Fresh out of college, 22 year old Suleika Jaouad has just moved to Paris, is pursuing her dream job and has fallen in love. But what literally started as an itch on her legs quickly escalates and throws her life into a complete tailspin. Just shy of her 23 birthday, Suleika receives a diagnosis that she didn’t see coming, acute myeloid leukemia.
In the first half of her memoir, Suleika shares intimate details of her medical journey. The shock of realizing that infertility was inevitable as a result of the aggressive treatment she would undergo. The pressure that her younger brother faced in being a potential stem cell donor. Becoming sick and emaciated and completely reliant on a boyfriend as a caretaker. Emanating from the pages, you can tell Suleika’s vibrant spirit is what allows her to carry on, along with a supportive cast of family and friends. And she ultimately finds purpose, writing a column for the New York Times while in treatment called “Life, Interrupted” detailing her experiences.
The second half of the book focuses on what I will call ‘recovery’, but I think Suleika refers to it as ‘The In-Between Place’. She quickly comes to the realization that for nearly four years she worked tirelessly toward a single goal – survival, and then she is suddenly tasked with learning how to live on her own. It is then that Suleika realizes what is next for her. She packs up a loaner car and her dog Oscar and sets out on a 15,000 mile trip to thirty-three states and plans to visit over 20 people (most of them complete strangers) that she corresponded with while going through treatment. Her solo pilgrimage was not the result of a particular hankering to explore, but a need to overcome her fear of the world and her ability to navigate it alone.
While this may sound like a depressing book that you’ll pass on – please don’t! Yes, her story is heartbreaking, but I also found it hopeful and inspirational and hard to put down. Suleika’s story tells us what it’s like to survive a potentially life-ending diagnosis and how she regained strength and independence – neither of which she thought possible.