Jim Zervanos was in a good place when a lymphoma diagnosis brought everything to a screeching halt. The 41-year-old new father was perfectly content as an English teacher at Media’s Penncrest High School, a job he’d supplemented with award-winning short stories and a novel. Five years and two memoirs later, Zervanos is still getting his head around the lessons he learned from the harrowing experience.
MLT: What drove your switch from fiction to your 2022 memoir, That Time I Got Cancer?
JZ: Living through such an extreme experience. It was a natural transition from an “it could be fatal” prognosis to exploring how I wanted to be with the time I had remaining. I decided I wanted to be present, aware and at peace. A year into it, I started documenting the experience and sending pages to writer friends. Eventually, they told me I had a first draft.
MLT: What’s the core idea behind the book?
JZ: On the most literal level, the story is about love, relationships and not wasting time on the negative side of experience. There are layers of love—for my wife and one of my doctors. Given the challenging clinical experience, the best treatment for my condition was mutual trust between the three of us.
MLT: What are readers getting out of the book?
JZ: They keep reflecting on the spiritual or philosophical awareness—maybe mindfulness—my story awakens in them.
MLT: Your next book, Your Story Starts Here: A Year on the Brink with Generation Z, is due next year. Tell us about that.
JZ: It’s about my life as a teacher and a dad, written as a journal of 2016, the time of #MeToo and Trump. I was teaching high school seniors, and my wife had just started a doctoral program at the University of Pennsylvania. It couldn’t be more unrelated to That Time I Got Cancer, but it seemed like a good time for a second memoir.
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