Maryann Makekau is the author of The Little Pink Books.
Written for children, the first Little Pink Book is entitled “When Your Teacher Has Cancer“. Created initially by Maryann for a close personal friend diagnosed with cancer, it has become a resource inside and outside of the classroom. Maryann’s message to children is understanding how cancer affects those diagnosed and there is hope in fighting the fight together.
Because Hope Matters was founded on “the desire to make a difference in hurting lives worldwide”. That desire began with her original Little Pink Books™ series. From the first book to provide for a friend in need, an avenue of hope was created. No matter how old you are, coping with cancer, deployment to war, Alzheimer’s disease or other difficulties, the child in all of us is impacted.
As a military veteran and psychology major, Maryann’s use of her pen and her voice, has taken the psychosocial feelings and the grief of cancer and turned them into the “hope” of empowerment to be shared with all.
Maryann, the story behind your Little Pink Books™ series is so amazing. Can you please tell us how this series was started with your first book entitled, “When Your Teacher has Cancer”?
It was just before Christmas in 2008 when Vicki Kennedy called me with the news. We had been sharing the highs and lows of life for 25 years. Our friendship began while stationed in Hawaii together, and continued throughout military life and beyond. Her news in that phone call took my breath away. Her voice was barely audible as she said, “I had a mammogram. I have breast cancer.” That was all she could muster besides “I want to tell the kids in my classroom. But I don’t want to scare them. They need to know.” Vicki is a dedicated 2nd grade teacher and those ‘little ducklings’ (as she calls them) are as important as her own family.
My emotions collided with hers there in the fleeting silence. As the tears streamed down my cheeks, I promised to find the perfect book for her students. For days, I scoured the shelves at every bookstore and online supplier. I came up empty-handed. I didn’t want a book that went “around” cancer. I wanted a book that met cancer head-on, yet gently and honestly. I wanted a book that explained the ripple of grief, but also included the happiness that comes in being helpful (instead of feeling helpless). “You see something missing? Maybe God’s telling you to do it!” My pastor’s words ran through my head … convicted with purpose, the writing began.
You are the founder of “Hope Matters”. Can you tell us why you started it?
“When Your Teacher Has Cancer” began as a gift to help a friend in need. The teachers and administrators were adamant – “this can’t just be for Vicki, you need to publish this.” Vicki had always pushed me to write a book. She saw a gift in me. I had actually quit my job in psychometrics just weeks before her phone call. I had planned to finally write a crisis resource guide – not a picture book.
I published Vicki’s teacher book, after I brought a graphic artist on-board. Turns out that artist also became my web designer, photographer, and videographer. We share a special connection – that graphic artist is, in fact, my son (and founder of his own company). The credit for everything “pretty” about my books and Hope Matters goes to him. Derek’s whimsical little stick-characters have a life of their own in some respects; they magnify hope off the pages.
I first shared the published book with a group of breast cancer survivors at Eglin Air Force Base. I wasn’t prepared for their response. They were as adamant as those in Vicki’s circle. Their vision was even larger – they wanted a series of Little Pink Books™. A retired Chief Master Sergeant and survivor in the group, shared her chemotherapy journal with me. Tina Henderson gave me insight on cancer from the inside out.
So, the Little Pink Book™ series was born 9 months later: When Your Teacher Has Cancer, When Your Mom Has Cancer and When Mom’s Cancer Doesn’t Go Away (the last one came through losing two family members to cancer).
In the months following, it became clear I had taken on something more than writing. Requests poured in for signings, workshops, key-note speeches, and events. I grappled to make sense of it. Why me? I had not had cancer (to-date). I was simply a vessel, just a willing voice. The initial message kept resonating inside me – because something was missing … because hope matters. The seed for more was already there. I let go and let God, finally trusting the gift my friend had seen in me.
A second series began: the Little Patriot Books™ to help military families cope with deployment to war. Then, an endorsement led to an unexpected collaboration for yet another title – When Your Grandma Forgets. In honor of my mother and my co-author’s wife, I entered the world of advocating for families coping with Alzheimer’s disease. We needed an umbrella for these “sparks of hope.” So, in 2011, we founded Hope Matters Productions (better known as Hope Matters), on the desire to make a difference in hurting lives worldwide.
