End-stage cancer drives VT alum into second career as novelist

Charles Strickler, VT Class of ’86, began writing his first novel while he endured end-stage kidney failure. He underwent a successful kidney transplant in 2019.

As he endured end-stage kidney failure, Charles Strickler ’86 began writing “R3storations” to distract himself from the turmoil and unknowns of the world around him. As we find ourselves falling deeper into a world full of turmoil and unknowns, perhaps we could use Strickler’s writing in much the same way.

Described as a “story full of mystery, intrigue and adventure that unfolds quickly with the discovery of a treasure and a coded journal,” “R3storations” marks Strickler’s first foray into writing a novel. “I have enjoyed writing in numerous formats over the decades, but until ‘R3storations’ I had not taken on the challenge of writing a book,” he said.

That changed when his health began to deteriorate rapidly. Though he was diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease as a teenager, Strickler was still able to maintain an active lifestyle. “A few years ago, my priorities changed as my health started to decline,” he said. “That progression through stage-4 kidney failure is when I made it a priority to dedicate myself to writing full-time.”

Polycystic kidney disease, or PKD, is an inherited disorder in which clusters of cysts develop primarily within the kidneys, causing the kidneys to enlarge and lose function over time. “My wife and I choose to view PKD as a blessing and live life to the fullest,” Strickler said. “The disease served as an ever-present reminder to appreciate each day. It was also the impetus to embrace as many experiences as possible, living life intentionally.”

One could forgive Strickler if he didn’t appreciate each day, especially those just before his kidney transplant, when he found himself suffering through chronic pain so severe that medication would not relieve it. Yet, as his kidneys filled with fluids, toxins, and cysts – and ultimately ended up weighing around 15 pounds apiece – he continued to write. “I found writing to be both therapeutic and energizing,” he said. “It enabled me to remain mentally active while distracting me from my physical limitations.”

Since his successful transplant in the summer of 2019, Strickler has continued to build upon his second career as a writer. “I have to admit, I have found it very gratifying that many people who have read my first published novel enjoyed it and have encouraged me to write more books,” he said. “It has been a great experience, and I am having even more fun writing the second and third books.”

So how does a finance graduate who made his living in the poultry industry become a successful writer? It is all about lifelong learning. “I aspire to write things that are authentic to me,” he said.

“Our lives are an accumulation of experiences that provide us new perspectives and insights as we pass each successive decade. I hope that I can capitalize on many of the experiences and life lessons accumulated thus far and use them to help me be a better writer.”

Growing up on a farm in the Shenandoah Valley, Strickler, the son of a Virginia Tech graduate, never had much of a doubt as to where he would go to college. “My father would return to Blacksburg as an avid football and basketball fan,” he said. “Needless to say, through osmosis, I caught the Hokie Spirit at a very early age.”

No doubt inspired by his father’s tales of his time as a cadet, he enrolled in Virginia Tech as a member of the Corps of Cadets. Originally an accounting major, Strickler discovered that he enjoyed the creative aspects of finance over the more rigid discipline of accounting, and ultimately made the switch.

“With career aspirations of managing businesses, it was easy for me to shift gears and switch curriculums,” he said. “While my degree in finance provided me with practical knowledge about financial risk management, nothing can really prepare you for the real-world experience of managing risk in the volatile commodity futures markets.”

What his finance education did provide Strickler with was an appreciation for lifelong learning, which has been key to his second career. “That important lesson has empowered me to take on a variety of fulfilling roles, opportunities, and challenges as my career evolved over the years,” he said. “I credit that enthusiasm for my surplus of elective credits attained before graduation, as well as the continuing education credits I attained after finishing my degree.”

Strickler hopes that reading “R3storations” will provide the reader with the enjoyment and distraction that writing the book provided for him. “In today’s hectic and chaotic world, sometimes it is nice to take a mental break,” he said. “I have always enjoyed reading a good book as my diversion. I hope that my readers will find similar enjoyment as they read ‘R3storations.’

“Perhaps people will be able to appreciate how the characters overcome adversity and take on unexpected challenges that are woven into this fictitious story of mystery and adventure.”

Overcoming adversity is something that Strickler has spent a lifetime learning how to do. He hopes to pass that knowledge on to his readers.

“As I fought PKD, from all exterior appearances I looked normal, just like anyone else,” he said.

“Often we miss seeing the adversity that others face. No matter who we are, we will each face different kinds of adversities and challenges throughout our lives. With faith and perseverance can we overcome most difficulties and grow in meaningful ways.

“As author Benjamin Disraeli said, ‘There is no education like adversity.'”

 

 

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