Author Enjoying Life Before ALS Takes It Away

Valerie Harper's terminal cancer diagnosis shines light on another brave woman facing death with a smile. INSIDE EDITION talks to Susan Spencer-Wendel about ALS that is claiming her life.

Valerie Harper is teaching all of us a lesson about the joy of living.

She said, “Don't go to the funeral before the day of the funeral. While you're living, live.”

As Valerie faces a diagnosis of terminal brain cancer, she can take inspiration from another remarkable woman who's also confronting death by embracing life.

Susan Spencer-Wendel can no longer speak clearly and her husband John has to translate for her.

In 2011, 45-year-old Susan received the devastating news that she's dying from ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

Watch more of our segment on Susan Spencer-Wendel.

She can no longer walk and most of her fingers are now frozen.

John said, “At times, she wanted to curl up and just die.”

Susan is an award-winning journalist for the Palm Beach Post and the mother of three children.

Now, she's the author of a new book, Until I Say Goodbye: My Year of Living with Joy.

Incredibly, Susan showed us how she wrote the entire book on her iPhone, typing each letter of the staggering 362-page book by using only her right thumb.

John said, “She said I'm doing a chapter a day. 40 chapters in 40 days.”

Every day, John wheeled Susan out to a special tiki hut they built in their backyard. He tenderly lifted her into her chair, adjusted her glasses, and put the iPhone in her hand. Then, Susan went to work.

Her book explains how she overcame the shock of being told she was dying. Instead of giving up, she became determined to live life by traveling the world and creating joyful memories for her family, so that her spirit could live forever.

She and John visited Budapest, Hungary, where they once lived. They also visited the Bahamas where Susan kissed a dolphin.

She even took her 15-year-old daughter to New York City to try on a wedding dress, even though she knows she won't live to see her walk down the aisle years from now. She was glad to give her mom the memory.

Now, Susan and her husband of 21 years are learning how to arrange flowers together. It's clear how they feel about each other.

John said, “Every day I wake up and my first thought is of her. It breaks my heart to see her in the morning, how she faces each day with a smile. Never lets it get her down.”

So as we watch Valerie Harper bravely stare death in the eye, remember this other inspiring story and Susan's message, “Live with joy, no matter what.”

To read an excerpt from Susan Spencer-Wendel’s book, click on Download PDF.