Susan Spencer-Wendel made a career covering courts and criminals, so she’s used to asking tough questions.
Now that she’s the subject of national media attention herself, she appreciates journalists who tackle the hard stuff head-on — like the question she’s been asked several times this month: “Do you think this is your last Christmas?”
Her answer is direct: “Yes. So by jove we’re gonna enjoy it!”
Creating lasting memories from “last” holidays and celebrating joy in every moment has been Susan’s quest since summer 2011, when she learned she had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) — Lou Gehrig’s disease.
As the incurable disease began to wither her muscles, Susan took control like the resourceful reporter she is: She decided that if her time would be limited, she would squeeze every bit of fun out of it.
She planned bucket-list trips with her dearest loved ones, then wrote about two of them in The Palm Beach Post, where she had been courts reporter for 11 years.
Stories of her amazing trips — one to see the Northern Lights with her best friend, Nancy, and one to Budapest to celebrate her 20th wedding anniversary with her husband, John — got the attention of book publishers. HarperCollins paid approximately $2 million for Susan’s life story, and Universal paid $2 million more for movie rights.
Susan typed her memoir, Until I Say Goodbye, in three months on an iPhone with the one finger that has not forsaken her: Her right thumb. The book will be published in March and translated into 25 languages.
It is now available for preorder and has its own website — susanspencerwendel.com — and Facebook page.
HarperCollins calls Susan’s story “a powerfully emotional, inspirational and irrepressibly joyous look at the things that matter most… Until I Say Goodbye is the fulfillment of her final wish: ‘To make people laugh and cry and hug their children and joke with their friends and dwell in how wonderful it is to be alive.’”
Susan wrote an email update on her life — which has recently been full of interviews with reporters from People, the Today show, NPR and the Associated Press and more — to share with Post readers:
“I so enjoy meeting the journalists. Seeing what they create and how talented they are. People shared their stories with me for so many years, I consider it a privilege to share mine with them.
“We taped a lot of media these past weeks as my voice becomes more slurred everyday. All the content is due to be aired around March 12 — the book’s release date. By then, my voice will be unintelligible.
“My decline is speeding up: each day I lose more steps and words. I now choke at most every meal, episodes which leave people around me screaming ‘Should we call 911?’ Ergo, I don’t eat much anymore.
“I knew it would be this way. So for Thanksgiving we had our major holiday event. Our entire families — 40 in all — came. Was wonderful. Hectic, but wonderful.
“Thus, Christmas is a time just for John and me and our children.”
The family enjoyed the day at their home in Lake Clarke Shores, where Susan’s favorite writing spot is the big chickee hut in the back yard.