What was your goal in writing this series in terms of taking cancer and bringing it down to the psychosocial level as if we are part of their journey?
Initially, my goal was to bring the journey through a child’s eyes, bringing adults and children side-by-side. Children may lack the vocabulary to express the complex emotions that come when facing life’s difficulties. Including the psychosocial aspects meant providing life-long tools. One’s psychological development and interaction with their social environment overlap on a daily basis. There are ripple effects in cancer and beyond. Children are not immune to that ripple effect or its impact on their “psychosocial” development.
In essence, these little books serve as a preventative tool. When we address turmoil and loss early-on, we prevent unchecked grief which could lead to struggles and problems later in life.
Adults are not immune to such impact either; they simply have more available words (and hopefully tools) to help digest it. An interesting realization came with these stories in seeing them resonate with the adults as much as the children. It’s quite clear the “child within” craves healing in grown-ups too:
My mother died of cancer and no one wanted to talk about it.
I thought I did something wrong. Talking about cancer was seemingly taboo.
So, you mean I’m not helpless! How I wish I’d had these empowering tools when I was a kid.
I hadn’t realized parts of me still needed to grieve losing my mom … until your book helped me to help my own daughter in losing her mommy.
As a military veteran and psychology major, how have these roles impacted your perspective in writing about cancer and their journey?
Nothing in life is wasted. If we give ourselves enough time to soak in the lessons while utilizing our strengths and abilities, we can find true purpose. Moving about in the military taught me a great deal about adapting and coping with loss.
My children weathered six moves and eight different schools before we retired from military service. Together, we learned about what it takes to overcome and have a sense of resiliency. Being first an active duty member, and then a career military spouse, also taught me a great deal about changing roles and giving up “identity” (attachment to military ID cards is itself a conversation-piece).
My degree in psychology at Syracuse University came as a merger of experiences and credits. Moving interrupts a lot of things, so you have to be willing to flex and do it anyway – oftentimes differently than you had planned. However, changes and delays also have potential to deliver unexpected gifts.
It was there, at Syracuse University, that I garnered enthusiasm for research and writing; my plan to go down a clinical path fell by the wayside. I am grateful that I discovered new “loves” in that change. The combination of military service and psychological research remain at the forefront in my writing and advocating. It is a privilege to walk alongside those going through cancer, and other difficult journeys.
Can you tell us about your current project with the “Little Pink Houses of Hope” retreat and how our readers can help?
Ripple effects of cancer can have positive outcomes too – because of cancer I have met Jeanine Patten-Coble. I discovered the “The Little Pink Houses of Hope” online, with Jeanine Patten-Coble as its founder. We have never met in person. Yet, we share a passion that has connected us in a significant personal way. Jeanine strives to nourish survivors by caring for their emotional and spiritual selves. She recognizes that cancer doesn’t just affect the patient; the entire family is affected when cancer knocks at the door.
Similarly, my Little Pink Books™ bring all that through reading.
The “Little Pink Houses of Hope” blesses families with a week-long FREE retreat – it’s an opportunity to reconnect and celebrate life. So, I thought: why not help families discover the gift of hope through reading while at retreat? That inspiration led to creating the campaign. Together, we’re hoping to deliver 100 copies of When Your Mom Has Cancer to moms, dads, and kids at Little Pink retreats this summer. Small or large, every contribution puts us closer to delivering the gift of reading with hope! The campaign can be viewed here.
Lastly, what message of “hope” would you like to convey to anyone with an illness?
Hope is like a spark. If conditions are right it can spread like wildfire. Hope feeds the soul, ignites passion, and inspires others. Tucked inside of us is a child-like spark that says: never forget to dream, play, and imagine.
Hope is the extraordinary spark that says Huge Outcomes are Possible Every day. In our most difficult journeys, it’s more important than ever to magnify hope – not just for ourselves but for others. Hope is a blessing that lasts, even in the face of illness. Lastly, I should note that my best friend Vicki is now a 6-year breast cancer survivor and still teaching her “little ducklings.”