Soar is about an African American, female journalist who beat the odds given to her by doctors, growing up with the same silent disease I’ve had since I was a baby: sickle cell anemia.
Gail Woolley was told at the age of seven that she, along with her brother, would not live past the age of thirty five. Unfortunately, Gail’s brother lived a different lifestyle than she did and proved the doctor’s prognosis to be true, but Gail did not. She was determined prove doctors wrong. Rather than allowing sickle cell to dictate her life, Gail lived normally; she was a true sickle cell warrior and had a great, supportive husband by her side for over 34 years. It was her husband who encouraged her to pen this memoir.
Gail shared a lot of personal experiences and was very candid, like the reality shows we see on TV, allowing readers into her very private life, especially her marriage. One of the things that is rarely discussed when it comes to chronic illnesses is how interpersonal relationships are affected. This book does not shy away from it. Gail Woolley was blessed to find a husband who understood the complications and risks, but agreed to share his life with her because his love was stronger than her illness.
While reading Soar, I could honestly tell that Howard Woolley honestly loved Gail, “through sickness and in health, til death do us part.” I was very touched by this because it isn’t always true for people like us. I remember how I was once told by another sickle cell warrior to be grateful for my husband, because there are not a lot of men that would deal with this disease, its limitations and the frequent and painful sickle cell crises. Gail worried about this when she realized the relationship with Howard was getting serious.
After dating Howard for a few weeks, Gail had a crisis and had to be taken to the hospital. Even though she told Howard that he could leave, that she did not want him to stay with her at the hospital or to see her like that, he stayed.
When going through crises, it is hard to see the people we love with the pain in their eyes as they are there by our bedsides, so our natural instinct is to push them away.
Howard is an example of a man who truly honored his vows and his wife. It was like reading a fairytale at times— happy, but with a sad ending. It was hard for me to read the last chapter because by the end of our journey together through this book, I felt that I knew Gail personally and to lose such an amazing woman just hurts, especially when you know you could suffer the same fate.
It wasn’t all sad, however, because reading this memoir has inspired me to continue the fight and not allow this disease to win! I have lived with sickle cell disease my whole life and lieke Gail, I am going to continue to live it just as I always have. Gail worked, traveled and did whatever she wanted, no matter what— and so do I.
At times, when I was reading this book, I felt like I was reading about my life, only someone else had written it for me. I feel like I know Gail and wish that I had been able to meet her when she was living. In this book, I felt there was finally someone who could relate to what I go through, daily. I feel like Gail could have been a mentor to me despite our different career paths. We shared this disease that is underfunded, understudied and largely misunderstood. Yes, sickle cell research has come a long way, but the individual experiences of those like myself is not given enough publicity like we see with other diseases. We are invisible to most, but we are many and we are very strong and one day we will find a cure.
Soar: A Memoir is now available for purchase.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Gail Campbell Woolley (1957–2015) grew up in Washington, D.C., and was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia at age seven. She studied journalism and international relations at Syracuse University and worked as a reporter for the Washington Star, Baltimore Sun, and Washington Times. She died in 2015 at age 58, exceeding the life expectancy her doctor predicted by more than 20 years.
Nick Chiles has won more than a dozen major journalism awards, including a Pulitzer Prize as a newspaper reporter in New York City. He is the author or coauthor of 12 books, including two New York Times bestsellers, one co-written with Rev. Al Sharpton and one with gospel superstar Kirk Franklin. He lives in Atlanta.
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