Author Daniel May has enjoyed a broad range of life experiences–college football kicking specialist, indoor rowing competitor, martial artist, wine expert, restaurateur, and truck driver, to name just a few. In January of 2008, he drove six hundred miles to make dinner for Andrea, his high school sweetheart with whom he’d recently reconnected via the Internet after more than 30 years. A week later, she asked him to marry her. And then they found out that he had Hodgkin Lymphoma. His new memoir, Chemo Honeymoon: A Romantic Medical Odyssey, recounts their whirlwind rekindled romance, PET-scans, CT-scans, biopsies, exploratory surgery, wedding, and Berkshires honeymoon tucked in between medical procedures.
Gina: What’s your writing background previous to this book?
Danny: I wrote two wine books and several years’ worth of monthly wine articles for Berkshire HomeStyle magazine. Wine really lends itself to writing—we can transcribe music and chemical reactions for posterity, and record events with photos and film; however, we are limited to language when it comes to memorializing the taste of a particular wine.
Gina: Did you keep a journal during your cancer treatments? When did you decide to write the memoir and why?
Danny: No, I didn’t keep a journal, per se, but I started writing the actual book early on. My family insisted that I do so after I described to them the particulars of my bone marrow biopsy. I have a compulsive need to understand the underlying science of everything around me, and so I read as much as I could understand about cancer treatments. My doctors were very helpful with this. And after going to such lengths to explain cancer to myself, I wanted to share what I had learned with my fellow patients and their families. When it comes to things like cancer, knowledge often displaces fear.
Gina: Why did you decide to self-publish and how has the experience been for you so far? What company did you work with?
Danny: As you know, literary agents have long been the gatekeepers. They are also scared to death, I have reason to suspect, about the potential implications of e-publishing. Perhaps because of this, I couldn’t get even one agent to read a single page of Chemo Honeymoon. And when I have worked with agents and editors in the past, I’ve seen my work manipulated beyond recognition. An old girlfriend who works in the publishing industry suggested Amazon’s new Createspace program to me… “the wave of the future,” she called it. And so I am selling my actual words in their raw, unedited state, printed to order by Amazon. They’ve been terrific to work with!
Gina: You decided to stay in the Berkshires for your cancer treatments rather than go to Boston or New York. It does seem that a lot of people here are under the impression that they have to go to a city for quality care when faced with catastrophic illness. Please tell me about your decision and medical experience here.
Danny: Being treated in the Berkshires wasn’t completely by choice. Simply put, I couldn’t afford to miss the time at work that commuting to Boston or New York would have required. But I soon realized that decades of research and high-speed e-communication has made it possible for oncologists in outlying regions like the Berkshires to offer a level of treatment identical to that offered in the big cities. I also figured out that my doctors were highly respected in their specialties. I had a lot of confidence in them.
Gina: You write about Guido’s customers’ sometimes-inappropriate comments when you lost your hair during chemo. I remember seeing you behind the fish counter during that time and registering your illness and, since we don’t know each other well, not knowing what, if anything, to say. I also remember seeing you in line at Fuel Coffee Shop, after your hair started growing back, and feeling compelled to speak up and tell you that you looked good. Great Barrington is a small town. What is the proper cancer etiquette?
Danny: When in doubt, don’t say anything unless you have cancer yourself and perhaps recognize someone from the chemo salon. If you are close enough friends that you should know, they will have told you already. By the way, I once tried to commiserate with a bald man who turned out to be just bald.
Gina: You mention in the book that pink champagne is your favorite wine. Please tell me about the kind you like best and what it tastes like. When did you first experience it? (I love, by the way, your sommelier description of barium sulfate.)
Danny: I’ll never forget my first sip of Domaine Chandon “Blanc de Noirs” in 1981. 100% Pinot Noir… Varietally-correct Californian fruitiness with bubbles imparted by the traditional French methode champenoise. Now they also bottle a pinker-yet “Brut Rosé.” I also love Mumm Cuvée Napa Blanc de Noir and Gruet’s New Mexico bottlings. It seems that these French champagne houses operating in the US have the upper hand in this category.
Gina: You served “Rebecca’s Breads” at your wedding reception, calling her “the pre-eminent guerilla baker in the Berkshires.” What does it mean to be a guerilla baker and where can I find her?
Danny: Rebecca baked drop-dead fabulous breads in her home oven… very unofficial vis-à-vis the governmental authorities that regulate such things. She did all her business by email, personal delivery, and cash. From what I hear, she no longer bakes. It’s the Berkshires’ loss.
Gina: If the movie rights sell to Chemo Honeymoon, who should play you and Andrea?
Danny: Laura Leighton (of Melrose Place) should play Andrea; they are actually second cousins. Me? I can’t say. I’m not much of a film or TV buff, so anyone I could think of would be too big a star to play an “everyman.” Brad Pitt would definitely be overkill.