Ruby Lang on Illness and Inspiration

Clean Breaks by Ruby LangAuthors draw inspiration from the world around them, dreams — and their own personal lives. Today Ruby Lang is here to tell us how heroine, a cancer survivor and OB/GYN from her upcoming contemporary romance Clean Breaks, got her story. Take it away, Ruby!

One of my first assignments as a young medical journalist was a story on sentinel node biopsy. During this procedure, a surgeon injects a radioactive blue dye near a tumor. The dye accumulates in the lymph nodes. With the help of a radiation detector, the surgeon finds and excises the node and has it tested. As its name indicates, the sentinel node alerts the physicians to a possible problem. If cancer has spread—if it has metastasized—that node is the most likely to be affected.

It seemed a marvelous, futuristic procedure. And I was young and certain that I was talking to people who would make still greater leaps in our understanding of cancer—and that I’d be there to report on them.

A year or two after that assignment, I found a mole on my left breast. It looked like someone had stuck a large thumbtack in me. My dermatologist scheduled a simple excision biopsy. Mole removed, I went back to work later that day.

My dermatologist later told me they’d found abnormal cells, but they’d been excised. Physician friends pushed me to find out more but for some reason, my curiosity ceased. I did, however, begin spending a lot of money on sunscreen.

And eventually, that experience found its way into my brainstorming for my latest contemporary romance, Clean Breaks.

By the time my story opens, the heroine, ob/gyn Sarah Soon, has been declared cancer free. She’s had surgery and sentinel node biopsy. Her doctors confirm that the melanoma has not spread—it hasn’t metastasized. She’s had her follow ups. Her physical scarring is minimal.

The emotional toll on Sarah is a different story, however

Until she was diagnosed, Sarah had been cheerfully and aggressively healthy. One of the running jokes is about her love of kale. She also had, until recently, an enviable degree of self-assurance.

“I see you’ve gotten hot,” she tells the hero—baldly and to his great discomfort—upon meeting him again after 15 years.

Sarah is blunt, sometimes insufferable, but illness throws her. The unpredictability of her illness, especially, causes her to question her control over her life and her ability to reassure her own patients.

Because her cancer is not easily explained. Sarah (like me) is of East Asian descent, a group with a low risk of skin cancer. Sarah’s an outlier. While researching, I looked up melanomas in people of Asian descent. I checked on surgical procedures. Most of this detail did not make it into Clean Breaks. I didn’t write about Sarah’s physical scars.

But I did write about memory—distant and recent—and its impact on what we become. I remembered what it was like to switch from certainty to uncertainty.

I imagined radiation lighting up Sarah’s lymph nodes like a highway at night. I thought of how scary it can be to drive through a new place in the dark.

For Sarah, uncertainty means vulnerability, and her sentinels are on alert. But it is also by being vulnerable that she can be open to a relationship.

Clean Breaks will be available digitally on February 20. You can grab your copy here: Amazon | BN.com | iTunes | GooglePlay | Kobo. Digital copies start at $4.99. And for more love stories, be sure to visit our Everything Romance page.