An Appreciation: Monique Doyle Spencer

Paul Levy

Posted 11/27/11 on Not Running a Hospital

Brian’s Note: When I read this poignant piece about one woman’s brave perspective on fighting cancer, I showed it to my wife Elaine, who is dealing with late stage primary peritoneal (ovarian) cancer. She commented, “Ah! Someone else who doesn’t want to be categorized as a ‘victim’ or ‘survivor’!” It clearly struck a chord.

Monique Doyle Spencer (seen here in July 2010) died peacefully and surrounded by her family last night after a long stint with metastatic breast cancer.  By any measure, she was an extraordinary person, full of ideas, strongly held views, and with a marvelous sense of humor.  I was privileged to be her friend.

I came to know Monique during one of her stays in our hospital.  She mentioned that she had been writing a book about her experience with cancer, but that no one would publish it because it was funny.  Without a pause, I said that we would publish it as a book from our hospital, and the result was The Courage Muscle, A Chicken’s Guide to Living with Breast Cancer.  Those title words were chosen carefully because her whole being was about living.
Here is an excerpt from a review of the book that Joseph Breiteneicher posted on Amazon:

It should become a textbook for the medical professions and a guidebook for all who must confront, or support those who do, breast cancer. It is a beautiful book, beautifully written, that sweetly balances gravitas, zaniness and one person’s truth. The author’s humanity is in full, accessible display for all to see, share and learn from. 

Many interviews, like this one at Business Week followed.

Monique signed her comments on this blog with the moniker “NASOV.”  When I asked her what it meant, she said, “Neither a survivor nor victim.”  She continued, “I have this disease, and I am going to fight it, but I am not a survivor or victim.  I just have a disease.  There are lots of people who are going through worse.”

In July of 2010, I was going to California to attend Sci Foo, which promised to be a stimulating conference of scientists and other creative thinkers.  I decided to bring copies of the book to give to the attendees.  I asked if she would mind autographing them.  She was delighted, and not only autographed them, but wrote a message to each person who might pick one of the 100 copies.  Here’s an example:

 It reads, “Here’s to new ideas and fresh thinking at Sci Foo!  This is my new approach for the millions living with cancer.”

Three years after the publication of the book, she wrote me a note:

I’m getting all kinds of comments about the Courage Muscle.  “It saved me.”  “It was my Bible.” “It was the only cancer book that helped me.”

Apparently we really helped a lot of people.  Are you sick of me thanking you?

Oh, no, Monique, the thanks goes entirely in the other direction.  Not only from me, but from all whose lives you touched.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s