Mom with Terminal Illness Plants 'Garden of Memories' for Loved Ones

03/14/2013 07:00PM



Susan Spencer-Wendel has made hundreds of new friends since she was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, in 2011. But among her favorites is Cindy, a 500-lb. dolphin she swam with last September.

Looking back on the dolphin encounter she shared with her kids – Marina, 15, Aubrey, 11, and Wesley, 9 – at Discovery Cove in Orlando, she remembers "the delight on the children's faces as they pet and rode her."

And also, she adds, "the delight in my soul."

That trip was one of many journeys the 46-year-old former Palm Beach Post journalist chronicles in her new memoir, Until I Say Good-Bye: My Year of Living with Joy.

In the wake of her terminal diagnosis – the incurable neurodegenerative disease, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, typically proves fatal within five years – Spencer-Wendel set off on a series of trips with the people she loves.

"I was planting a garden of memories to bloom in their futures," says Spencer-Wendel, who can no longer walk or speak clearly and wrote the book on her iPhone using her still-mobile right thumb.

Those memories include dog-sledding in Canada's frozen Yukon Territory with her best friend, Nancy Maass Kinnally, visiting Hungary with her husband of 21 years, John, and taking daughter Marina to New York City's famed bridal boutique, Kleinfeld.

"On her wedding day," says Spencer-Wendel, "she will remember that."

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