Heroes in medicine are too often unsung and when praises are meted out they usually go to medical practitioners. But what about the brave souls that allowed these practitioners to treat them with untested new methods? Judy Taylor was one such hero that will be remembered in Lifeliner: The Judy Taylor Story, a passionate biography by Shireen Jeejeebhoy. Shireen found the time between her writing and photography to tell us about her book in this edition of Introducing.
In a nutshell, it’s about a woman who did not eat for 20 years. It all began with terrible stomach pains that didn’t go away; soon Judy Taylor was in the ER; and within a week, she had no bowels left. She faced death from starvation, yet 10 months later she went home healthy, thanks to a radical new method of artificial feeding developed by a young doctor at Toronto General Hospital. That doctor was my father Dr. Khursheed Jeejeebhoy.
Judy wanted life; she eagerly embraced this new technology and all its attendant surgeries and experiments so that she could live and doctors could learn what complete nutrition is when given intravenously. She became a partner with Dr. Khursheed Jeejeebhoy in learning how to use it at home on her own and in encouraging those who followed in her footsteps. And even though she could not eat one morsel of food — for eating could mean death — she relished cooking for her family, baking for neighbours, and participating in community pot lucks. She saw this technology as a second chance at life, and she was going to enjoy every minute of it.
Because of Judy, this feeding method, now known as Total Parenteral Nutrition or TPN, is used by thousands and thousands of people around the world who cannot digest food for reasons ranging from bowel trouble to cancer to AIDS to cystic fibrosis to trauma.
2. I believe Judy Taylor should be considered a hero in medicinal research. What made you want to document her courageous story?
At her memorial a mutual friend and I got talking about Judy about how someone should tell her story. A light bulb went off in my head, and I quickly started work on it. Although I wrote it in the first person me, I primarily tell this medical pioneering story from her point of view because with TPN, the patient is so integral to its success, and because Judy inspired people everywhere she went. She gave them courage and hope for a vital life on TPN; she made me feel good any time I was around her; and I wanted to replicate that in Lifeliner.
3. Do you find her struggles an inspiration for the personal challenges you have faced in your own life?
I wanted to write about the whole of Judy’s experience, not just the public face she put on. I wanted people to see that she was angry, and that was normal, that she was in pain, yet she persevered. I felt that for a person to be truly inspirational they needed to be seen as human not as a superhuman figure. In portraying her that way and in looking for those kinds of observations about Judy in the interviews, I found it helped me see some of my own reactions to my challenges as normal and made my own situation a little less intolerable. But the most important thing Judy did for me was to give me a goal to strive for. A goal is crucial in helping any person through an adverse situation. The goal of writing her story, one I’d committed to her family to doing, kept me going through many years of struggles.
4. Who would you recommend read your book?Anyone who enjoys an inspirational story! It’s not a long book, and it has short chapters. So it’s ideally suited for people who like a fast-moving yet engaging story. Of course, those familiar with TPN are drawn to it: patients or those who know people on TPN find it fascinating and moving; professionals value learning about the patient’s point of view through Judy’s eyes; and they also enjoy learning about the genesis of TPN. Lastly, people who’ve never suffered a health problem find it absorbing, especially seeing how Judy’s spirit shone through it all and her resilience.
I became eligible to have a professional cover developed for my book. Overall the experience was good on that; the person involved friendly, and my input was taken seriously. But I still don’t know if I like the cover. Some people love it; other people don’t. But if I had a chance to redo it, the only thing I would change for sure is the subtitle and perhaps the sepia tone.
The books looked great when they arrived, and that’s when iUniverse helps you get started with marketing. Traditional publishers start marketing books months before they’re published, but it was difficult to do that with iUniverse, plus I was not in a position to be able to market Lifeliner myself. Not knowing how to find a publicist here, I went with iUniverse’s publicist. Unfortunately, I started with them at the same time as AuthorHouse took over. Associates were losing jobs, and iUniverse was moving. The person they hired was friendly, but in the end they and iUniverse did not do everything they said they would, and I was too involved in the last parts of a lawsuit to have the time and energy to chase them on it.
