Last year, thanks to Facebook, I reconnected with a high school classmate, Laura (Hoffman) Roppé. In high school, I admired Laura, and maybe even hated her a little, because of her crazy-awesome singing voice. She played the Rizzo to my Sandy in our high school’s rendition of Grease. I was Elphaba green with envy over her talent, which was leaps and broomsticks better than mine. I have always known her as a talented, tenacious Pink Lady and now, all these years later, she is still a talented, tenacious Pink Lady, though she rocks the color pink for an entirely different reason.
A few years ago, Laura was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer and, as a 38-year-old mother and wife, she fought the battle of her life, for her life, and won. Only a few months after her diagnosis, she wrote a book called, Rocking The Pink: Finding Myself on the Other Side of Cancer, which hit the book shelves and Kindles a few months ago.
Her book is a life-affirming story of her journey through diagnosis and treatments, peppered with funny side stories of her life as a high school drama star who dreams of being Judy Garland (though there’s no mention of our Grease show), an extra lucky extra in the movie The Doors who somehow lands a speaking part in a scene with Val Kilmer, a kick-ass lawyer, a wife, mom, a friend, and ultimately a determined, passionate woman who follows her dreams of become a recording artist. It is as much about battling cancer as it is about finding your true passion in life and following your dreams.
A full review of the book will be up on the Todays Mama site next week, but first I wanted to share her answers from our fun Q & A session so you can see her spunk and hear her thoughts on cancer, being published, and whether she’s Team Gale or Peeta.
Laura Roppé on Cancer and Rocking the Pink:
Mama Mary: What words of comfort and advice did you appreciate from friends just after your diagnosis and/or when you were going through your chemo?
Laura Roppé: Generally, the outpouring of love, emails, cards, hugs was very much appreciated. The verbalization that we were in this together, that I was not alone. The help with meals, with my kids, the random calls to check up on me, the cards that would come in the mail. All so helpful and appreciated.
MM: What about gifts? Are there any gifts that people gave you that cheered you up particularly?
LR: The gift of food for my family helped so much. Little trinkets for my kids, activities. Very sweet. Flowers were also so appreciated. They are so beautiful and simple, such a reminder of the beauty of life.
MM: What are some of the things people did or said that annoyed you?
LR: Well, I am surely going to come across like a complete and total bee-yotch here, but this is the truth: “God doesn’t give you anything more than you can handle.” That one just irked me to no end. Similarly, “It’s all in God’s plan.” Speaking for myself, these two platitudes did not comfort me whatsoever while in the middle of very difficult treatment. Both might be true, I’m not really arguing the point. But telling me that – and mind you, I heard this A LOT from many, many, many people – wasn’t of any comfort to me. However, I will say that I understand and appreciate that people are kind and good, and they are trying their best to be of help and comfort and I don’t fault anyone for that. The worst one was “Nothing is going to happen to you; I know you’d never leave your girls.” Having now lived through the passing of many, many young mothers who were taken from their young children through succumbing to cancer, I can say without a doubt they didn’t want to go, but it couldn’t be helped. So, yes, I have revealed myself to be an evil and unappreciative person, haven’t I?
MM: How old were your daughters when you were diagnosed? How did you talk about it with them? Did you use the word cancer or did you have another word for it?
LR: My daughters were in third and first grades (ages 8 and 6). My husband and I sat them down and told them Mommy had some bad stuff in my breast, but the doctor was going to get rid of it. That was a big “so what” as far as they were concerned, like, “can we go watch Hannah Montana now?” But then my husband used the word “cancer” and all hell broke loose. My older daughter had heard that word before – a classmate’s aunt had died of cancer. Oh man, that was not a good day. But, it turned out that using the big bad word was the best approach. They needed to know the truth, though we withheld all prognosis details and just promised over and over that Mommy was going to be just fine.
MM: Any pearls of wisdom for other moms who might be in the beginning or middle phases of what you went through?
