Author Deborah Gomer is an oncology nurse, case manager, and health coach. She is also a cancer survivor, who values the extraordinary power of the mind and body. Her award-winning book, The By-Your-Side Cancer Guide, walks readers through diagnosis, treatment, and beyond with honesty and understanding.
Tell me about your background. Where you grew up, where you live now, education, work experience? Share some interesting things about yourself that we should know about.
I grew up in New Jersey, spending summers at the Jersey shore and winters sledding down the hill in our backyard. I loved the changing seasons, but after graduating from New York University and marrying, my husband and I decided to move back to his native Florida. We first settled in South Florida but moved to Jacksonville 16 years ago. We have two adult children who are Florida-grown. Although I miss the changing seasons, I absolutely love living in Jacksonville and am now considered a Florida native.
I have been an oncology nurse for 30 years and am passionate about what I do. Whether it is helping a newly diagnosed patient navigate their care, providing education to staff, or writing an article for a cancer journal, it gives me joy to provide education and support in the cancer community.
What inspired you to write this book? What is the story behind the story?
My husband and my father were sitting around the kitchen table having a discussion about my job. I was explaining what some of my patients go through when they are diagnosed and how I love providing them with tips and suggestions to make their treatment easier. They both looked at me and said, “Debbie, you love to write. Why don’t you write a book for cancer patients?” Being a cancer survivor myself, I thought I could offer something unique—something written through the eyes of someone who has been both the patient and the caregiver. The idea filled me with excitement and I literally started working on the The By-Your-Side Cancer Guide the following day.
What has been your biggest challenge or obstacle?
Oh my, there were so many challenges. First, I needed to research other books for those with a cancer diagnosis, and there were many. I did not want to repeat what others had done, so I made a list of things I felt were missing in these books.
Second, I had no experience writing a book or publishing. I joined several on-line writing communities in order to learn. The local university offers a wonderful array of community classes and I took every publishing class I could find. I decided to self-publish, so I had to really educate myself about the process.
I thought writing would be the biggest challenge, since I was working full time and had an active teenager at home. The writing was actually the best part. The biggest challenge has been marketing. It can be time consuming and is a tremendous challenge for someone with a full time job. I have a blog and use social media and rely a lot on word of mouth.
What has been your biggest “aha” moment or success?
Each time I finished a chapter, I would read it over several times, sometimes putting it down for a few weeks and going back to it. With each read, I would have an aha moment when I would add or edit. But I think the biggest aha moment was when I won two President’s Awards from the Florida Authors and Publishers Association. Up to that point, I felt like a nurse who wrote a book. The award made me feel like an author.
What authors do you like to read? What books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?
I am an avid reader. I read anything I can get my hands on—oncology journals, magazines, cereal boxes. My favorite genre is historical fiction, but I also enjoy writers who make you feel like their characters are real—like you know them intimately. Some of my favorites are Amor Towles, Gail Honeyman, and Fredrik Backman. I am currently reading Donna Tartt’s, Goldfinch, and it is wonderful.
Do you write every single day? Any writing rituals?
I wish I could write every day, but it is difficult keeping a ritual with a full-time job. I try to submit a few articles a year to CONQUER magazine. And I purchased some journals with writing prompts which I hope to start using.
What are your interests outside of writing?
My husband and I enjoy music and are fortunate to have a few outdoor venues that feature amazing local bands. It is our weekend relaxation ritual. I enjoy yoga and try to maintain a daily practice. I also enjoy trying new vegan recipes and growing hydroponic vegetables.
Share some tips for other Authors or Aspiring Authors: What would you do differently? What would you do the same? Please share anything you think would be beneficial to those reading this.
1. Do your homework. Learn as much as you can about the writing and publishing process. Talk to other authors. Join writing groups or online groups.
2. I did not realize how expensive the process of publishing could be when I started and was blown away. At the same time, I wanted my book to be professional. Cost-cutting is understandable but not when it jeopardizes quality. I hired an editor and I hired someone to format the book for me. I had a local graphic designer do the cover. She was happy to be given the opportunity and I got a great deal. I chose to self-publish which allowed me to own my work and the content.
3. Have a marketing plan before you complete the book.
Renee Garrison is the award-winning author of The Anchor Clankers.