Susan Spencer-Wendel, the writer whose best-selling book "Until I Say Goodbye" chronicled her fight to live joyfully as she battled Lou Gehrig's disease, died Wednesday at home in West Palm Beach, Fla., her husband John Wendel said. She was 47.
Spencer-Wendel was a well-regarded court reporter for the Palm Beach Post when she first noticed a change in her health in 2009. It would be two years before she was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis but by then she had made up her mind: She would live her remaining days as best she could, travel to the places she dreamed of going and complete a long goodbye to those she loved.
She went to California to find her birth mother; to New York, where her teenage daughter tried on wedding dresses for a glimpse of a day they would never share; to Budapest, where she and her husband retraced footsteps of an earlier life; to the Yukon, in a vain attempt to see the Northern Lights with her lifelong best friend; to the Caribbean, to Cyprus, and on and on.
Along the way, she wrote stories about two of her trips for the Post that were so heartbreakingly recorded they caught the eye of HarperCollins, which gave her a $2.3-million deal, and Universal Pictures, which followed with a seven-figure offer of its own.
She sprinted to continue her travels and to put them in writing, tapping out the vast majority of her book, "Until I Say Goodbye," on her iPhone using only her right thumb. After its release last year, the book briefly hit the best-seller lists of the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Publisher's Weekly.
Susan Spencer was born Dec. 28, 1966, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. She graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill before receiving a master's degree in journalism from the University of Florida.
Her book managed to be at once heartbreaking and humorous, filled with turns of phrase that earned laughs even as the overarching story was a sorrowful goodbye. She reveled in the attention even as her body slowly withered away from the effects of the neurodegenerative disease.
Besides her husband, Spencer-Wendel is survived by three children, Marina, 16; Aubrey, 12; and Wesley, 10; her father, Tom Spencer; and a sister, Stephanie Parlamento. Wendel said his wife "managed, to the very end, to be very positive."
She said she was grateful she was not a born a guitarist, as she lost the use of her hands, or a dancer, as she lost the use of her legs. She continued to write to the very end, using her nose to type final messages.
"I am not gone," she wrote in her book. "I have today. I have more to give. I know the end is coming but do not despair."