Queen of the summer novel reflects on "gifts" of cancer fight

Two years ago, on the eve of her double mastectomy, author Elin Hilderbrand joined the "CBS This Morning" anchors for a live interview in Studio 57. Now, on the first day of summer, the so-called "queen" of the summer beach novel dropped by the set again after releasing her latest work, "Here's to Us."

Author Elin Hilderbrand on breast cancer diagnosis and new novel

"When I see myself two years ago in that clip [from 'CBS This Morning'], I think, 'How did I do that?' But at the time, the good thing is, I didn't know what was coming down the road. So I had no fear essentially, and I really wanted to go and talk about it. But I'm happy to say two years later, cancer has given me a couple of gifts -- well, four gifts if you include the new breasts," Hilderbrand said, laughing. "It's given me a real enthusiasm, renewed enthusiasm for life and it's given me a desire to reach out and talk to other women."

Hilderbrand started a section on her website called #MamaStrong, a slogan created by her then-8-year-old daughter before the surgery, to help connect with others who are fighting cancer.

"If you write a story about your cancer, my publisher sends a box of my books to your cancer treatment center. So I've been in contact with women who've read my novels while they were sitting in the chemo chair," Hilderbrand said.

A plot twist: Elin Hilderbrand's letter to readers

Hilderbrand, who has lived on Nantucket, an island off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, for 23 years and has written 20 novels that take readers to its sandy shores, often writes of women's friendships. But in "Here's to Us," she wanted to give the story a twist.

"So I thought to myself, 'Who really despises each other?' Ex-wives of the same man! And so there, that was basically my novel," Hilderbrand said.

"He's a celebrity chef, and he has three ex-wives. He dies in chapter one and leaves his beloved Nantucket home to the three of them. Why he thought that was a good idea, I don't know," Hilderbrand added. "So the three ex-wives, each with a child by him, descend on the house for a weekend, and that is essentially the basis."

In addition to the drama, the book includes four recipes written by food blogger Jessica Merchant and Sarah Chase, a longtime Nantucket food writer.