Flat Please,  Breast Cancer

Why I Wrote My Book Flat Please, Hold the Shame

The entire AskEllyn brand began with my book FLAT PLEASE. Here’s the story behind the story. 

I was shattered when I received my diagnosis of breast cancer. It was something that happened to other women, not to me. In the four weeks I waited for my biopsy and surgical consult I estimate I lost close to 10 pounds just from anxiety and stress. I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much in my life. 

I unfortunately know far too many women who have experienced a breast cancer diagnosis, and so I began reaching out to “interview” them. What was the journey going to be like?  What could I expect?  What was their experience? 

The insights and wisdom I gained from those discussions were incredibly helpful and useful — even (surprise!) more so than the information I received from my doctors. Breast cancer is more than just a disease to be diagnosed and treated. It is life-changing. So the questions in my mind weren’t always about my medical care. My worries went beyond that. I wondered about how cancer would impact my life, my relationships, my well-being, and perhaps shallowly, my looks and self-esteem.  They also gave me the “inside track” on some of the procedures I would undergo. 

I’ll never forget hearing from a girlfriend that the dye they would inject to locate my lymph nodes before my mastectomy surgery would be administered through my nipples. I mean, in the spirit of minimizing surprises, I think a girl should know this stuff. For the record, she was right, and it wasn’t nearly as bad in reality as it was in my head. 

I decided fairly early on that I needed to bundle all this knowledge up in a way that would help other women who would follow in my footsteps. As a writer and storyteller that came naturally to me. So I began writing my story. 

The idea behind FLAT PLEASE was to relate my experience of finding the lump, through diagnosis and treatment through a simple, first-person storyline. I chose to set each chapter the current moment, versus as a reflection, so readers could directly relate to how I was feeling at that moment in time. I also wanted to include links in every chapter to “good” information that would allow the reader to go deeper and to find additional knowledge if that was something they needed. We all know in cancer-land that Dr. Google is not our friend. I remember feeling frustrated that I had to stitch so much knowledge together on my own. I also recognized that not every woman can, or is willing to put in the work to find those resources. Using a QR code contained in the front of the book, the reader can travel to www.flatplease.com the book’s website where supplemental chapter information is located. Every link is personally curated and approved by me and is to information I know to be credible and helpful. I will maintain and add to these resources over time. 

Starting while I was in chemo, I thumb-typed most of the FLAT PLEASE book on my phone, and hepped up on steroids at 2 am. The words flowed out of me so fast, I ran into myself on the journey. I recall telling my oncologist during one of my appointments that I had run out of material for the book I was writing. She dryly responded, “Oh, we’ll give you more material, not to worry.” 

As a first-time author, I had no clue about publishing a book. I always fancied the idea but never thought THIS was the book I’d write. I reached out to a good friend of mine, Susan Chilton who is a book editor and fellow breast cancer survivor. She very graciously told me that when I finished the book, she would be my editor. She is a marvellous human and brilliantly talented. I count my lucky stars she was in my corner.

I then needed to figure out how to get the book to market. I had no money to speak of, so I decided to try self-publishing on Amazon. It is the world’s biggest marketplace and the world was my market. So it seemed the right thing to do. Uploading the book and the cover (beautifully designed by my husband and featuring spectacular images by @oneforthewall) was quite straightforward. 

I think the biggest surprise was how quickly the title went live. That had me scrambling a bit to rally my friends, family and supporters to go buy the first few copies, leave favorable reviews and get the party started. 

I had no inkling that my book FLAT PLEASE would become an Amazon bestseller in the first few weeks. I also had no idea when I began writing it that it would become the learning model and inspiration for AskEllyn.ai, which essentially allows people to interact dynamically with my story and the other content of the book. 

Will I write another book?  Perhaps I will. I candidly admit that I never thought I’d write this one, but here we are.

Ellyn Winters-Robinson is a breast cancer survivor, entrepreneur, author, in-demand speaker, women’s health advocate, professional communicator and a globally recognized health rebel. Ellyn's best-selling book "Flat Please Hold the Shame," is a girlfriend’s companion guide for those on the breast cancer journey. She is also the co-creator of AskEllyn.ai, the world’s first conversational AI companion for those on the breast cancer journey. With Dense Breasts Canada and award-winning photographer Hilary Gauld, Ellyn also co-produced I WANT YOU TO KNOW, a celebrated photo essay showing the diverse faces and stories of 31 individuals on the breast cancer journey. Ellyn’s story and AskEllyn.ai have been featured in People Magazine, Chatelaine Magazine, the Globe and Mail, CTV National News and Your Morning, and Fast Company.


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