A Chilliwack woman recovering from lung cancer has released a children’s book inspired by her young daughter’s struggles and successes.
Ashley Durance launched The Adventures of Mabel Mouse on Nov. 6, the day before her daughter Hazel’s fourth birthday.
And although Hazel only just turned four, she’s been in hospital more times than most people will be in their entire lives.
Born 17 weeks early, she was a micro-preemie baby at a mere 420 grams. Hazel had complications from the moment she was born, the most severe of which was her underdeveloped lungs. She also had patent ductus arteriosus in which a valve in her heart failed to close after birth, pulmonary hypertension, and a sick liver.
Hazel now lives with chronic lung disease and is blind in her left eye.
About two years ago, Durance started working on The Adventures of Mabel Mouse. She felt there wasn’t enough representation of kids who were differently abled, had disabilities or were medically complex.
“Around the globe, they need to have representation,” Durance said.
“I wrote it and then scrapped it, and then wrote it and then scrapped it, and then wrote it again and it sat for about six months until COVID hit.”
Durance had lost her job as a result and decided to try and finish the book, but she needed an illustrator.
She had heard about Manitoban artist Hannah Teakle through one of her coworkers before the pandemic hit, so Durance reached out to Teakle and soon they were working together on the book.
Things were finally rolling again for Durance. They began designing the characters and started working on the page design.
But then in August, Durance found out she had lung cancer.
“I felt so defeated at that point.”
She had already hit so many road blocks trying to get the book finished. It felt like, yet again, it wasn’t the right time for The Adventures of Mabel Mouse.
“So I asked her to hit the pause button,” Durance recalls saying to Teakle.
Little did she know, Teakle kept right on trucking with the book.
“Hannah is a saint. She said ‘OK, no worries’ and then kept working on it and didn’t tell me until after I had had my surgery.”
Durance had the entire lower left lobe of her lung removed on Oct. 1. All of the cancer was removed and she won’t need to go for chemotherapy or radiation treatment. Her surgeon said she will get normal lung function back in six to 12 months.
When she arrived home after having surgery there was a package from Teakle waiting for her at her house.
It was the first printed proof of The Adventures of Mabel Mouse.
“I just started bawling. It was so overwhelming to hold it.”
Opening up the pages of the book, the reader is introduced to four main characters.
There’s Mabel Mouse (named after Durance’s great-grandmother) who was inspired by Hazel. Both Hazel and Mabel wear glasses and they both like to carry around a satchel to put things in.
Odessa Owl has a nasogastric tube in her beak, and Fergus Fox is in a wheelchair.
And lastly there Holly Hedgehog.
“Holly is just a hedgehog. I didn’t want all the characters to have something different about them. The purpose was to have differently abled characters or kids with medical complexities mixed in with kids who don’t – just like real life.”
She didn’t want to discuss their differences in the book. Instead, when the group runs into challenges, those differences naturally come up in conversation as they talk about how to solve the problem.
Like when Fergus Fox arrives at a rocky patch on the beach and his friends lay planks of wood down so he can get across.
Subsequent books will bring the reader to new places around the world where they’re introduced to more characters, different cultures and cuisines.
“I wanted to have an inclusive way in everything, not just the characters themselves.”
She hopes The Adventures of Mabel Mouse “sparks conversation” for kids who are not differently abled, and is hoping kids who have disabilities will “see themselves in the characters.”
“I want it to be normalized,” she said, adding that all kids no matter their ability or difference should be able to see themselves as a character in a book.
“It was a lot of work, a lot of obstacles, but it’s done,” she said.
The Adventures of Mabel Mouse can be purchased online at Amazon (globally) for $15.99.