Spy Mom

A breast cancer diagnosis at age forty-six inspired a churchgoing suburban soccer mom to make her biggest dream come true: becoming a real-life Nancy Drew.

I loved the responses I got to last week’s Six Impossible Things post especially as  it was a post I needed to learn from myself, and your comments really helped with that.  I have been trying to hold onto at least one impossible dream this week  as I hope you are too. And then serendipitously I came across the story of  Spy Mom, which to me is the living embodiment of someone who dared to imagine the impossible and make it a reality.

Until her breast cancer diagnosis, few knew how passionately Val Agosta—a lover of Nancy Drew mysteries as a child—fantasized about becoming a hardboiled female gumshoe. Motivated by her illness to dream the impossible, Val, a wife and mother of three, opened her own PI firm, Hanady Investigattions, also known as Spy Moms Private Investigative Services, with her sister, Jan Cluff.

Reading an excerpt from the book, I was struck by the familiarity of Val’s now what feeling when her cancer treatment ended:  

“Then it was over. I had thought I would be thrilled to be done with treatment, but now I felt lost. Now what? Cancer had ripped through my world like a tornado. When I emerged from the storm cellar, I found my life wiped clean of familiar landmarks.”*

Val’s sister Jan suggested maybe she could take up knitting, but ” I didn’t think knitting was the answer, but I wasn’t sure what was. I was having a tiny identity crisis. … Now, not only did I have to figure out who the post-cancer Valerie was, I had figure out what I wanted to do with my life.”

So Val decided to dream the impossible, and did some brainstorming.

“I sat down with a yellow legal pad and made a list of all the things I could become. I told myself to just write, without second-guessing myself. I would exclude no fantasy….When I had burned through every outrageous fantasy I could possibly concoct, I started to think about paid occupations that attracted me. …Then I remembered Nancy Drew. I had always loved to solve mysteries, to hunt down information, put together clues and find answers. I had always loved to see the truth come to light and the bad guys put away. Suddenly, I knew what I was supposed to do. I was going to become a private investigator.”

Val does stake-outs in between grocery store runs and drug busts before picking her kids up from school. She finds lost loves, reunites adoptees with birth parents, uncovers insurance fraud, and nabs internet scammers. Together with her various business partners, she turns everything that might be considered a liability—gender, age, family, illness—into assets, and becomes an inspiration to anyone pursuing their dreams despite tremendous odds.

Val passed away in March 2009, at the age of 56, after ten years of living with cancer. Spymom, the story of her adventures,  co-written with Dee Axelrod,  is part detective story, part cancer story, and 100% inspirational tale. Poignant and moving, it explores the determination of one mom to dream the impossible and make her life count. Now tell me, doesn’t that inspire you today?

*Spymom: The True Story of a Soccer Mom Turned Private Eye by Val Agosta, ©2010 by GuidepostsBooks