Apart from the thought-provoking education one receives over the 5 day DIA conference, one of the perks of being a speaker at DIA is the calibre of people you meet. Mary Elizabeth Williams is a perfect example of just such an exceptional stand out found in the mix of doctors, academics, patient advocates, clinical service vendors and pharmaceutical reps usually found at a drug convention.
In person, Mary Elizabeth glows with an inner radiance, balancing compassion, strength and hope. She’s a truly gifted writer who applied her talent to her own, appalling circumstance. I was pleased to receive a copy of her latest book, “A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles” published by National Geographic Books. I left our interchange mulling over the sharp contours of her message that although her saga ended well, not everyone’s does. I stuffed “Catastrophes & Miracles” on top in my briefcase to browse on the flight home.
Settled into my flight, nonetheless expecting an ordinary slog through a saccharine autobiography, instead, I found myself captivated from the first pages. Following the shocking diagnosis of a deadly advanced metastatic melanoma that upended her world, Mary Elizabeth is thrown into a rapid, up and down, life and death, roller coaster learning curve. She starts with the “Spoiler: I lived” then compels us along her five-year journey shared by her husband, two young daughters, many friends and caregivers, plus a team of dedicated doctors and healthcare professionals.
The read is never a self-pitying plea for sympathy although there’s ample emotion, both joy and despair, often concurrent. Humor is balanced with tragedy. Strong feelings are unavoidable when one’s own mortality is staring you in the face; plus similar circumstances shared by close friends and the many like-situated patients met along the way. Ironically she sometimes refers to aspects of this challenge as “a gift,” explaining that “The truth is that you can be angry and scared and happy and grateful and tired and fed up at the same time.” It doesn’t get any more straightforward than that.
If you’re facing this challenge yourself, Mary Elizabeth shares methods that helped her; if you are not, it’s likely you know someone who is. She doesn’t claim to provide anyone else with solutions or false hope. I would have liked to hear about any lifestyle or nutritional changes she embraced, but Mary Elizabeth credits not kale, nor prayer, but her wholehearted commitment to the experimental science that actually saver her.
“Catastrophes & Miracles” equipped me with a valuable understanding of how best to be a friend to my friends living day to day with a lethal challenge. I recommend it as a worthy read in your busy life.