Miami-based mom Tamara B. Rodriguez was horrified when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Among the questions that swirled in her mind were: What was life going to be like for her in the next three months? Then the ultimate mother’s dilemma lay before her: how to reveal the life-changing news to her children? Then an idea occurred to her…why not write a photo book about it to convey the nature of the disease to her daughters, while also helping other moms facing the same situation? This was how Hair to the Queen, her stunning, sensitively-worded, book—illustrated by Carole A. Smith—was conceptualized.
Women of color make up a huge chunk of the estimated 246,000 diagnosis this year alone. Tamara B. Rodriguez’s book is one of the rare books to feature a plot with a cancer patient of color. The Haiti-born, Florida-raised community leader broke down her Hair to the Queen book and her latest breast cancer activism in a conversation with your fave chick Kreyolicious.
Kreyolicious: In all, how long did it take you to finish your book from concept to end product?
Conceptually, I had the story structured in a few months, but it took over two years because I took the time to appreciate the process. My dear friend and award-winning author, Edwidge Danticat, advised me to enjoy the journey, so I did.
Kreyolicious: What sort of feedback have you gotten from readers?
The book is being really well received, especially by the medical community, who immediately have recognized the need for a modern and uplifting story that can help families discuss a not-so-fun subject in a fun way.
Kreyolicious: Many breast cancer survivors have said that addressing breast cancer and getting together with other survivors helped them heal.
I completely agree. In Haitian culture, we don’t like to talk openly about anything uncomfortable, especially cancer. However, it’s only when people talk about it, that others can be saved.
Kreyolicious: Absolutely, and true of all cultures, no doubt. You have collaborated with several organizations, including The Alfred Beliard Foundation. Can you tell us more about your work with them?
The Alfred Beliard Foundation is an organization that focuses on cancer education, early prevention, and treatment in Cap-Haïtien and the northern part of Haiti. Can you believe there is no oncologist in Cap-Haitien? That means that people are dying with preventable cancers for absolutely no reason! The Alfred Beliard Foundation educates the people in underserved communities about cancer. Also, we partner with international organizations that offer equipment and resources to provide assistance in those areas. Currently, we are developing solutions for patients with ovarian and breast cancer. In the long run, we would like to have a full-service oncology center in Cap-Haïtien.
Kreyolicious: You wrote this book for your daughters. As an adult, what did you read to come to terms with your initial diagnosis?
I read a few books, but what really helped the most was the honest conversations I had with survivors.
Kreyolicious: Have you thought about spinoffs of this book? Perhaps co-authoring books with other cancer survivors?
During the writing process of Hair to the Queen!, I knew I wanted to develop certain characters for a spin-off. In Hair to the Queen!, there’s a party guest named Teo, who was inspired by a little boy who has leukemia. This book is written from a little girl’s perspective, and it also would be beneficial to have the story told from a little boy’s perspective, as well. In general, children are incredibly resilient, but boys and girls definitely go through different emotions. For example, most girls focus on their hair and overall appearance. Although boys certainly have their own particularities, they process information and respond differently than girls.
Kreyolicious: What would you like to say to those who have been newly diagnosed and their families?
Support, support, support. There is an indescribable mix of emotions that comes with a diagnosis: Am I going to die? What will happen to my children? Do I tell people? Why me?
It is critical for families and friends to rally around the patient, and I was blessed to have an amazing support system. My young daughters, surprisingly, gave me such strength, and that was the reason I decided to write my first children’s book. If you just take the time to talk and listen to what they have to say, you’ll be surprised by how much children understand.
Do you have someone in your family or circle who could benefit from Tamara B. Rodriguez’s book Hair to the Queen? CLICK HERE to order it! CLICK HERE TO VISIT Tamara B. Rodriguez’s website and learn more about Hair to the Queen|