Henda Salmeron (Photo courtesy of Henda Salmeron)

East Dallas is home to authors in droves. From journalists to memoirists, our neighborhood’s literacy is something to write home about. These two neighbors have recently published books that celebrate the power of women.

Shakespeare inspires Henda Salmeron’s “memoir in three acts”, but “Grit Under My Nails” tells her story of surviving cancer, 100-mile races and advocating in the state for a new law to protect women from breast cancer.

Salmeron came to the United States from an abusive childhood in South Africa and made the most of her opportunity. She studied computer science, but after the tech crash of 2001 she realized she wanted to work for herself and moved into real estate.

She said she got more and more out of shape, but decided to lose weight and picked up rowing. She moved on to distance running, running 100 mile-races all over the world. When her weight loss revealed a lump in her breast, she wondered why it had never been noticed in any previous scans. The lump was cancer.

While still dealing with the shock of cancer, she suffered a heart attack in Peru. “It brought me to my knees,” Salmeron says. The cancer hadn’t been picked up by scans because of her dense breast tissue. She knew there were other women out there with the same condition. According to the Mayo Clinic, about half of all women have dense breasts, which can hide cancerous cells in mammograms and scans.

Salmeron went on a mission to make sure women knew their condition and the risks involved. She began to lobby state lawmakers, tirelessly working to get a bill passed that requires doctors to notify women if they have dense breasts. Today, only eight states don’t have a law that is known as Henda’s law in Austin.

Salmeron’s book started as a blog after her diagnosis. It was mostly written for her children, who are now in high school and college. “I was afraid they wouldn’t know their mother. I was afraid nobody would tell them,” she says. The final book details her upbringing, legal advocacy and heroic fitness accomplishments.

In addition to real estate, Salmeron is an inspirational speaker, often invited to speak at breast cancer conferences around the country. “Through this journey I have learned how much I love storytelling and the way it can connect us together.”

Image courtesy of Monica Shaw

Monica Shaw, who owns her own business and teaches exercise classes at the White Rock YMCA, is a mother to three young adult children and the author of a novel. Called “The Rainwater Secret,” it tells a courageous and moving story inspired by her great aunt’s work withal a leper colony in Africa.

Shaw’s aunt Lilly Murphy left a career as a teacher to become a nun with the Medical Missionaries of Mary (MMM), a Catholic group committed to serving the medical needs of the underserved around the world.

The Missionaries took her to Nigeria, where her group invited the lepers of the region into their community after they had been cast out of their towns. The nuns purchased land from chieftains for the lepers to farm and live, while the women provided schooling and medical care. Many of the students went on to be teachers in their own villages after finishing school with the nuns.

Shaw’s journey involved seven years of research including exploring the MMM’s archives in Ireland, which contained newsletters written by her aunt. The letters captured much of their work in Africa. “She was a really good writer. The way she wrote, I felt like I could see it,” Shaw says.

Shaw met Murphy, who lived to be 107, a few times growing up, but most the idea for the book came after Murphy’s death. The book is fiction, but uses Murphy’s story to guide the adventures of Anna Goodwill in the book. Shaw is continually impressed with the selflessness of servants like her aunt. They gave their whole life to other people,” she says.

She will be signing copies at Lakewood Library on May 8. A portion of all sales will be donated to the Medical Missionaries of Mary.

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