By Sarah Todd Hammer and Jennifer Starzec
We, Sarah Todd Hammer and Jennifer Starzec, have been writing since 2012, and it has brought us closer together. From FaceTiming for three to five hours at a time to write, to staying up until two in the morning putting the final touches on our third book, sharing our stories with the world has provided us with unforgettable memories. We’re seventeen and twenty-one years old, and when we started the 5k, Ballet series, we were only ten and fourteen years old. Every book we publish is different, but each one pertains to our diagnoses and what comes along with them. When we began writing our first book, we had no idea how much our series would grow or how much of an impact it would have on others (and ourselves!). Several people—patients, parents of patients, and caregivers alike—have come to us and shared how much our books have helped them get through rough times, which makes both of us incredibly happy. One of our main goals when we first started the series was to help spread positivity and encourage others, because we know dealing with life-altering disorders such as rare neuroimmune disorders is extremely difficult, and it has become clear to us that we’ve succeeded in accomplishing that goal!
Up and Down
Six years ago, we published our first book, 5k, Ballet, and a Spinal Cord Injury. Three years ago, we published our second book, Determination. And now, three years later, we’ve completed the 5k, Ballet trilogy with the publication of Up and Down! We’d always known we wanted to make the 5k, Ballet series a trilogy, and it is so incredibly rewarding to have accomplished that.
Our lives were changed when we were only eight and thirteen years old through diagnoses of acute flaccid myelitis (AFM) and transverse myelitis (TM), but we were both determined to dance and run again as we struggled to cope with our new disabilities. As we got closer to one another and became great friends, we found a lot of support and comfort in our friendship. Every time we had any sort of hardship, we knew we could always talk to each other.
Just like our friendship has helped us get through the difficult times, so has music. We’ve both found solace in many different forms of music during the “low notes” of our lives with AFM and TM, which has changed how we view our struggles. It’s comforting to know that, no matter how many times life gives us those “low notes,” there are more “high notes” to come. We’ve learned throughout these years that diagnoses of AFM and TM always come with ups and downs, and both of us had a lot of ups and downs during the time period of our newest book—2014 to 2017—hence the title, “Up and Down.” We wanted to show that the “downs” and “low notes” are necessary parts of life, but there are more joyful times to come as well.
Since we started writing in 2012, our skills have grown, and our writing has become more mature. In 5k, Ballet, and a Spinal Cord Injury, the beginning of our stories can be seen through the lens of an elementary schooler and middle schooler. Our stories began when we were young, and as we lived with our disabilities for longer, the experiences we had helped us grow and mature over the course of the series. Because we’ve aged six years since we began the series, Up and Down demonstrates our most mature writing and experiences as young adults as compared to our other two books. Being older presents a unique set of challenges of living with a disability, because navigating through certain situations as a young adult is a challenge for everyone—and even more so when a disability is present on top of it.
Writing is an excellent way for us to share our emotions concerning our disabilities, and we’ve found that it’s cathartic and rejuvenating. It allows us to present ourselves to the world and make an impact in others’ lives through storytelling and charity. And, through writing, we’ve grown closer, and we hope to continue writing together in the future! Although the 5k, Ballet trilogy is over, we know for sure that we’ll continue to share our stories through writing, and it will definitely be exciting to see how many more books we publish! Until our next book release, we encourage our readers to keep their chins up high, follow their dreams, and never give up no matter what life throws at them!