take away from whom they feel they really are.
As an author, I wanted to explore the challenges chronic disease can bring not only to the person suffering from the disease but the family, as well. Multiple Sclerosis changed the course of my family. I think Crohn’s did, too. So, in my new novel, A Million Ordinary Days, I decided to write about a character with MS. Allison Wheeler is feisty, she’s independent, she has a serious career, and she’s trying to raise a teenage daughter while also trying to mend a relationship with an adult daughter. She’s an ex-wife who still cares deeply for her ex-husband. She’s discovering love again. She is just your ordinary woman, except she has MS. And MS is changing the course of her life. And also changing the course of her family. And, no matter how hard she tries, she can’t do a thing to stop it.
Judy Mollen Walters is the author of five novels about strong women and their families, with A MILLION ORDINARY DAYS, the story of a woman with MS, out now. She is also an essayist whose work has appeared on The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, and SheKnows, just to name a few. She can be reached via her web site at judymollenwalters.com.
Click here to order a copy of A Million Ordinary Days on Amazon. Enjoy!