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In her new book 5 Months 10 Years 2 Hours, triathlete, journalist, and author Lisa Reisman of Branford shares an honestly written and compelling story of finding her way, 10 years after facing down life-threatening brain cancer. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Sound )
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In the face of a horrific brain cancer diagnosis, Branford’s Lisa Reisman has survived and blossomed as an athlete, journalist, and now, a stunningly honest autobiographical author. Lisa’s first book, 5 Months 10 Years 2 Hours is her account of living life to the fullest, beyond all expectations—including her own.
“People are much more interested in the five months, but I think what’s important is the 10 years,” says Lisa. “So I had this awful, scary ruthless cancer in my brain. Everyone’s sort of dazzled by the fact that I recovered, and I have no idea how I did it. I got lucky; that’s my refrain. But what’s more interesting to me is, what happens after?”
In 1998, Lisa was an attorney living in Manhattan when she was found unconscious in her apartment. She was rushed to the hospital and woke up two days later to a diagnosis of stage-four gioblastoma multiforme. In August 1998, she came to Short Beach to stay with her mom and endure five months of treatment including aggressive brain surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Against the odds, Lisa came through.
At the end of the five months, “I was told, ‘No cancer had spread,’” says Lisa.
Instead of celebrating, Lisa says she felt adrift, with “no road map” for continuing her life.
“When you’re going through cancer treatment, there’s a sort of regimen to it. And then after the radiation and six rounds of chemotherapy and they say, ‘Goodbye, good luck,’ what do you do? You’re just waiting for it to come back. So that’s the hard part.”
Lisa was already at a pivotal point in her life when she underwent treatment in her early 30s, she says.
“Even before I got sick, I knew I didn’t want to be a lawyer and I didn’t know what I wanted to do next. And after I found out that I might be okay, I still didn’t know what to do,” she says.
Lisa earned her law degree at University of Virginia and practiced law in New York City for four years. Prior to that, she studied ancient Greek and Latin at Haverford, Oxford, and Yale. Two years into recovery, Lisa moved back to Manhattan—not to take up law again but to enter a writing program at Columbia University School of the Arts.
At Columbia, Lisa began journaling a memoir of her five months. As she wrote, she learned more about herself.
“That was 10 years ago,” she says. “I was 33; I didn’t know how to identify myself. It took me a while to figure out I just couldn’t write a memoir about getting better; it had to be bigger than that. I had to be sort of what I figured out. And only five years ago, I figured out I could be the triathlete who survived brain cancer.”
The triathlete training grew out of Lisa’s love for taking soul-cleansing daily runs (she was a high school cross country standout). On the 10th anniversary of her five months of treatment, Lisa swam, biked, and ran her first triathlon. The writing grew out of “cathartic” writing stints Lisa undertook during her five months of treatment. Lisa weaves it all together in her book—from splashing out toward that first buoy to living through experiences resulting from her diagnosis.
“I felt I had to do something because I couldn’t figure out how I got better,” says Lisa of undertaking the book. “Since the book came out, I’ve met so many people with this same disease, and it’s such a cruel disease. So there I was with this sort of a survivor’s guilt and concomitantly I felt this need to do something momentous to sort of validate my survival.”
Lisa’s book compellingly shares how she managed to come through those terrifying five months; then stretches beyond into the life she crafted in the ensuing years. It’s a personal, honest picture painted by a gifted writer. It does not include a do-it-yourself guide to surviving gioblastoma multiforme, but in telling her story, it does reveal what worked for her.
“The way I got well during the five months of treatment is, I put on blinders,” says Lisa. “I didn’t want anything to do with cancer, and it worked. I said, ‘I’m just going to live each day as if I’m well.’ I hammered out this regimen. I did the same thing every day. I’ve never been so disciplined. It was diet and doing things like walking, memorizing poetry as I walked, playing piano, doing crossword puzzles.”
Most important among all of her daily exercises: Lisa began to write.
“I had to figure out how to live my life knowing this thing might be growing in my brain,” she says. “I was of course terrified, so I needed a way to let it go. I would walk downstairs to my mom’s computer every day and I would type to get out all these fears. Out of that cathartic exercise of getting all of this out of me, grew this book.”
Since the book was released in the spring of 2015, Lisa has been traveling to share her story at author’s talks and even on radio stations across the nation. On Tuesday, Nov. 17, Lisa will give a book talk, with time for questions from the audience, at Guilford Free Library at 7 p.m. (presented by Breakwater Books).
Beyond the growing success of her book, Lisa’s name may be familiar to many locals as a byline in the weekly Shoreline Times. She started corresponding a few years back by pitching a boots-on-the ground take on a local non-profit’s fundraising road race.
“I heard about this ‘Run for The Cove’ road race, and I was going to run it because I’m a runner,” says Lisa.
She was also impressed with The Cove’s non-profit mission of helping grieving children through their loss.
“It happened that my sister had two friends who had kids who were in it, and I thought I could run in it and write about it,” says Lisa.
Lisa’s been contributing feature writing to the Times ever since. She often hears back from grateful folks and organizations and even picked up another job she loves, managing the Sin Sisters Band, after covering one of their gigs.
Lisa puts a lot of time and care into her writing and it means a lot to hear people are thrilled with her telling of their story.
“I love it,” Lisa says. “It’s such a kick when I get it right, and I love it when I help people. It’s sort of addictive. That’s what I talked about, trying to find something to validate my survival. I thought it had to be something really momentous—but this is fine, this is great. It’s what I do, and love it!”
For more information on Lisa Reisman, her upcoming book talks, or to order a copy of 5 Months 10 Years 2 Hours, visit www.lisareismanauthor.com.
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