Moving, hopeful and inspirational. These are the words used to describe Jennifer Cramer-Miller’s Incurable Optimist: Living with Illness & Chronic Hope. In this touching memoir, she candidly shares her extraordinary journey, battling kidney disease and embracing life with an unbeatable spirit.
Jennifer’s story has made her a symbol of resilience and positivity. Through her work, she inspires others to find strength and hope in life’s most challenging moments, proving that an unwavering spirit can conquer adversity. Jennifer’s storytelling captures hearts and serves as a beacon of inspiration, reminding us of the transformative power of optimism.
In a nutshell, what is your book about?
Incurable Optimist: Living with Illness and Chronic Hope begins when I was a 22-year-old college graduate with a business degree, happy, healthy, and ready to launch. Suddenly, fatigue and puffy eyes prompted a doctor appointment and a diagnosis: an autoimmune kidney disease. Six months later, I had kidney failure. How would I let go of the life I had planned and accept the one to come? Now, thirty-plus years later, I’ve had four kidney transplants. Yes, four is a lot. But despite unexpected detours, this family love story is about managing uncertainty, holding onto hope, and finding joy.
What kept you hopeful throughout your kidney disease journey?
The power of people helping people is remarkable. People have stepped up to donate their kidneys to me. Can you imagine? Their kindness is the gift of memories, time, and life—and an awe-inspiring testament to the best of humanity. My journey has had its share of difficulties, but I’ve been steeped in miracles by benevolent family, friends, and strangers. And nothing fuels my hope more than this collective goodness.
What lessons or epiphanies were you left with?
Life is a mix of beauty and bummers, and I’m grateful for all of it. I realized the age-old question, is the glass half empty or half full, is faulty. It assumes the most basic of things. We have a glass. The glass contains everything—the glass is life. So, if we’re here, we need to appreciate life. No matter what we are going through, joy is always available to us.
What made you decide to write about your journey?
Initially, my one and only daughter inspired me to write about my story. I wanted it down on paper in case I got struck by a random bus, so Liza would always know that she’s a miracle. Funnily enough, Madonna and Ellen added fuel to the fire. They had a conversation about how Madonna encouraged Ellen to share her coming out story. She stressed that if Ellen didn’t share it with the world, no one else ever could. It would be a lost opportunity to help others. That spurred me on, and the obsessive writing began.
How long had you been working on the book before you published it?
I wrote a version for family and friends in 2013. Then I worked with Kate Hopper (and attended one of her ModernWell memoir classes) to rewrite this book for a broad audience and publication. She recently showed me an email I sent her in 2017. I announced that after oodles of hesitation, I felt ready to dive in! And voila, six years later, in 2023, here we are! Incurable Optimist has been published into the world thanks to Kate and a team of supportive ModernWell women.
What were the biggest challenges you faced when writing the book?
Diving deep into the hard parts. Kate was very instrumental in helping me “get uglier.” That was her terminology for diving deep and “going there.” I had to revisit difficult moments and feel, see, smell, and taste them all over again. This wasn’t a fun part of the process. But Kate’s encouragement of vulnerability made Incurable Optimist a more impactful story.
What role did ModernWell play in the completion of your book?
So much! Julie Burton, ModernWell’s founder and a dear friend, has been with me on this writing journey for a long while. She’s an inspirational cheerleader and encouraged me step by step. So many of the women I’ve connected with at ModernWell have helped me in countless ways. I’ve bounced ideas off my ModernWell writer friends. I’ve worked with Sarah Juliusson (The Website Doula) to create my website. I’ve befriended the lovely Belén Fleming of Belu Photography to capture everything from my headshots to a book launch event. Nina Badzin, the co-teacher of my ModernWell writing group, has provided endless insight and support! I’ve also been on podcasts of ModernWell women…like Dear Nina and the Pop Culture Preservation Society. All of this. Plus, the meaningful friendships I’ve made in the inviting, bright, productivity- inspiring spaces. I’m proud to say Incurable Optimist was “made at ModernWell.” And this I’ve learned is true, empowered women, empower women. That is the magic I’ve found in ModernWell.
Thank you for joining us in this heartfelt conversation with Jennifer Cramer-Miller. Her story of resilience and unwavering optimism in the face of kidney disease is nothing short of remarkable. We hope you’ve been touched by her powerful narrative and her enduring spirit. Don’t forget to get your own copy of her book to dive deeper into her incredible journey.
ModernWell is your go-to Minneapolis oasis for community, connection, and coworking. Whether you are looking to utilize the space as a daily office, network with community, or host a meeting, ModernWell is the space for you! If you are considering coworking in the Twin Cities we’d love to see you for a tour. ModernWell is a space where members are celebrated and supported both professionally and personally. Come experience the ModernWell Magic!