With her poetry published in numerous literary magazines, along with short stories and academic journals, Sylvia L. Ramsey has a new book, Traveling a Rocky Road With Love, Faith and Guts. Her unique memoir looks at her turbulent past, fractured relationships, and her battle with cancer. But if the response to it so far is anything to go by, it proves that as well as being one tough lady, she is also a source of inspiration to many others.
1. Hi Sylvia, for those that may not be aware, please tell us a bit about your background.
Hello, Lloyd. Since I have re-married, I am a mother of seven, grandmother of twenty-seven, and a great-grandmother of six. I am a communications professor and the coordinator for the Academic Resource Center. I am the advisor for our campuses newspaper, the GMC Journal, the Vice President of the American Bladder Cancer Society, and a seventeen year survivor myself. Something that people may be surprised to learn is that in the late sixties, I had my own Sunday night easy listening show on the radio. I was one of the first women DJ’s.
2. What inspired you to write your memoir?
Traveling a Rocky Road With Love, Faith and Guts, was inspired by a young man that has some very serious heart problems, and all the people I have met over the years as a teacher, mentor and a bladder cancer survivor. I have tried my best to encourage them, and to give them hope, to not give up on themselves or life. The truth is that life is harsh, and it is not like the movies that give a false impression that it is smooth sailing. Being the hero that keeps on going regardless of the situation is difficult, but with faith, it can be accomplished. It often takes a backbone, humor and a wishbone to survive it all. Because of this, I decided to write a book to share my life’s experiences so that it may inspire someone to come back fighting when life knocks them down. The stories and poems in this book reflect the lows and highs of life. It covers an abusive mother who had mental problems because of being abused as a child, childhood polio, a rocky marriage with a husband who was often abusive, the role of caregiving, death and grief, coping with bladder cancer, asthma, losing a home and more. Therefore, to not to scare you off with gloom and doom, there are funny stories along the way and an ending that I never dreamed would happen. My hope is that the book will bring about understanding to others, and be inspiring to even more. Our journey in life has a purpose, finding it is often the most difficult task of all.
3. It’s a very personal journey, what was the hardest part of writing it?
I am not the type of person that dwells on the past. I was taught by my father to learn from
bad judgments and mistakes. Because of this, I had gone forward in my life and left these behind. However, if reliving the rough sections of the road of life would help someone else, it was worth the trip. Reliving the emotional roller coaster of my childhood with my mother was unpleasant, because it made me remember how alone I had felt as a child, and one who needed a loving mother. Reliving the early years of my first marriage was also very difficult, and to look at the choices I made that did not make my life easier. However, I feel better about myself for making those choices.
4. The book covers abusive relationships and hardship but it also examines human strength over adversity. Were there any experiences that you were tempted to leave out?
I was tempted, and I did leave some out for various reasons. One of the reasons was because of the people who are still living, and I knew it would be hurtful to them. I really kept adding stories until my mentor said it was time to stop for this book. He said a revised copy with the additional stories would be appropriate in a couple of years. Because I regard this person highly, I took his advice and left the rest for another time.
It is a memoir, but in a different way. It has a purpose to inspire others to reach out and upward. It has funny stories that relate to how I learned to laugh at myself, and ones that taught me to have empathy for others. There are stories of failure, but looking that failure in the eye, not letting the failure defeat me, to learn from it and go forward.
6. You donate all proceeds of the book’s sale to the American Bladder Cancer Society. That’s quite an admirable thing to do, was that an easy decision?
Many may wonder why I am so adamant in my support of bladder cancer awareness. I think it is because I remember only too well, how badly I needed to talk to someone about it, and to find information that would help me understand what was happening to me. However, when I was diagnosed there were none of these things available. I had great medical care, but there was no informative or emotional support. I decided to try to change this if I could. Since that time, things have changed some but not nearly enough. My quest has only just begun. That is why the sales of my books are given to the American Bladder Cancer Society. Bladder cancer is one that has little support in spite of the fact that it ranked 5th in prevalence. I have made it a personal goal for the past fifteen years to do my best to change this. When I speak with people who have just been diagnosed, I can hear the fear in their voices. They need someone to talk to that has experienced the same thing. They need someone to be able to talk to about their situation who understands. That was not available when I was diagnosed, or when I had my radical cystectomy. Therefore, I decided to do what I had been taught as a child by my father: “I may not be able to do everything, but I can do something.”
7. What do you think makes a good memoir?
I think one that has a purpose, makes you laugh, and even makes you cry. One that inspires you to become a better person than you are in one way or the other. One that has some universal appeal that can be shared by all.
8. You’ve self published a few books previously, how long does it normally take you to write a book?
That depends on the book. All of my books were conceived many years before they became a reality. This one took the shortest time of all. I began about six months before it was released. However, I felt an urgency to get it in print…and I received a bit of prodding by my mentor.
9. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Writing isn’t the only creative activity I indulge in, I also paint and sculpt. I love all the arts, and have participated in them. I directed a theatre program for sixteen years, taught art and theatre courses. I help with a variety of bladder cancer support activities, give presentations on numerous topics and love to spend time at the beach with my husband. We go out dancing at least once a month. I do my best to live a full life.
10. What advice would you give to anyone who is either going through or has experienced, some of the things you have?
Research your problem, find the facts, join a support group and get involved in helping others. You will always find others who are worse off than yourself, and you will find that you have many reasons for which to be thankful.
Visit the American Bladder Cancer Society here.