Long before Mitt Romney's failed 2012 bid for the presidency, his governorship in Massachusetts and his successful business career, he and his wife Ann would listen to their young sons' worries in the dark.
“Each one of them would tiptoe into our bedroom late at night, sit on the couch at the base of our bed, and begin talking about whatever was bothering him,” Ann Romney writes in her new memoir, In This Together (Thomas Dunne Books). The concerns varied — friends, feelings, school — but their vulnerabilities were the same.
“Something about being in the dark, with his brothers asleep and the door closed, allowed each boy to open up to us about his most personal thoughts,” she wrote.
Romney's book focuses on her struggle with multiple sclerosis, and the demands the disease has placed on her and her family. She is the mother of five sons, and grandmother of 23.
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“I wanted to be really honest about how desperately afraid I was,” the former Massachusetts first lady said. “I came from that place to a place of strength.”
The memoir spans decades in the Romneys' personal and professional lives, from Boston to Salt Lake City and back again, as well as her husband’s bid for the White House. But its guiding thread is her struggle against MS, her eventual remission and a family’s support that sustained her through the draining political races that followed.
“People think obviously running for president is hard,” said Romney, 66. “Having a neurologic illness — that's a totally different thing. You're so afraid and you're so hopeless and you're desperate and all these things and depressed and you don't see any way out.”
Romney credits her remission to a mixture of pharmaceutical and alternative treatments, including an elderly German reflexologist, who used a massage-like therapy to ease her pain. In 2014, she and her husband helped start the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, which focuses on researching treatments and cures for Alzheimer’s, ALS, Parkinson’s and brain tumors in addition to multiple sclerosis.
The medical landscape for MS patients has changed dramatically in the past 20 years: Many of the treatments available now were unknown when Romney was diagnosed in 1998. But moving forward, Romney said, is still maddeningly slow.
“The progress we want to make with MS is trying to identify the genome,” Romney said in an interview, describing the heartache of treatments that work for some patients but not for others. The center takes federal funding but relies on fundraisers and philanthropy for about 40 percent of its budget, she said.
Writing the memoir is meant to draw attention to that research and to give hope to current patients. Patients with MS and ALS have shown up to her book signings expressing gratitude and encouragement, said Romney, who did a private book signing last week at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables.
“They know it's not going to help them,” Romney said of ongoing research. “They are just giving me wind in my sails, saying, ‘Keep going. We know this is important.’”