Crystal Prusha came to UI Children’s Hospital at age 16 after doctors found a tumor in her uterus. She was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer that grew in her soft tissue, leading to an emergency hysterectomy, 27 rounds of chemotherapy, and 25 rounds of radiation treatment.
Prusha, now 27, has turned her experience with cancer and the relationship she formed with her doctor, Sue O'Dorisio, MD, PhD, into a children’s book she wrote and illustrated: The Day I Beat Mr. C, published in December 2010.
The story centers on a young girl who overcomes cancer with the help of her doctor, Dr. O. In the book, the young patient’s mom paints her daughter’s head every day to match her outfit.
That particular story detail was an example of art imitating life. As a cheerleader during Marshalltown’s trip to the Iowa state basketball tournament, Prusha remembers turning her chemotherapy-induced hair loss into a special way to show her school pride.
“We would paint bobcats—our mascot—on my head. One time it was bright red with the bobcats across it and another time it was blue with paw prints,” she says.
As she continued through her own cancer treatments, Prusha found she couldn’t relate to existing stories of young people with cancer. “I didn’t have a hard time being sick or bald, like most little girls or women do,” she says. “I didn’t have to worry about my hair or have to shave my legs. For Halloween, I went as Mr. Clean. I just had fun with it.”
She has already seen the impact The Day I Beat Mr. C has had on families. At her first book signing in Marshalltown she met a woman with two children whose young cousin had been diagnosed with cancer. “She had no idea how to explain it to her girls. She thought my book was awesome,” Prusha says. “I just hope it helps.”
Prusha returned to UI Hospitals and Clinics April 19—not as a patient, but as a cancer survivor and children’s book author. She signed copies of The Day I Beat Mr. C in the new Patients’ Library.
She has begun work on a second children’s book about a young boy who goes through physical therapy, radiation, and deals with losing an arm. The inspiration for the story came while Prusha was staying at UI Children’s Hospital and met a little girl who made a big impact on her.
“She came in and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to me at the hospital, and we were roommates. She was on her last round of chemo and relapsed again,” Prusha says. “She looked at her mom and dad and said ‘I don’t want to go back to the hospital.’ She was very influential for me for this next book.”
Prusha’s goal for The Day I Beat Mr. C is to give children living with cancer hope for the future.
“I believe 90 percent of the battle is your attitude. If you tell kids that they might not make it, it’s not going to help their state of mind,” she says. “They need everything they can to stay positive about it. With a little help, most of them do great and keep a positive attitude.”