More Than OK
Jenkintown resident and breast cancer survivor Kerri Conner writes a kids’ book about having cancer; has her name featured on the PECO building in Philadelphia
Most Americans have been touched in some way by breast cancer, but what one Jenkintown woman has done with her story is truly remarkable.
Kerri Conner was diagnosed with stage-three breast cancer when she was 33 years old, and in a circle of fate, the diagnosis occurred on the 10-year anniversary of her mother’s previous breast cancer diagnosis.
Knowing what it took for her own mother to conquer the disease, Conner began to think of ways that she could prepare her 2-year-old daughter for the changes that were about to take place.
Pulling from experience, Conner decided to write a children’s book, which she titled “My Mommy Has Breast Cancer But She Is OK”.
“I wrote the book because when I was diagnosed, I was trying to find something educational that I could read to my daughter that would explain why I wouldn’t be able to do some of the things that I used to do with her,” Conner said. “It was a way to explain things in a non-scary way. I knew that I was getting ready to go through a bunch of changes because I had previously seen them when my mother was diagnosed.”
Conner endured multiple rounds of chemotherapy, six surgeries — including a double-mastectomy — and radiation treatments. Still, she said her inability to do the little things, like giving her daughter a bath, taking her to the park, and even giving her a hug, were the things that bothered her most.
Throughout the three-year process, Conner focused her efforts on keeping her daughter informed of what was happening, while trying to keep the situation relatively light and calm. As a result, Conner said her daughter doesn’t view cancer as a big, bad disease, rather she views it as something as normal as the common cold.
Once in remission, Conner returned to her day-to-day life and schedule, working as a certified public accountant alongside her mother, but one day, while picking up her daughter from day care, she learned that the mother of another child enrolled in the day care center had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Shortly after that, another woman was diagnosed.
“I grew up around breast cancer, but these women and their children had no idea what to expect,” Conner said. “They were terrified.”
It was at that moment that Conner realized the book she had written for her daughter could help many others in the same situation, and she and her husband contacted a friend who worked in the publishing industry about getting the book out there for other families in need.
Since then, her book has been successfully published, with all proceeds going to the Breast Health Initiative in Philadelphia.
“I’m trying to educate people about breast cancer, but more importantly, I’m trying to encourage children to never give up, despite what life throws their way,” Conner said. “We’re all going to go through something, but hopefully we can teach our children to keep their chin up and to keep moving forward.”
With the success of her book came other opportunities to get her message out, including public speaking events at area elementary schools, local organizations, and Abington Memorial Hospital, where she is scheduled to speak in April.
Additionally, Conner was recently a featured author at the African-American Children’s Book Fair in Philadelphia, which led to the PECO building’s decision to display her name across the top of the tower.
Not surprisingly, she was so busy with tax season and public speaking that she never got to see the display.
“I actually didn’t get a chance to ride by and see it,” Conner said. “It would have been nice to have a picture of it!”
Conner, now 37, said the entire experience from her mother’s illness through her present efforts to raise awareness for breast cancer have changed her life for the better. She said her outlook has changed, and that she appreciates every day God has blessed her with.
“I’m doing really well, but I have a new normal now,” Conner said. “I tell people all that time that if I didn’t discuss what I went through, they would never know. They would never know the journey that I’ve been on over the last few years.”