Meet Mary Blocksma
Author, Artist, Mother, Breast Cancer Survivor. Mary Blocksma shares wisdom about diagnosis, treatment, and life after breast cancer.
A year and a half ago, I found a lump in my breast. The discovery was an unwelcome turn of events in the dashing life I’d led for 62 years, but certainly not my first brush with excitement. I came by my adventurous spirit early, thanks to spunky parents who whipped the family off to Pakistan in 1949, when I was only seven. So although I was born in Chicago, I was educated in Lahore through sixth grade by my mother. Meanwhile, my father, Dr. Ralph Blocksma, became the first plastic surgeon to work fulltime in the Third World, helping start the United Christian Hospital there. When we returned to Grand Rapids, Michigan, my father’s hometown, I attended three secondary schools, finishing at Grand Rapids Christian High. I then got a B.A. from Wheaton College (Illinois), an M.A. in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins University, and an M.L.S. in Library Science from the University of Michigan. I’ve studied languages in Neuchatel, Switzerland, and Munich, Germany.
We’re called 'global nomads, we who grew up abroad–people who rarely feel we belong but can fit in anywhere. I’ve enjoyed a restless, varied career. I did two years in the Peace Corps in Eastern Nigeria, teaching at Eastern Nigeria University, then heading up the development of 1,200 school libraries. Once back home, I married Daniel K. Kuhn and worked as reference librarian at the Chicago Public Library and later DePaul University while Dan went to University of Chicago. In 1969 Dan and I moved to Laramie, Wyoming. Dan signed on with the U.S. Postal Service and I became the Albany County Public Library Director. In 1972 our son Dylan was born. (Dylan Kuhn is now married to Ann Fish and finesses computers at Colorado State University.)
Dan and I divorced four years later. I was 35. I packed everything I owned in a big U-Haul truck, hitched my Peugot to the back, put my cat in the car, my kid in the cab, and drove 2,000 miles to Boston, where I knew no one and had no job, to become a writer. People said I was nuts. I said, ‘Look at Books in Print: thousands of Bible-thin pages listing writers who made it. They can’t all be smarter than me.’ In three months I was hired by Pleasant Rowland (of American Girl fame) to write full-time for Addison-Wesley’s new phonetic reading program. A year later I moved to headquarters in Menlo Park, California, to continue writing for fourth and fifth grades. During this time I was a single mother and Dylan spent summers with his dad in Laramie.
When the reading program was completed, I married a computer engineer and we moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, so Dylan could be close to his dad. I began doing fee work for textbook companies and selling my own children’s books to Children’s Press, Prentice-Hall, Little-Brown, and Bantam, and Simon & Schuster. My husband missed California and was so forlorn that we moved back there, but it didn’t work. Dylan moved to Laramie to live with his dad. I moved to Michigan to live within sight of, write about, and paint my beloved Lake Michigan.
I began writing adult books, mostly about nature and the Great Lakes, for Viking, Penguin, and other companies, including University of Michigan Press. Many have been picked up by book clubs. About ten years ago, I went broke when a major book project went sour. To support myself, I began a small bookstore where I lived on Beaver Island, in the middle of northern Lake Michigan. Soon after, I injured my hands badly and could no longer play the piano (a beloved pastime), so I taught myself to paint. I moved to Bay City, Michigan. I was on a roll.
Then, in October, 2004, I was diagnosed with early invasive cancer. I was 62. I’d been craving a new adventure, but wasn’t welcoming this one. Within a month I had three surgeries: a lumpectomy, a re-lumpectomy (the margins were not large enough the first time) and a sentinel node dissection which removed five nodes. The nodes were clear. I was treated with 34 sessions of radiation but no chemotherapy. I was put on Arimidex which crippled me so completely in six months that I went off it and now feel fine. I’m considering Raloxifene, the new alternative for post-menopausal women.
I’ve felt like a survivor for half my adult life, supporting myself on writing and art. Now I am also a breast cancer survivor, a new twist. I am grateful beyond words that my days hold even more astonishments. I recently opened the Mary Blocksma Gallery at 510 Third Street, Bay City, Michigan. I still travel, read, and make things. For details on my story, google Mary Blocksma. Find lists of my out-of-print books on booksellers’ websites. Catch my art, in-print books, and blogs on my website at BeaverIslandArts.com. And for stories of my diagnosis and treatment, see the archive of breast cancer blogs on my website.