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May 23. 2013 8:05PM

Book tells story of wife's battle with cancer


Earle Whitcher and his publisher, Tom Holbrook, show off a copy of the book. (Courtesy)

CHESTER -- When Earle Whitcher's wife, Judy, was diagnosed with a rare, aggressive type of breast cancer in 2008, Earle asked Judy whether she wanted to keep it to herself or let everyone know what was going on.

"She wanted to tell the truth and let anyone who wanted to know anything know it," said Chester resident Whitcher, who will be at the Chester Public Library on Saturday reading from "Judy's Journey," his book about his wife's three-year battle with cancer. "She did not want anyone to play around with rumor or innuendo."

From the first day of the diagnosis, Earle sent out e-mail messages to their family and close friends updating them on Judy's fight. Those e-mails would end up being the basis for "Judy's Journey," which was published by Portsmouth-based RiverRun bookstore.

"Judy passed on Feb. 11, 2011," said Whitcher. "After it was over, several people said I should gather all the e-mail messages and write a book."

At first, Whitcher didn't think that would ever happen.

"I spent 33 years with the Local 633 Teamsters and retired from driving in December of 2010," he said. "Writing a book was completely beyond anything I had ever done, and I had no idea where to begin."

However, Judy's cousin, Anna Davis, kept on Whitcher to write a book about what he and Judy had gone through.

"She's a strong-willed lady and she started in on me on writing the book and would not take no for an answer," said Whitcher. "I finally said to do it, I would have to have all the messages and I hadn't saved them."

Davis suggested Whitcher email the people he had originally sent the messages to and see if anyone had saved them, so Whitcher went home, sent out the email to everyone on his list and went to bed.

"I thought, who in their right mind would save all those messages?" said Whitcher. "I did it mostly to get Anna off my back. But when I got up the next morning, I had almost 300 messages and I was in shock."

Later that morning, Whitcher called Anna to tell her he had gotten the emails and was ready to be an author.

"I told her that she just became an editor," he said. "I have to give cousin Anna all the credit. She was the one to send me on my road."

Writing the book was a cathartic experience, Whitcher said.

"I feel like I'm a lot further along than if I had just sat around brooding on it," he said.

The book follows a chronological timeline, with an introduction about how Earle and Judy met.

While it was difficult at times to get through the chapters, Whitcher said the writing went fairly quickly until he got to the chapter on 2011, the year Judy died.

"I wasn't making up a story; I was reliving the story," he said. "I knew what was going to happen, and when I got up to 2011, I couldn't continue."

The book sat there for 2½ months before Whitcher was able to finish it.

"I was planning a trip to visit my brother in Texas in February of 2012, and it came to me that if I did not finish it off before I left, it might not get finished at all," he said. "That forced me to get through the last chapter and get it to Anna."

After finishing the first draft, Whitcher and Davis worked together to edit and polish the book before meeting with Tom Holbrook of RiverRun Bookstore in Portsmouth. Holbrook had recently started a small publishing company and was interested in "Judy's Journey."

The first copy of the book came off the presses this past January. Since the publication, Whitcher said he has been overwhelmed by the reception he has gotten from readers who have shared their stories of loved ones' struggles with cancer.

"I never realized how many people where affected by this horrible, horrible disease," said Whitcher. "You can read the statistics, but that doesn't put a face on it."

While the book does not have a happy, Hollywood ending, Whitcher said people can take strength from Judy's zest for life and living every minute to the fullest.

"She passed on Feb. 11, 2011, and that March would have been our 42nd anniversary," he said. "We met for the first time when she was 10 and I was 12, so we had known each other for a very long time. They say I married the girl next door, but there was actually one house between us. We had a good life together."

Whitcher will be reading from and signing copies of "Judy's Journey" at the Chester Public Library at 3 Chester St. at 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 25.

aswift@newstote.com


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