“Sometimes I think of writing a book about my story … maybe when my life settles down, I will find the time.”
Sudburian Laura Cotesta wrote those words on May 17, 1995, at the age of 16.
Having been diagnosed with an ependymoma spinal cord tumour when she was eight years old, Laura passed away at the age of 18, on July 22, 1997, shortly after high school graduation. She had lived with cancer for a decade.
You might recognize Laura's name from Lockerby Composite School's Kids Caring for Kids Remembering Laura Cotesta Cancer Drive, which has raised close to $1 million to support pediatric cancer care in Northern Ontario.
“The Sun Will Shine,” a book chronicling Laura's life with childhood cancer in her own words, will be released Feb. 18 by StoriaBooks.
StoriaBooks is a new imprint of local publishing company Latitude 46 Publishing, dedicated to telling community stories and personal histories.
The book is comprised of Laura’s writings taken from personal journals, essays, and school assignments.
“I feel like I've fulfilled her dream of what she wanted,” said Laura's mother, Pina Cotesta.
She said her daughter, the eldest of three girls, always found peace in writing as a way to process her experiences as she dealt with cancer treatment.
The idea of publishing Laura's writing has always been something that's been in the back of Pina's mind. She had about 12 boxes of material that she'd carefully stored for two decades.
“When we went through them, we found all these special things that she said and how heartfelt they were, and we got to see her real emotions, like how she really, really felt about the whole situation,” Pina said.
The book was edited by Laura's childhood friend, Laura Stradiotto, one of the owners of Latitude 46 Publishing.
She said after she was approached by Pina Contesta, she realized that Laura Cotesta had already written her book, and she just needed to curate it.
“Laura was my friend, but at the same time, I wasn't in her head,” Stradiotto said.
“A lot of it was revealing, I guess. Through these writings she shared her innermost thoughts. So it was emotional, certainly, because it brought back a lot of memories, as well.”
“The Sun Will Shine” features Laura's writing from the time she was diagnosed at eight years old until her death.
She revisited the story of her diagnosis many times, writing it with more detail and maturity as she got older.
Some of her writings express sentiments such as “why me?” but Laura also wrote about the hope of finding happiness after going through adversity.
Laura, in an independent study assignment she did for her Lockerby Composite School OAC English class just six months before she died, wrote “nothing is more beautiful than to see yourself dying.”
The assignment was to study two novels and come up with a thesis, but Laura decided to relate their lessons to her own life.
Among those lessons were to know yourself and see the world clearly, accept death as part of life, embrace the experience of dying, find the true meaning in death, and know what is essential — family, friends, honesty and trust.
In listening to Laura's presentation, the class was “stunned,” said Ronda Lenti, Laura's OAC English teacher and a friend of Pina's who helped curate the material for the book.
“They were locked into every word she said,” Lenti said. “They knew they were a part of something profound. They were not just observers, but they were a part of something very, very special.”
Poignantly, the book has even printed replicas of the notes she wrote on her deathbed, despite no longer being able to see, hear or speak. They say things like: “Don't Forget Me” and “Don't Worry, I'll Be OK.”
“The Sun Will Shine” was launched at a private event on Feb. 10 in Sudbury with family and friends.
Books are available now online through Latitude 46 Publishing at in person at the Northern Cancer Foundation. Books will be available Feb. 18 online at Chapters and Amazon and in select stores across the country.