Cambrian: Opinion

This Cambria resident survived cancer — and wrote a book about it

Maryann Grau during her journey battling pancreatic cancer with her “Chemo Buddy!”
Maryann Grau during her journey battling pancreatic cancer with her “Chemo Buddy!”

The only thing, to me, that could possibly be as scary as Alzheimer’s (mainly because of its prevalence and the insidious way it affects us) would be cancer, especially of the traditionally fatal variety, like of the pancreatic nature. 

However, in this small town of ours, I have known three people to overcome the disease who lived to tell the tale. And now, one of these folks has been able to deftly put the journey into words, to let you in on her perspective on life that may likely have saved hers. 

“Cancer is no laughing matter. But this book isn’t about cancer. It’s about choices,” Maryann Grau said. “When I was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and made aware that my days were very likely numbered, the first thought that entered my mind was, maybe they’re wrong.” 

She was not going down without a fight, she states in the opening pages. Hmmm… what is that going to look like, I wondered as my friend proceeded to read aloud as I drove us up for a mountain getaway recently. 

Grau is a darling, vivacious, above-middle-aged woman who, among other activities, teaches both a dance exercise class and strengthening program at the Joslyn Center three days a week. Now. 

Not just before she was stricken but now, after beating pancreatic cancer! If that ain’t inspiring, I don’t know what is! 

Her book, “Cancer and Fishnet Stockings (How Humor Helped Me Survive a Life-threatening Disease, the Loss of My Favorite Nail Polish…and Other Calamities)” is an easy read with short chapters that draw you in and inevitably lift your spirits even when touching upon the heart-wrenching tragedy of losing a daughter. 

She doesn’t drag you through every painful detail of that ordeal but rather highlights her philosophy that arose in that dark period to help her make it through that and surely other challenges in her world. 

“I smile, because I vowed long ago that I would never allow the tragedy of her early death to overshadow the wondrous joy that she brought to my life; it would be an injustice to always remember her through a flood of tears,” she said. 

As is typical in Cambria, when dire needs arise, we come to call with — casseroles and donations for medical costs — and Grau was graced with the support of friends, family and the gals in her exercise classes. She began sending out group emails to bring everybody up to date on her condition and plans. 

“Everybody seemed to think they were funny and then kept at me to put them together in a book,” she said. “So, with a bit of prodding and loads and loads of support and direction, I did! My writing group read it…even though I was writing about myself and having fun with it, they encouraged me to share some serious stuff, to go deeper — this stuff was funny but they pointed out there was more to me than that and this event.” 

She has tastefully and wittily done that all. And kudos to her for not only surviving a dangerous disease but has now even survived the rigors of self-publishing her own book. Lots of things to smile about, to think about… and gain from. Not only that, but a full 25% of the proceeds go to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

Good read, good deed… “Don’t save all your kisses.” 

You’ll just have to pick up a copy to find what I’m smiling about with that comment. It’s available at all your usual book outlets. It was a real learning experience. Writing was easy but publishing was hard. Because of her age and illness, it would take a book two years to publish if it were to be published, and then they want you around to do signings and do another book, etc.

Dianne Brooke’s column is special to The Cambrian. Contact her at