Susan Spencer-Wendel, Author With ALS, Inspired To Write Again Thanks To Loyal Companion — A French Bulldog Named Lenny

Susan Spencer-Wendel Keeps On Writing Thanks To Inspiration From Her Dog, Lenny
Susan Spencer-Wendel is an award-winning journalist who has ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and has found inspiration to write from her small French bulldog. John Schert, Today.com

This past year, Susan Spencer-Wendel, despite her failing body due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), published a 357-page memoir entirely on her iPhone with the slowly-dwindling muscle movements of her thumb. Her book, entitled Until I say Good-Bye: My Year of Living with Joy, provokes readers to ask themselves what they would do if they only had one year left to live. Today, she has lost the ability to physically write with a keyboard, whether on her laptop or a small touch screen, but recently, she has been inspired to find a way to write again.

Spencer-Wendel has written an essay, which covers only a few of the many ups and down and heartaches that ALS brings to its victims and families. When Spencer-Wendel lost the ability to eat, she realized the extent of her solidarity and asked her 15-year-old daughter, Marina, to find her a French bulldog that soon became what she calls her "foil." The dog's name was inspired by a literary term that means a character that contrasts with another. Lenny sits upon Spencer-Wendel's hospital bed in hospice care as she lies motionless, a prisoner in her own body.

When Spencer-Wendel's sister came across a man whose wife suffered from ALS, he advised them to use HeadMouse Extreme, a writing system for those who are disabled but can still use slight movement of their head. The system follows a reflective dot that's put upon Spencer-Wendel's nose that she uses as a pointer to move the cursor over letters across her laptop screen. It is with this system that she wrote her most recent essay, inspired by the calm demeanor and companionship of her dog Lenny, who loyally sits by her side day-in and day-out.

"Eighteen pounds on my arm is pulling me over to the right, but I would not ask someone to move him for love or money," wrote Spencer-Wendel. "He is pinning down my right thumb, the one I typed my book with, reminding me I have to move on, learn to type another way."

Her efforts were valiant enough for her piece to be published on TODAY.com, where her love for her husband of 21 years, John Wendel, her children, travels, 55-lb. family dog hound mix, and her 18-lb. Lenny have found a place in permanency.

Those diagnosed with ALS live anywhere from two years to 12, or in rare cases, more. There are approximately 5,600 people in the United States diagnosed with ALS every single year, and only about 20 percent of those people live five or more years after the first symptoms begin to take over.

"These days, I enjoy things vicariously. Including watching people cradle Lenny and stroke his white chest," Spencer-Wendel wrote, recounting all of the changes that have taken place in her life.

"I search for a deeper meaning in most everything. I ponder at length my belief that desire is a root of suffering. I watch people eat, dance and pet my dog trying not to want to do so myself."

Spencer-Wendel will continue to live through her fatal disease, with joy and appreciation for her furry foil, Lenny, and her loving family. While there is no cure or treatment that can slow or even stop ALS from cutting off the neurons' messages to voluntary and eventually involuntary muscles, there is constant research trying to unravel the mysterious of such a life-altering disease.

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