Blessings In Disguise

LBBC would like to introduce multi-award-winning author Helen Brown as our newest blog contributor! Helen has written two novels since her breast cancer diagnosis and her latest, ‘Cats & Daughters’, will be reviewed by a regular LBBC blog contributor in the coming weeks so stop by soon for what we’re sure will be an excellent review!

Helen Brown-photo credit James Braund - SM

The best part of my life began with breast cancer.

I wouldn’t have believed that nearly five years ago when I had the mastectomy. But looking back I can honestly say the years since that traumatic event have brought more happiness and success than any other period of my adult life.

I was part way through writing my memoir Cleo when a routine mammogram revealed a large growth.

When the doctor diagnosed ductal cancer I told her I was too busy to be sick. I was writing a book about our black cat Cleo and how she’d helped our family recover from the loss of our nine year-old son in 1983.

Cleo had died a couple of years earlier at the age of 23 and a half. I wanted to honor her and give hope to other parents who’d lost children. Even though I couldn’t find a publisher and agents scattered on approach, this book needed writing.

While I was recovering after surgery, I crept back to the computer and completed the manuscript. Then to my delight, an Australian publisher sent a contract.

When an editor sent 15 pages of suggested changes, my heart sank. Still, cancer wasn’t far from my mind. If this was to be my last book it had to be my best.

I was astonished when Cleo was published in the US and became a New York Times best seller. It’s now published in more than 16 languages and a movie’s in development. I still sometimes have to pinch myself.

With Cleo’s success I received countless emails asking for a sequel. As it turned out there was plenty more to write about for my new book, Cats and Daughters.

Not long after the mastectomy, a rambunctious Siamese burst in on our lives. Galloping through the house, smashing vases, shredding the stair carpet, he drove me nuts. Jonah also made me laugh till my stitches hurt.

Our new cat’s rebellious spirit was mirrored in our elder daughter, Lydia. At the age of 23, after a brilliant academic career, she rejected Western society – and, I thought, her mother. To my horror, she shaved her head and flew to war-torn Sri Lanka to become a Buddhist nun.

It took a while to realize Lydia hadn’t abandoned me. She was simply redefining our relationship, insisting I pull back and allow her freedom. These days we’re very close.

Likewise, it wasn’t till I learned to relax about some of Jonah’s outrageous behavior that life with him became easier.

At an age I thought I’d be tending roses I’m traveling the world meeting publishers, readers and media. Emails roll in from Russia, Italy, Brazil.

If it hadn’t been for breast cancer and the determination it brought to make the most of life I doubt any of this would’ve happened.

Breast cancer made me take risks. I stopped putting things off and stretched my abilities to the limit.

With a good prognosis now, I savor beauty in every moment, open my heart to strangers and never leave a loving thought unsaid.

For these reasons I’m deeply grateful.


Helen Brown was born and brought up in New Zealand, where she first worked as a journalist, TV presenter, and scriptwriter. A multi-award-winning columnist, Helen now lives in Melbourne, Australia, with her family and feline. Cleo, her first novel, rose to the top of the bestseller lists in its first weeks in the United States, United Kingdom, New Zealand, France, and Australia, and has been translated into more than sixteen languages. It is currently being made into a major motion picture by South Pacific Pictures (the makers of Whale Rider). Her new memoir, CATS & DAUGHTERS, came out on March 26, 2013. 

Visit Helen Brown online at

Cats & Daughters

6 thoughts on “Blessings In Disguise

  1. Thanks tho Helen for this post. I find it inspirational (I’m a writer too). Cancer happened right in the middle of writing my novel – it knocked me over, for sure, but my writing was a touchstone of normality. Now, as I look for agents, I’ll keep your story in mind! Ta! ~ Catherine

  2. When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox
    and now each time a comment is added I get three emails
    with the same comment. Is there any way you can remove me from that service?
    Thank you!

  3. I have had cancer hit my family recently and I found that solace was hard to find. You hear about cancer constantly but it doesn’t really impact you until you are dealing with it firsthand. I found that reading about it, researching it, and finding forums about it were helpful and inspirational. I have added your book to my list and wish you the very best in your recovery and future endeavors. A book I read recently that really touched me deeply is a biography about a young revolutionary teacher, Jhumki Basu, who battled breast cancer and fought for change in the inner city school systems written by her father, Dipak Basu. The book is called “Mission to Teach” ( A quote about young Jhumki Basu from renowned British anthropologist Jane Goodall says it all, “Once she was diagnosed with cancer, it seems she gained additional funds of energy and determination with the knowledge that she had to achieve her life’s goals in a short period of time “… I think this book helped with my healing and motivated me. I really hope you will give it a read 🙂 And I will be sure to pass along your book to others as well.

  4. Today, I went to the beachfront with my kids. I found a sea shell and gave it to
    my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She put the shell to
    her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her ear.
    She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is entirely off
    topic but I had to tell someone!

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