I don’t know if I’d self-publish again, partly because my next book is fiction and that’s even harder to market on one’s own than non-fiction, for me anyway. Because AuthorHouse merged and took over iUniverse, I’m not sure I’d use them again. I didn’t like the changes that happened after that merger. I would relook at the field and then make a decision. However, no matter whether you self-publish or traditionally publish, you as the author are expected to do most of the marketing work. I think whichever route I’d go, the two changes I’d make is to take the time to find a good publicist and an agent to sell movie rights.
6. How are you going about promoting Lifeliner?
The lawsuit really hampered my publicity efforts in those critical early months because it drained me and because I had to be very careful what I wrote online. I was not allowed to write on health care or anything to do with health or with personal issues, yet my book was a medical miracle story about a woman I knew. Still, I started big with a book launch to which I invited everyone I’d interviewed as well as everyone I knew. Many, many people around the world knew Judy and had been eager to talk to me about her. And so I was hoping that word of mouth would help sell the book. (Unfortunately, many expressed their enthusiasm for Lifeliner by lending their copies to neighbours and friends instead of suggesting they buy it.) I gave out bookmarks like candy, including to local libraries. Through the medical grapevine, I informed doctors involved in Total Parenteral Nutrition about it, and I had a few bulk orders in the US, Switzerland, and Malaysia as a result. The publicist wrote media and followed up, and she marketed the book to reviewers. I received several 4- and 5-star reviews as a result, which were posted on Amazon. As a reader, I rely on Amazon reviews a lot to determine my book buying choices, and so this was a good thing. The Oley Foundation in the US, that Judy was heavily involved with, publicized my book in their newsletter. And I informed associations I belong to and my alma mater about it, and they published the announcement in their magazines. I joined several author websites as well as Facebook, and once the lawsuit was over, Twitter. Because of my microblogging on Twitter, people have become interested in me, check out my website, and maybe even buy a book. I sent press releases out online and over the wire, including Canada. Yet the one place my book has received virtually no publicity is Canada.
I had a book video made, and a few months ago I created a Judy’s-story-in-brief video. I think videos are great for promoting books to people who like visuals and have short attention spans. Lastly, anyone who subscribes to my website will receive the first three chapters free. I am now considering podcasting it and have to figure out how to do that.
7. What do you do when you’re not writing?I enjoy photography. I have two digital cameras, a point and shoot and a DSLR (a Nikon D80). I mostly use the Nikon D80, but occasionally the point and shoot is just what is called for. I also have a large cache of negatives from the 1980s and 1990s that I’m currently scanning in. Depending on my mood, I leave the photos as is or sometimes I texturize them and play with various effects using Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X2 software. I find it relaxing, and my photos have given me an entree to the social world of Flickr, a great place with great people. I am also seeking help from and becoming involved in the brain injury community and hope to start blogging on that, on top of the blogging I do about politics and local issues.
8. What advice can you give other writers in this evolving publishing industry?Be confident in your story and how you want to tell it, yet remain open to editor’s suggestions. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Try new and different ways of promoting your book, but whatever you do ensure you have a website that you keep up to date. A blog and Twitter are not only great ways to communicate with your readers, but they also provide a way to practice your writing plus Twitter now has a large writer community that provides encouragement in helping you achieve your goals.
9. I understand that you’re currently writing a novel. Can you tell us anything about that without spoiling the surprise?
I’d be happy to! A woman is about to get married and is a promising songwriter when an evil being invades her. The book is about her fight to expel it, and in the process she faces her own assumptions and demons. My novel will have fantastical elements but is firmly rooted in the life of the here and now.
10. Where can people get a copy of Lifeliner?
In Toronto, the trade paperback version is available at the World’s Biggest Bookstore and Book City. It is also available by request at any bricks and mortar bookstore in your community. Online, it’s available through Amazon, Chapters Indigo, and many other online bookstores as a hardcover and paperback. It’s also available in ebook format through select online retailers and through iUniverse. A list of links can be found on my website at http://jeejeebhoy.ca/lifeliner/order-lifeliner-here/.
Thanks to Shireen for sharing Judy’s story with us. May we all find inspiration through her struggle.
Richard S. Todd is the author of the critically-praised Raincloud: A Novel and holds talks on the self-publishing experience. He spends his time blogging and working on his next novel, The Orphans of the Creek.
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