Storytelling is a medicine in itself
Interview with Award Winning Author Donia Youssef
When you decided to write your first book The Monster in Mummy, have you every imagined that is going to be a book series?
I didn’t. To be honest with you, I just grabbed my dream and I took one step at a time, and I just wanted to manifest my first dream which was writing, obviously, my own story, as it happens, from my very personal view and giving back as well, was a huge thing for me. As a cancer survivors I wanted to help the mums like myself and also children who survive cancer, give them a voice.
After publishing first book, I become aware that words have power and communication is the most powerful tool to help other cancer survivors who, like myself, are left on their own, once they end the treatment. My next dream was to help children – my friend’s little boy had cancer and I see the trauma the family went through and the little boy maturing so fast. Personally, I went through a considerable amount of uncertainty and challenges, some days were good days, some days were not so great, it was a massive roller coaster, but as an adult, I could understand it more than a child. I thought if I’m struggling at times with this horrendous disease, how on earth is a child able to cope, and, at the same time, how would their parents be able cope?
What could be more painful for a mother than witnessing your child being strapped down with chemo, with the infusions, with the tubes coming in and out of your body, with the horrendous feelings, the sickness, being rushed in and out of the hospitals?
I run a children’s model and acting agency and I’ve always been involved with children since I’ve been very young and growing up in a very big family as well. It broke my heart seeing all the cancer patients, but the little children are crying for help... There is no discrimination with cancer, so my next dream was to write a little book on a child’s perspective, a child cancer survivor who had gone through the cancer because otherwise we’ll never know how this little child felt.
The next book that will be released in November is called The Monster in Mykie, and is the story of this little boy, he’s just become a little cancer survivor, just finished his chemo, and he’s got the most amazing little soul and spirit. I want to bring into focus the reality of what is like to be in remission every once in a while – it’s not over. There’s so many follow-up appointments, you’re still taking medication for five years, you’re still going for doctor’s appointments. It doesn’t really end, and then it affects your mind. You have to worry of it coming back, and it does affect you. Everyone thinks, you’re in remission now and that’s it, it’s over. Those thoughts which are in my mind, as an adult, must be frightening for a child. When I spoke to little Mykie, I asked him “Do you have any fears, still, about it?” and he goes, “Yeah, I have fears that it’s going to come back.”
A child doesn’t want to go through all of those needles and pain, and trips to the hospital – they want to play with their friends. It’s just heartbreaking. With my second book of the series, I wanted to enrich these little children’s life, show them that life can be fantastic after we get the ‘all clear’. We can do great things together, and this little boy, he’s so excited about writing his book, and obviously, we’re going to put it forward for the Stardust Awards, so we hope that he’ll be rewarded, to keep the awareness going.
Your book series is not a collection of books but a huge awareness campaign, and your next book it’s called The Monster in Wonderland. Tell us more
The Monster in Wonderland is a very animated beautiful book, especially for very young children, to bring on hope and positivity in every day life. We want to make these little ones aware that cancer is not a death sentence. We can, with the right mindset, bring wonderful things to life, and the more positive people and things go around, we’ll help survive through terrible times.
You wrote the first book, The Monster in Mummy, as a necessity because you couldn’t find a better way to brake the bad news to your little girls who at the time couldn’t write, couldn’t Google, couldn’t find out what cancer means. After publishing your first book you realized that the more you communicate with others, the more you communicate to yourself, almost like a magic coin, and you want other people to discover and benefit from the same solution to create a better reality. How important is communication? How important is it to communicate with yourself and communicate with others? What is the storytelling role in communicating with others?
I haven’t written before and I didn’t have any psychotherapy, counseling or anything to help me before and after I ended my treatment and storytelling empowered me, and really massively helped me. From telling my story, I got through one of the worst times of my life, especially with my children as well. When a child is two years old, they don’t have a clue what’s going on, so for me, writing down my own story, my own thoughts actually helped my children and my family. I wrote my first book for my own children and reading them the story, they became very grounded afterwards. They didn’t really understand what was happening before and that was a challenge, it affected their behaviour. Telling my story, not only empowered me, but it helped my children, my family, and the amount of people coming to me now saying how much my story helped them, proves that storytelling is a medicine in itself.