by, Nicole Rodriguez, Asst. Production Editor
On Thursday Oct. 22, the Office of Alumni Relations hosted a virtual book talk with alumna Christine Shields Corrigan ‘88 discussing her debut memoir “Again: Surviving Cancer Twice with Love and Lists” as part of their Alumni Author Series.
The Alumni Author Series recognizes and highlights the significant contributions Manhattan College alumni have made throughout all literary genres. Authors in the Jasper family are given a platform to share and discuss their work in detail to faculty, students and fellow alumni.
Corrigan is a two-time cancer survivor whose work focusing on family, illness, writing and survivorship has appeared in a number of publications. Aside from writing, Corrigan devotes her free time to teaching creative nonfiction writing for an adult education program, providing writing workshops for cancer support groups, and serving on the programming committee of the Morristown Festival of Books.
For Corrigan, it was a thrill and honor to be sharing with her alma mater a preview of her debut memoir that is scheduled to release Oct. 24. The memoir recounts her resilient journey following two cancer diagnoses — as a teen with Hodgkin’s disease in 1981 and an adult with breast cancer in 2016.
Corrigan’s diagnosis as a teen stemmed from an initial finding her younger sister made while poking her neck and noticing it was swollen. Growing up in Staten Island, she sought treatment at Memorial Hospital, now known as Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. She narrated the confusion and fear she experienced in regards to her diagnosis while walking down the hospital hallways alongside her family.
“I have a real clear memory, and I talk about this a little bit in the book, but walking through Memorial Hospital with my mother, my dad, and looking at all of these sick people, like people in wheelchairs and people on stretchers with IVs and with no hair, and being terrified of that,” Corrigan said. “I couldn’t understand why I had to go to this place for treatment when I didn’t feel sick at all and I only had Hodgkin’s disease.”
The writing of her memoir forced Corrigan to unpack all of these memories during that time of her life which she had envisioned enclosed in a box labeled ‘Hodgkins, 1981’ in Sharpie marker and neatly tucked away in the back corner of her brain.
“My story began in 1981, but the more immediate story, the breast cancer, began in 2016,” Corrigan said. “When I went for my annual mammogram and ultrasound, I waited to get my results, and prayed as I had every year, for the prior 16 years, like please, not this year. And I’ve been running from cancer for 35 years. So you’re sitting in the exam room. You’re waiting, hopefully, for the tech to come in with a reminder postcard for the next year for you to fill out and then you can get on out of there. Instead, the door opened and the white coat walked in and I’ll let you choose the word that might have run through my mind. The doctor introduced herself to me and she said, ‘You have a junky cyst.’”
Although Corrigan invites readers to follow her parallel cancer journeys as a teen and an adult in her memoir, she did not set out to write a book. In the midst of her treatment, she was met with a request from her surgical nurse navigator at a cancer support group that she simply could not refuse.
“After one of the meetings, she stopped me as I was leaving and said, ‘Hey, Chris, would you mind writing a list of tips or ideas or things that might help another patient? You know, because patients always ask me and they like to hear things from other patients’ perspectives,’” Corrigan said. “And I thought, ‘Oh, sure, Karen, I’d be happy to do that for you. No problem.’ And I walked out of that meeting, and I got in my car. And I was like, ‘What are you thinking? What were you possibly thinking that you could say yes, to write this list?’ So in a very uncharacteristic way, I totally blew off her request for like months.”
She continued recounting the difficulty she faced setting out to write that list.
“I was like, ‘I can’t write the book. I just, I can’t,’” Corrigan said. “And some months later, after I finished chemo, and I recovered from surgery, my sense of obligation got the best of me. I sat down at my computer and I started writing and I had this vision in my head, ‘Okay, I’m gonna write a top 10 list, like David Letterman used to have on The Late Show, but the top 10 things I know about cancer.’ And instead of a list, three months later, I had 10 short essays about things that I had learned along the way.”
Corrigan hopes that her memoir will resonate and help those going through similar situations serve as the guide she wishes she had.
“I, being a book person, wanted to go find a book that was going to help me understand how I would get through this, as a wife, as a mom, as a professional, as a person who had a life to lead,” she said. “I went to bookstores, I went to libraries, I went on Amazon and trust me there are hundreds of thousands of books written about cancer. But there aren’t a lot of books, or actually at the time I can say I couldn’t find a book I wanted, like a trail map, or a guidebook, to kind of map it out for me. I found plenty of books written by doctors and other medical professionals about cancer and its treatment. I found plenty of celebrity cancer memoirs and that’s great if that’s your thing, but I’m not a celebrity and those types of stories don’t resonate with me.”
In the end, Corrigan’s favorite reads that she did find helped inspire her own work.
“I found beautiful, beautiful memoirs, written about the meaning of life by people who have died from cancer and well, I read most of them,” said Corrigan. “I decided to write my own book, so that in the event, or in the hope that if anyone ever hears those words, they’ll have something to let them know, they can get through.”