This week my best friend from high school, Sharon, called. She phoned about my recent diagnosis with breast cancer. But as we talked, I told her about my column in Saturday's Casper Star-Tribune (01/09/2016). And as the years seemed to melt away between us with the passing of old jokes, familiar names, and the lives we both imagined we'd have, she knew that the decision I made had not been easy.
Sharon knew that by claiming "Pumpkin Spice" I was breaking free from a pattern of behavior she's seen me struggle with for 29 years: people-pleasing. It is a pattern that seems innocuous because, really, who is it hurting? But after a lifetime of trying to please everyone I found myself on empty and worse with a career achievement I had robbed myself of celebrating.
So as 2016 kicks off, who is Mary Billiter? It's a page that remained empty on my website for more than a year because, until now, I don't think I've been able to answer that question.
I'd love to write something witty, even snappy, and perhaps in the third person and say, "Mary Billiter is not like anyone you'd ever imagine." But that's just not true. I'm the same person you read every week in the newspaper. I'm the woman that was recently diagnosed with lobular carcinoma in situ, a form of breast cancer, which is treatable with five years of chemo prevention. It’s not great, but it sure beats dying.
I'm also a writer that escapes into a world of her own imagination. I go wherever my characters tell me to go. I know that must sound completely odd, but that's how it happens for me. It starts with a line, a place, or even dialog and it slowly builds from there. Sometimes I have an idea where the story and characters will take me and other times I don't. But that's the excitement. When I write, there's no one in that world I have to please.
So when three beautiful love stories I wrote required some spice, I added in the heat. To please everyone that I feared would disapprove of that decision, I took on a pen name and hid. But Mary Billiter and Pumpkin Spice are one and the same author.
All my books are written from a place that is so deep within me that to deny it would be to cut myself off from the one true gift I know was God-given. I don't alone possess any talent. But through Him he guides me. And He gives me the strength to face my battles – all of them. And lately some of these battles seem pretty great. So to hide is to hide from God. And His light. And that's what has felt so wrong to me.
So as the New Year beckons before me, I'm stepping out of the shadows and standing in His light.
My website has an entirely new look. The photos aren’t professional. My husband, Ron, who I simply adore and love with all my heart, snapped these of me while we were in Napa Valley with my sister and our families for Thanksgiving.
A mass of calcifications was removed from my right breast just a month earlier. And my hair is five inches shorter in preparation for the chemo-prevention. But I’m standing in the light. And look at how incredibly happy I am in that sunshine.