LR: Accept help. You can’t do it all. People want to help. Let them. Express gratitude easily and often, but accept the love pouring in (hopefully) to you. Also, take it day by day. I am not a real platitude lover, but this one is a good one. If you look at the entire mountain yawning before you, it is too overwhelming. So, just do what you must do TODAY. And if you are feeling well today, be YOU. Make the most of it. The bad days will pass, so don’t lose faith in that.
On Being Published:
MM: How soon after your last chemo treatment did you start writing your book?
Maybe . . . six months? That sounds about right.
MM: How long did it take to write?
LR: A couple months. Maybe six weeks. But then I read and re-read it like a lunatic, editing, re-editing, cutting down, expanding, refining. But I definitely had the “book” from beginning to end in less than two months. I was a woman possessed. It poured out of me.
MM: Describe your publishing process? Did you send query letters? How long did it take to get an agent and/or get picked up by a publisher?
LR: After I’d written the book, I thought it was pretty good! But I wasn’t sure. I’ve written enough songs to know that something I love might be very amateurish by others’ standards. I didn’t want to pursue publishing if the book was just a “good job!” type of life thing, but not necessarily of professional quality. My friend read the manuscript and loved it, like over-the-top, crazy loved it. But she’s my friend, so I wasn’t impressed. Through a friend, I connected with a professional editor named Beverly Trainer. I asked Beverly to read my book once through, not to edit it, but just to give me her opinion: Was it professional quality? Should I pursue publishing? Beverly said “Well, I don’t want to crush your dreams!” But I countered, “Crush away!” I really didn’t want to devote my time, energy and dreaming to a project that was not up to snuff.
Beverly read the book, and when she got back to me, she was effusive about it. She told me she had been prepared to give me a speech about some writers’ workshops in town, etc. and to gently encourage me to hone my craft. But instead, much to her own surprise, she said she thought I’d have multiple agents interested in representing the manuscript. She gave me some great ideas to shuffle the order of some things around, and off I went to make those changes. She also suggested I attend the La Jolla Writers Conference, which was coming up in three months, where I could meet some agents and see what they thought. In the meantime, I did send some query letters, and got some nibbles and interest, but I found that whole process to be daunting and ineffectual. When I went to the writers’ conference, I met my agent, who expressed interest (as did four others). A week after the conference, I was signed.
But getting an agent, as exciting as thrilling as it was, was just the beginning! Then came the shopping process to publishers, which was fascinating and a lot of hard work, for my agent and for me. Lots more writing, and honing – not of the manuscript, but of the “book proposal,” which any prospective writers out there absolutely must Google and learn about. Nobody reads the manuscript! They all read the book proposal! So your proposal must be top notch, if you intend to go the traditional publishing route!
Just for fun:
MM: Smash or GLEE?
LR: Neither. I cant’ stand either. I’m sorry, Mary. (I really questioned publishing this post after this answer)
MM: Les Miserables or Phantom of the Opera?
Les Mis, hands down. No contest. I am very opinionated on this particular topic. Phantom makes me want to put needles in my eyes. (She made up for the GLEE answer with this answer).
MM: Eli or Peyton?
LR: Peyton all the way! Eli can suck it!
MM: 16 Candles or Weird Science?
LR: Jake Ryan is my one true love, so that’s an easy one. 16 Candles.
MM: Gale or Peeta?
LR: Gale. Peeta can suck it!
MM: Brad Pitt or George Clooney?
LR: Ok, this is going to shock you, considering I have a song called George Clooney. But . . . Brad Pitt! Definitely! You heard it here first!
I want to thank Laura for taking time to answer all my questions and mostly for sharing her story of courage and dream chasing. Reading her book gave e extra kick in my step to chase my dreams and not give up.
Here is the book trailer for Rocking the Pink, featuring one of Laura’s original songs, Float Away.
In the meantime, I am trying to find a way to put some of our Grease footage on youtube to embarrass the heck out of both of us!
Thank you, Laura!