Trudi Johnston never expected her weekly newspaper column ‘‘Living with a Brain Tumour’’ to gain such a big following.
For almost two years, the young former Oamaru woman wrote a diary in The Star and Oamaru Mail of her experience with cancer, unwavering in her determination to get something to print almost every week, even during her toughest times.
Her readership grew quickly, as she gave an inspiring and very honest account of her journey, right up until her death in 2006.
Sixteen years later, Trudi’s writing is continuing to have an impact with the launch of a new book, Trudi’s Diary: Living With A Brain Tumour, a collection of her weekly columns in The Star and Oamaru Mail, as well as photos and poems, detailing her life and experience with cancer.
Trudi, who was born and raised in Oamaru, started writing the column in 2004, age 24.
The Star editor Barry Clarke had approached CanTeen looking for a young person living with cancer to write about their journey in the Christchurch newspaper.
Trudi, who was living in Christchurch at the time and had recently been diagnosed with a brain tumour, was quick to put her hand up to do it. Because of her links to Oamaru — she went to St Joseph’s School and St Kevin’s College, and her family lived in the North Otago town until 2001 — it was decided her columns would also be published weekly in the Oamaru Mail.
While her parents, Pat and Jock, had some reservations, she convinced them that sharing her experience publicly would be a great opportunity to raise awareness of CanTeen, an organisation in which she had been involved since her early teenage years, after she was first diagnosed with cancer — non-Hodgkin lymphoma — aged 8.
She had been in remission for 14 years, until the brain tumour was discovered.
Writing a weekly column was not an easy assignment.
Mr Clarke warned Trudi that there would probably be times she would want to give up, and if things got bad for her health-wise, she would need to be honest and straight with readers. But she was up for the challenge, and shared her journey ‘‘warts and all’’ with readers of the two newspapers, inspiring so many people with her courage, honesty and relentless positivity, Mr Johnston said.
Not wanting Trudi’s inspirational story to end up as just yellowing newspaper cuttings in the garage, Mr and Mrs Johnston had always planned to get all of their daughter’s columns printed in book form as a tribute to a remarkable young woman, and a record for family and friends. If it could inspire other young people living with cancer, that would be a bonus, they said.
With the help of Mr Clarke, and an old Oamaru friend, Bruce Doran, who formerly worked at the Oamaru Mail and now runs a printing business in the North Island, they finally got started about two and a-half years ago and the book was released last week.
The columns in the book are produced as they appeared in the newspapers, and Mrs Johnston has also shared ‘‘A Mother’s Tale’’ of Trudi’s story up to when she started writing her columns. The book ends with letters of support written to Trudi and her family, and a selection of Trudi’s poems.
While it had a sad ending, Trudi’s Diary: Living With A Brain Tumour was an inspirational book, full of humour and hope, Mrs Johnston said. Trudi had remained positive throughout her treatment, never complaining and always looking forward.
‘‘It doesn’t mean she wasn’t concerned or worried about herself, as you can see in the diary,’’ Mrs Johnston said.
‘‘She’d wake up at night and worry about the scan coming up and all the rest of it — she was only human.
‘‘She just had a good attitude to dealing with it.’’
For Mr and Mrs Johnston, going back through all of Trudi’s columns and poems, and all the messages of support they had received, had been tough, but they knew Trudi would be ‘‘really happy’’ the legacy of her diary lived on, and her support for CanTeen was continuing, with proceeds from the book going towards the organisation that supports young New Zealanders impacted by cancer.
Trudi’s Diary: Living With A Brain Tumour is available online at trudijohnston.co.nz