Area cancer survivor authors personal, comedic tell-all

Gina Zanutto

Ascension Parish resident Desiree Cart Dugas, a thyroid cancer survivor and self-published author, has cultivated a self-deprecating sense of humor, adopted a unique perspective on faith and battled mental illness.

“I tell people all the time, I am not a writer but a storyteller,” Dugas said. “I'm honest with my thoughts and feelings whether they be happy, sad, inappropriate or snarky, but the one thing I hear from all my readers is, ‘Desiree we love you the most because you are so darn honest with your feelings.’”

Her new novel, entitled “I Cursed God...But He Listened Anyway,” details Dugas’ mental, physical and emotional trials and tribulations in the midst of Hurricane Katrina followed by her gradual acceptance of personal circumstances and her journey to remedy negative situations.

“I had finally found my niche, when I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2005, and that is where my memoir begins” Dugas said.  “My greatest struggle was to get out of the hospital and return to my house in Prairieville after receiving radioactive Iodine treatment for my thyroid cancer just a few days before Hurricane Katrina hit. Let's just say I thought Armageddon had come, and I was living it. I was so nauseated from treatment I could not prepare for the Hurricane.”

After the tremendous health scare, medical professionals diagnosed Dugas with Bipolar disorder caused by the removal of her thyroid and the resulting hormone imbalance. This disease is characterized by frequent, extreme changes in mood and behavior, with the afflicted shifting between depression and mania.

“I wrote this book to put a face to mental illness,” Dugas said. “Many people are ashamed of the disease. I am Bipolar, I embrace it. I make fun of myself most of the time, but I also let the reader see the depression I fight daily.”

Although Dugas’ conceptions regarding religion have changed throughout her life, she said she tries to remain faithful even in difficult scenarios.

“I am not going to lie, I struggle with my faith every day. I pray and talk to God in my own special way. Sometimes I feel his presence, and many times I don’t,” she said.  “In my memoir, I talk about other things that have happened that I know God had a hand in. I've come to realize, or rather I feel, that God has a special purpose for me.”

Dugas’ notoriety has been largely catalyzed via social media, like Facebook. Dugas’ four daughters, ages 21, 18, 16 and 11, created her account during her rehabilitation to help her cope with her treatment and depression.

“I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook. I tend to make jokes, take pictures that make people laugh, and sometimes vent on something that frustrates me,” Dugas said. “Social media has given me a voice. Since my health is precarious sometimes, the only contact I have is through Facebook. I feel better if I lay flat on my back, so there are many days I don't get out, and it's nice to be able to talk with my friends and family on Facebook.”

However, Dugas had no prior technological experience and took her time adjusting to the online environment. She currently posts videos and other content on a number of websites, including YouTube.

“I set out to write a book in nine months without even knowing how to write, type, save, or even send an e-mail,” Dugas said. “I started doing silly videos on YouTube as a joke. Everybody knows I love to dance, so my friends would suggest a song, and I would learn a dance and be silly about it. People tell me everyday ‘your videos make us smile.’”

Dugas’ plans for the future include professional publishing and editing. She stated she would also like to include stories and information from friends and family.

“Ideally my plan for the future is to get published,” Dugas said. “I would like to fix the mistakes on this memoir. I'm a perfectionist so I guess my book will never be good enough. I would like my friends to be part of it and let them write letters to me and tack it in the front of my memoir.”

As for her past, Dugas was born in Galliano, Louisiana. Her father was an education professional, and upon her parents’ divorce, her mother resided in mental health institutions.

“My life was hard because my mother had a nervous breakdown when I was 10 years old with the impending divorce of my parents,” Dugas said.

Despite these hardships, Dugas graduated from Rayne High School in 1981 and from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in 1984 with a degree in Personnel Management. She also participated in the Girl Scouts of America, opened a children’s boutique and welded industrial gear at her husband’s store.

“When I dive into something, it’s always head first,” Dugas said.

Dugas has printed 50 copies of her book, selling 10 and distributing more than 300, stating that “the story was more important than the money.” Her novel is available at the River Region Art Association in Gonzales and at The Book Rack in Prairieville.

“I've been through it all, to hell and back so many times I've lost count,” Dugas said. “I always say my life is like a quilt, the more holes you have, the more stories you have to tell. Boy, do I have a lot of holes and stories to tell.”