Oakland County author and health advocate Kat Harrison helps kids facing medical procedures with her new children’s book Surgery on Sunday
By Chelsie Dzbanski
Photos courtesy of Kat Harrison
Having surgery can be scary — especially if you’re a kid. And Kat Harrison would know. The Oakland County-based author — who battles a plethora of chronic illnesses — spent most of her childhood in and out of the hospital. By the time she hit 30 years old, she’d undergone 14 surgeries. Now, Harrison is aiming to help kids facing medical issues with her new book, Surgery on Sunday. The story gives a unique-yet-relatable perspective on what it’s like to spend time in a hospital and inspires children to be brave.
SEEN asked Harrison to share more about the book and why it’s so important that young patients have the support they need.
Tell us a little about yourself and your professional background.
My professional background is in lifestyle journalism, primarily in the parenting sphere. I am equal parts writer, dog mom and chronic illness advocate. As much as I love words, I also collect diagnoses. I live with bilateral vestibular loss [Editor’s note: this condition results in difficulty maintaining balance]; oscillopsia [Editor’s note: this condition affects the eye’s ability to stabilize images]; chronic migraine and a very rare headache condition called SUNCT Syndrome. All that goes to say — my brain likes attention. Occasionally we get along, but most of the time it’s well-mannered anarchy.
How did you get started in the industry? Did you always want to be an author?
My career began in magazines. I interned at publications like Glamour and Good Housekeeping before I accepted an associate editor position at New York Family. My health called the shots for a long time, but I found my way back to media through The Mighty, a digital health community where I’m currently the community content manager. I write and talk about chronic illness, mental health and disability on a daily basis and I feel so honored to be a voice in that space.
As to your other question, it’s always been a pipe dream of mine to be an author. I thought my first book would be a memoir, so pivoting to children’s books was a bit of a plot twist. But I absolutely adore picture books. They perfectly meld two artistic voices: one written, one illustrated. Writing an actual book that I can hold in my hands is a dream fully realized. I feel so lucky.
Children’s Book Week kicked off on May 4. Can you share a little bit about Surgery on Sunday?
The book tells the story of Sunday — a girl with an ocean-sized imagination — who’s having ear surgery for the very first time. Her mom and dad tell her to put on a brave face, but she’s not so sure what that looks like. Will it be scary? Will it hurt? (And what does it mean to put on a brave face anyway?) When surgery day rolls around, Sunday’s stomach is in knots like a triple-tied shoelace. But thankfully, she has her BFF, Octavia the Octopus, by her side. With the additional help of a few “rules,” her parents, kind doctors and nurses, she soon learns surgery isn’t so scary after all. It actually makes her feel a whole lot better! The book is illustrated by U.K.-based artist Shane Crampton and is capped with a resource page for families that includes relevant conversation starters about surgery.
What inspired you to write this story?
I grew up in and out of the hospital. As I’ve gotten older and my health story has grown more complex, I’ve come to realize that we need to do a better job of talking to kids about the tough stuff in life. Surgery on Sunday is the book I wish would’ve existed when I was younger. Surgeries and hospital stays are chock-full of unknowns and a lot of the material out there, while helpful, is more brochure-like or written by a well-meaning, healthy adult or a medical professional. I wanted to create a book that had both levity and realism, playfulness and honesty — all from a patient perspective.
You’ve undergone 14 different surgeries. What type of advice can you offer to those who may be dealing with similar circumstances on how to keep a positive mindset and a healthy outlook on life?
Contrary to popular belief, forced positivity only does the opposite. Allow yourself to grieve the old you. Feel your feelings and know it’s OK to acknowledge how hard life is. I spent a really long time — too much time, honestly — shoving all of my emotions down into my depths. I was ashamed of my health, my story. I missed being “normal.” But then I realized the only person losing in that war was myself, so I stripped away the façade and started opening up. I embraced my sadness, my loss. And it was in that vulnerable place where I discovered true brightness and authentic joy. I also recommend celebrating your small wins, the little things can add up over time.
Who would you recommend this book to?
Everyone! Just kidding. It’s intended for ages 3-8 but frankly, I’m not sure if anyone really ever phases out of enjoying picture books. The primary audience is for young patients and the people they love, but I also think it’s a good text for discussing and validating emotions. At its core, the book is a story about being brave even when it’s hard — and I think the world needs that message more than ever right now.
To purchase Harrison’s book, go to katwritesforyou.com. Signed copies are also available through her online store.