Following a routine mammogram in November 2011, Ann received a call to return for a biopsy. When the results came back negative, she was relieved. Two weeks later, she suffered a major breast infection and was treated with intravenous antibiotics and morphine. During her follow-up exam, doctors found a lump they had missed the first time. After waiting anxiously over the Christmas holidays, Ann received the devastating diagnosis of ductal carcinoma in her left breast.
Shortly after surgery and during her recovery, Ann felt very isolated and alone even though she was surrounded by many supportive friends and family. Not sure where to turn, she heeded her niece’s advice and read Anitcancer by Dr. David Servan-Schreiber. Reading the book helped reduce her feelings of fear and anxiety. She also had a mentor to help get her through the hardest times.
Ann’s Therapy: Writing Last Train to Omaha
While reading Anticancer, Ann discovered the poem “Limited” by Carl Sandburg. Its premise is that life is a train, and we are all heading to the same place. Death happens to everyone, one day or another, so we shouldn’t feel alone.
Not so long after she read this poem, Ann dreamed about a man who witnessed a tragic event: the death of his best friend in a train accident. After shutting himself off from the world, he survived through this difficult time by helping veterans through their dying process. After waking up, Ann told her husband about this dream who responded that she had to write about it.
Ann wrote her book about destiny. It was a way to release the pain and despair she felt after her diagnosis. She used her own story to develop her characters. For example, the main character, who lost his best friend in a tragic accident, represents Ann’s loss of her mother to pancreatic cancer. The protagonist’s volunteer work at a Veteran’s hospital was his therapy while writing this book was Ann’s therapy. It helped her cope with her mother’s passing and to find strength through her own illness.
Ann fought cancer by building a dream for herself. Her dream, Last Train to Omaha, was successfully launched on February 28th, 2013. She would like to continue writing and hopes to devote more time to her passion. More importantly, Ann recently learned she is cancer-free. She’s enjoying life more than ever.
Ann’s Words of Wisdom
“Everyone has their own journey. I realized this as I was going through cancer recovery. Find what works for you and grab hold of it. For me, it was creating the characters and writing this novel. For others, it could be cooking or baking. Whatever it is, find it, it will give you comfort. At any given time, life can end. After battling cancer, I know this now. Whatever your path is, whatever your destiny is, you will get through as long as you embrace it.”
Ann has always wanted to write a screenplay and, in fact, Last Train to Omaha started out with that in mind. After forty pages of writing, Ann decided to turn the screenplay into a novel as she wanted to delve deeper into the protagonist’s personal journey and enrich her vision about the ensemble cast of characters. Ann’s next project is to write the screenplay for Last Train to Omaha, her debut novel.
Ann Whitely-Gillen resides in Ottawa, Canada, where she has honed her writing skills as a freelance writer and communications advisor over the years. Ann has lived in Kelowna, British Columbia and Sydney, Australia where she volunteered her writing and public relations expertise to organizations including Greenpeace. She is also an accomplished musician and vocalist.
Ann-Whitely Gillen lives with her husband and four children, who she loves to spend time with along with their family dog. In her leisure time, Ann can be found curled up with a good book and a glass of red wine!