BY MARISSA GALLO, firstname.lastname@example.org
6:55 PM EDT, August 31, 2011
When being treated for plasma cellleukemia, Charlotte "Charlie" Barker of Havre de Grace didn't have to go through it alone.
During her time at National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, where Barker received a stem cell transplant in January 2008, she met a fellow cancer patient, Annette Abrams.
Abrams, a former pre-school teacher and artist, and Barker, wife of former Havre de Grace mayor Phil Barker, would have appointments around the same time and struck up a friendship.
Some three years later, Abrams and Barker are cancer survivors, and Abrams has taken her experiences with Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and illustrations she made during her treatment and turned them into her first book, "My Body Needs Help."
Geared toward children and families dealing with cancer, the illustrated book is about a young cancer patient, Netta, who pictures what is going on with her body and describes her feelings "in art and verse," according to the publisher's website, http://www.tenleycirclepress.com.
The teacher-turned-author will be signing her book 9:30-11 a.m. Friday at Java by the Bay in Havre de Grace, as well as Amanda's Florist and Gifts 1:30-2:30 p.m., Vincenti Decoys 2:45-4 p.m., Island Jacks 4:15-5:45 p.m. and at the town's First Friday event beginning at 6 p.m.
Abrams added that once she and the publisher, Tenley Circle Press, recoup expenses, proceeds from the book will be donated to cancer research or to children's literary charities.
"For many hours, I'd be sitting in there [the hospital]. I'd be drawing with my sketchbook and colored pencils," Abrams said.
She eventually showed her drawings to a friend, her son and his girlfriend who all encouraged her to pursue turning her illustrations into a book. "I always wanted to write a children's book."
Abrams' love for children and her experience with a strong support system during her treatment translated well into the book, which was released three weeks ago.
"I would just like to get it to people, doctor's offices, hospitals and clinics where it could be used a helpful resource," Abrams said. She hopes to make children and their families "feel better about what they're going through or what they're about to go through."
When Abrams discussed the book with Barker, her good friend began planning Friday's book signing and meet-and-greets.
"Before I knew it, she was arranging all these book signing and readings for me, Abrams said of Barker.
Barker was happy to do this for her friend, who had left Barker a heart-shaped bowl filled with candy Valentine's Day 2008 when Barker was recovering.
"She was and still is an inspiration," Barker added.
Barker hasn't read the book yet, but said she's "very excited" to get the opportunity.
Though Abrams isn't currently teaching — she's working as a shift manager and barista at a Chevy Chase Starbucks — Barker said her friend hopes to go back to teaching soon.
It was during a shift at Starbucks that Abrams was able to meet a couple, Mark and Darla Davis, whose granddaughter, Lilly, had been diagnosed with leukemia.
The couple had decided to ride bikes from Philadelphia to Texas over two months, stopping at different Starbucks — a sponsor of the ride — along the way.
Each coffee shop, Abrams said, would give the couple a gift bag with one thing to deliver to a children's hospital in Texas. The Davises hope to raise $15,000 for Lance Armstrong's Foundation, LiveStrong.
According to the 2011 Ride for Lilly's website, Mark Davis was due to leave Philadelphia last week for the 3,000-mile ride to Austin, Texas.
Abrams said she initially gave the Davises a single copy of her book, but decided to give 25 instead, so the couple could deliver one to a hospital in each city they visited.
That's exactly what Abrams hopes to accomplish with "My Body Needs Help," she said, to share her story with those going through the same ordeal she did four years ago and to give them hope.