WHITPAIN — A local father and daughter writing duo has flavored the latest Chicken Soup for the Soul book, "Think Positive, Live Happy," with ingredients that make their stories among the most moving of the 101 tales in the book.
Horsham resident Jennifer Loomis Kennedy and her dad, Fred Loomis, an adjunct instructor at Neumann University and a cancer survivor who lives in Blue Bell, wrote their stories individually, but somehow their words share more than a thematic bond.
Kennedy, a freelance writer, became part of the Chicken Soup family last year when one of her stories was chosen for publication in a Christmas-themed book.
"Once you're one of their contributing writers they'll send you book topics, so I received a call for submissions for the 'Think Positive' book and I immediately knew I had to write my dad's story," she recalled.
"Because throughout his five-year pancreatic cancer journey he has done nothing but show our family how to think positive and live happy in the face of adversity. So I wrote the story and submitted it, and then I thought more about it. My dad is such a great writer and this is his story. He needs to write it."
And write it he did, after his daughter offered her words of encouragement.
"It's no surprise to me that his story has inspired people the way it has," Kennedy said.
TV personality Deborah Norville, who co-authored the book with publisher and editor Amy Newmark, wrote in her introduction to the book: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could find a way to laugh when the plans we have so carefully laid out go awry? To not be enraged, frustrated, and despondent—or worse—when the news isn’t good, the prognosis grim, or the future seems bleak."
Every individual can use a little more positive thinking to create an even better life, Norville noted, thus throwing open the gates for Loomis, Kennedy and the other authors and their role models that Norville alluded to, all unified by their optimism.
"The book is about dealing with everyday challenges, it could be losing your job, any kind of adversity you have in your life. About 10 percent of the stories are health related," Loomis noted. The co-editor of the book, Amy Newmark has gone through a cancer challenge too. Debora Norville also had a health challenge, with thyroid cancer. So there are a variety of challenges that people write about, and how to meet those challenges and think positively."
Loomis had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in December, 2014, he said.
"I had a tumor in the pancreas that was inoperable, and surgery is the only cure for pancreatic cancer. Two-and-a-half years ago it had spread to the liver. I had a procedure for the liver where they burn the tumor with microwave heat. I had that on an outpatient basis and then a little more chemotherapy . And the doctor said we'll wait and see."
He had chosen the University of Pennsylvania's Abramson Cancer Center for his treatment.
"They have a research center for pancreatic cancer. It's a very caring community. Everybody treated me really well."
Throughout the process, he hung onto his positive philosophy, which infused his story, "I Woke Up This Morning" at every turn: "One of the few benefits of receiving weekly chemotherapy is free valet parking," Loomis wrote. "As I got out of my car awaiting my twenty-fifth treatment, I gave my keys to a man who seemed old enough for Medicare. “Have a good day, my man,” I said. He grasped my hand and replied, “Son, I’m having a good day. I woke up this morning.”
"I thought about this man and his greeting for the next four hours, waiting for the last drop of the Abraxane drug to enter my bloodstream. Yes, I woke up this morning, and today is a good day! I woke up this morning next to my beautiful and faithful wife— the one who refused to believe that I was going to die, even though the doctors told us that I had inoperable stage IV pancreatic cancer.
"At the time, my prognosis was measured in months, not years. After I learned that I had terminal cancer, I visited many medical centers, doctors and specialists. Quickly, I found that I did not qualify for surgery—the only cure for pancreatic cancer— or any clinical trial. Ironically, I received the best advice from a podiatrist, who told me,“Don’t dwell on your illness. When you do that, you are only hurting the people you love. Stay positive.” He was right, demonstrating that he knew as much about people’s heads and hearts as he did about their feet. I woke up this morning knowing that each day is a good day no matter the challenge or unknown future. Each day is a gift. The question is how we can use this precious time to help others—the way that the elderly valet-parking attendant helped me that day with his simple and sincere words."
Further on, Loomis wrote, "My doctors have no medical explanation for my good fortune. In fact, my oncologist asked me recently, “What do you tell people when they ask you how you are doing?”I tell them simply, “I feel great, and I am grateful for each day.” I have been able to stretch my initial prognosis of five months to five years. As I write this, I am planning the ninth vacation trip with my children and grandchildren since my diagnosis. I woke up this morning, excited, because each day is a miracle in the making."
In her story, "Darkness & Light," Kennedy's tone was buoyant as well, as she wrote about her father's recovery: "It has now been an unbelievable five years since my dad’s diagnosis. Miraculously, he has been off treatment for the last two-and-a-half of them. His journey is known by many in the cancer community as a rare story of hope in a sea of heartbreaking ones. But it’s his incredibly positive attitude from the very beginning that continues to inspire everyone he meets."
Loomis pointed to ongoing research that supports the idea that if you have a positive outlook it boosts your immune system.
"But I think that basically I'm just a lucky guy," he said. "But I also think that if you're in decline and you know your days are numbered you have to approach that with hope and optimism too, otherwise you're a burden on your family. I focus on living with cancer. I don't like the term battling. When you have cancer it becomes a part of who you are. You don't want to fight yourself or own body, it's part of your existence. It becomes part of your identity and that becomes a burden too. I tend to be open about it because it gives people hope. When you read the statistics most people die within the first year of getting pancreatic cancer," he added. " For my cancer I'm the 1 or 3 percent who survived without surgery. After five years I'm in pretty good health. I was 59 when I was diagnosed and I'll soon be 65. I had five weeks of radiation, including proton radiation, which may have helped with the tumor in my pancreas. We don't know for sure. but it basically stayed the same size. I had a wonderful medical team at Penn and the support of my family and my faith that sustained me each day. So," Loomis said, "I'm basically looking at it like I won the lottery."
In between the family's now legendary excursions, father and daughter are looking forward to the PurpleStride Walk to End Pancreatic Cancer near the Please Touch Museum on Nov. 2.
"After my diagnosis we planned our first family trip to Disney World for Christmas and after that we just kept planning the next trip. We've now gone on nine family trips. So that always gave us something to look forward to," Loomis said.