by Janet Walton
I was sent the book Cure last year by Penny to review for the Celebrate website. After reading the book and seeing a little about Josh in the forward of the book, I wanted to know more about the idea for the book and how it was written.
The initial plot came from Josh in November 2017 when he was already very ill. He was diagnosed with a very rare bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma) in January 2017. He sadly died 364 days later on 18th January 2018 having touched and changed many lives.
As a nurse working in palliative care this story interested me. What is it that helped Penny and her family after Josh had died? When had the book been written? Did Josh see the final article? The idea to interview her came from this. I contacted her in the New Year and this article is the result of our hour-long chat.
As a family they knew from diagnosis that Josh had a life limiting illness that was not curable and they were determined to do everything they could to support him, however he wanted. Josh came to Penny after about six months of palliative treatment to say that he was not sad he had cancer. Obviously he wished he had never got ill, but it had taught him so much about himself and he had no time for self -pity. His main concern was making sure his family were ok and his best friend would cope once he died.
No Bucket List
Josh did not have a bucket list, but rather an ‘I’ve done’ list, and encouraged everyone he met to try this idea. He was keen to get people to understand they must do the right thing in life rather than doing something for love and when you read Cure this theme is an important part of the story.
Josh was very ill when he told Penny he had an idea for a book. She was already writing her memoirs so had a notebook with her. He took her through the story and ideas he had for an ending. Unfortunately, he became too unwell after this to see the finished book. Penny put her memoir writing on hold and wrote Cure with a mentor’s help and lots of support from friends and family.
She had never written a time travel book, nor was it a genre she knew a lot about, but she persevered until it was published. The ending took me by surprise and this was done purposefully so people can take the story in a direction they might want. It is a dream of Penny’s to work with young adults helping them to write by using the ending to get them thinking where they might take the story.
Josh as an Inspiration
Josh met many people during his illness, from health care professionals to therapists. One who stands out for Penny having recently received a postcard from massage therapist on a cruise ship in Bergen. She saw Josh for some massage therapy. As they got to know each other she mentioned how she had reached 52 years of age and given up on her dream of working on a cruise ship. Josh told her he had far outlived the two weeks he was given to live. He had done many things he had only dreamt of, like going to Comic Con, so yes she could do this, and she has.
The list is a long one, filled with remarkable stories from a teenager. He spent his last day on Zinkwazi beach with his school mates who were at camp. They carried him to the beach in a canoe and enjoyed time listening to music, playing poker and allowing him to pretend he was winning, this being his strategy at poker for many years. Josh died very peacefully the next day after suffering a brain haemorrhage which is not unusual with the type of cancer he had.
Penny, her husband Shannon and son Chris have taken this philosophy to remember Josh. They try to live in the most meaningful way possible. As many people find when they have an experience like this. Possessions are not as important, but being together as a family is. For them, it is doing things they have always dreamt of now rather than waiting for the perfect time. They went to Hawaii after Josh died, a lifelong dream of Chris, and are planning more of these experiences together. Penny told me “we don’t sweat the small stuff anymore. We have a clear idea of what constitutes a disaster and what is merely an inconvenience.”
Penny the Inspiration
You can find Cure by Penny Castle online. Do also look out for her recently published book Cultivating Happiness: How I Tried (and Failed) to implement Self-Help Strategies and Accidentally Got Happier. She enjoys writing immensely and is keen for everyone who wants to write to give it a go. You do not need a degree, just determination. It is helpful to write within a writer’s group and with an experienced mentor so look out for your local writers’ groups.
I could write a lot more about this inspirational woman. She has managed to take a life changing event, with Josh dying as a teenager and using this to keep going. To inspire others, for example, setting out to donate 24 pints of blood, the amount Josh needed during his illness. With school and friends’ support they actually got close to 900 pints and more each day.