When Dr. Jim Rusin first read about the contest, he asked his wife how she would feel about going to County Clare, Ireland.
As it turns out, Rusin didn’t win the grand prize trip, sponsored by Savage Press of Superior, Wis., but he did win a coveted space in the recently released essay anthology “Upon Arrival of Illness: Coming to Terms with the Dark Companion.”
Rusin, 61, a family practitioner in Anoka and an Anoka resident, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma at the age of 48. He was given three to six months to live. But Rusin turned to another doctor with a different perspective for help, and 14 years later, he continues to live a fulfilled life. He also continues to work.
The illness has taught him much.
“I really do think it’s something you wrestle with, but you don’t let it take over your life,” he said in an interview. “…The biggest thing is I really respect life. I don’t take it for granted.”
Rusin’s was one of 94 essays selected for the book, subtitled “An Anthology of Hope.”
Other local residents whose essays were selected for inclusion in the book are Bev Jovanovich of Andover, Teresa Kleinschmidt of Spring Lake Park and Joy Fisher of Andover.
Jovanovich wrote about the song “Operator” and how it will always remind her of her mother, Louise (Ehnes) Jones, who she had spoken to on the phone daily.
Jovanovich had always liked the song, but it had no meaning until she heard it after her mother died in 2006. She realized she no longer would be able to phone her. The song gave her a connection to her beloved mother.
“Operator, information give me long distance.
Long distance, give me heaven.
Operator, information give me Jesus on the line.”
In addition to the anthology, Jovanovich has been published in the Anoka Union, Sun newspapers and the Andover Express.
She hopes “Upon Arrival of Illness” will “give people support and know they aren’t alone,” she said.
The book also exemplifies how people survive after a diagnosis and how they cope, Jovanovich said.
Living with diabetes
Kleinschmidt wrote about living with Type I diabetes for 30 years. She has learned to develop a friendship with the uneasiness of the disease, she wrote.
“Like a companion who continues to aggravate me into observing its presence, diabetes must be faced and managed,” she wrote in her essay.
“This friendship will require a new bargain of openly prioritizing my treatments and provide me with the possibility of health, both mental and physical.”
So how does Kleinschmidt feel about being accepted into the book and writing about the illness?
“It was really energizing and encouraging to give a voice to it,” she said.
This was Fisher’s first writing contest and the first time she’s been published, although she has notebooks full of stories she has written.
“Just being able to contribute to this project was such an honor,” she said in an interview.
In her essay titled “The Power of Prayer,” Fisher writes about living with Meniere’s disease.
She tells about her suffering, how her prayers were answered and how she changed to a more positive lifestyle – including diet, exercise and work assignments. She also makes sure she gets enough sleep.
Fisher has occasional attacks, but they are less frequent and less violent. She is now able to make plans.
“I still stuff mints in my pockets and carry snacks in my purse for emergencies, but God helps me to cope and has given me the strength to go on with my life and not to be afraid,” Fisher wrote in her essay.
The former resident of Coon Rapids said that writing the piece was a type of therapy.
“I hope that the book is a source of hope and encouragement for people suffering with illness but also to their caregivers – just to give hope to somebody,” she said.
Honoring his niece’s memory
Mike Savage, publisher of Savage Press, sponsored the contest, titled Kelly Culhane Writing Prize Anthology, to keep alive the memory of his niece, Kelly, who died of breast cancer at the age of 41.
“It turned out very nicely,” Savage said about the anthology. “I’m very happy with it. I got more positive feedback about the healing aspect of writing.”
A reading fee for the contest was $25. The fee was used to offset the costs of the grand prize trip and printing of the book. When the book gets into the black, financially, Savage said he plans to donate proceeds to local cancer organizations.
Katrina Smith of Burke, Va., was named grand prize winner of the trip to Ireland. Journalist and author Laurie Hertzel of the Twin Cities area judged the contest. The book’s release in October coincided with Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Savage has plans to sponsor another writing contest. Details will be announced in January.
“Upon Arrival of Illness,” published by Savage Press, is 228 pages. Soft-cover, $14.95, plus S&H. To order a book, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, purchase copies online at www.savpress.com or call 218-391-3070.
Elyse Kaner is at email@example.com