By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express
For summer break, some teachers tackle those personal projects that they don’t have time for during the school year. For one teacher, that was to bring a children’s book about her brother to the world.
Teacher Lisa Beganyi says the idea to write her debut work, Michael Is Just Like You, came after discovering a story written by her mother after Beganyi’s brother, Michael, was born.
“It actually was my mom’s idea decades ago. When Michael was born, she wrote the first draft of the book and put it away in a drawer. And then when I was younger, I came across it and have kept it and then decided that I would try to rework it and illustrate it myself and then I sent it off to a few publishers. I heard back from one and here it is,” Beganyi tells The Oshawa Express. “It took about two years to work on it and illustrate it, back and forth with revisions and all that. So I’m really happy with it.”
The book details Michael and how he has dealt with retinoblastoma, a rare cancer that targets the immature cells in the retina, the eyes’ light-detecting tissue. Retinoblastoma affects one in every 18,000 to 30,000 live births worldwide, with diagnoses happening more frequently in developing countries.
Michael was diagnosed with retinoblastoma when he was three months old. The cancer left him with 10 per cent vision in his one remaining eye, which gets boosted to 20 per cent when he wears glasses.
As a young child, Michael says living with a disability could be difficult.
“When you’re growing up with a disability, of course it’s hard to adjust in some ways, especially around young children and when you meet new people. It would happen right up until I was in high school, where I’d be looking at somebody, and they don’t know that I’m looking at them, so they’d be looking over their shoulder to see what I was looking at. So you have to come to terms with that,” he tells The Oshawa Express. “So my mom writing the original book, obviously, touched me really closely, and it was her way of giving me a gift to take forward and show my kids. It’s something to be proud of.”
Michael, however, hasn’t let the disability keep him down and is now working to help others facing disabilities of their own.
“I did an undergrad and a masters, with my masters was focused on disability in theory and practice. When I originally applied for my masters, I went with a different proposal, but when I was in there for the first couple months, I was doing a course and some artwork, and some of the artwork really reflected disability and it just hit me,” Michael says. That was a really important piece to me. So I took it forward and that’s the line of work that I’m in right now.”
Going ahead, Lisa says she would like to write more children’s books, having already laid out ideas for two more, one of which deals with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
“I have always been interested in illustration and story ideas. (Michael Is Just Like You) really inspired me because it was so close to my heart, so this was the beginning. From there, I have a whole bunch of drafts and other stories, which I’m going to send out and hopefully get published as well,” she says. “I’m working on one that’s about obsessive-compulsive disorder in children, and that is the next one that I have illustrated. I also have a book for young adults, but that’ll be something totally different.”
Lisa says her debut work, as well as her planned book on obsessive-compulsive disorder, will help children learn about health concerns they likely wouldn’t otherwise hear about.
“Something like retinoblastoma is extremely rare, but something like obsessive-compulsive disorder and mental health issues are becoming much more well known and spoken about, even in schools now,” she says. “So I do like to bring awareness of these different conditions to people, and especially young children, because this is pretty much targeted for younger children.”
Lisa’s book is available in paperback on Amazon, and she expects it to be in stores later this year. A portion of the proceeds from book sales will be donated to charity.