Lesley Lowe’s book “Autumn Gold” will warm your heart … and break your heart.
It’s heartwarming not least because of the inexhaustible courage Vashti shows in her fight against multiple myeloma, an incurable, but treatable, bone marrow cancer. Vashti is Lowe’s daughter and the book’s tragic central figure.
The book is, in part, a love story. Vashti reunites with the love of her life, Jeff. The two had been together years before, but broke up. Surprisingly, and to their delight, he comes back into her life and they make plans to marry.
Because Vashti demonstrates a deep empathy despite her physical pain and uncertain future, she reaches out to offer hope to others dealing with the disease as they, too, face uncertainty. Her joie de vivre resonates with everyone who comes in contact with her.
In the end, “Autumn Gold” is a heartbreaking story. After chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and two bone marrow transplants – one from a live donor in Germany – Vashti loses her 18-month battle with cancer at the age of 34. She died in April 2015.
Vashti, Lowe said, wanted to write a book on bone marrow transplantation particularly for younger people if her cancer had gone into remission. It never did.
Lowe, of Albuquerque, said she promised her daughter she would write a book about the procedure if Vashti couldn’t. Lowe’s book is more about her daughter’s life, but includes information on the bone marrow transplantation procedure.
She calls what she wrote an historical biography. Remembrances provided by Vashti’s friends are grafted on. “Those parts … wrote themselves,” Lowe said. Her husband, Russell, also contributed a story about Vashti’s attempts to get to places on time.
Lowe waited until 2019 to start writing the book because it would have been too emotionally difficult for her to have begun it sooner.
An oncologist explains to Vashti that multiple myeloma is a cancer that develops in the plasma cells, a type of white blood cell important to the body’s immune system. Myeloma cells collect in the bone marrow, forming tumors in the bones; the disease occurs mostly in older men.
The source of the title “Autumn Gold” comes from what Lowe said Vashti had told her about a session she had with a psychiatrist.
Lowe writes that her daughter discussed two things about the session: One was that she told the psychiatrist her soul had been shattered when she learned about her cancer diagnosis; the other was that, while looking out of the psychiatrist’s window and seeing the autumn leaves, Vashti told her that “she had wondered why, in their natural progression toward imminent death, they displayed such vibrant colors as vivid, exquisite gold.”
Lowe “realized that Vashti had mirrored that mystery by turning her fear and disappointment into a seemingly golden aura of love and compassion for others and gratitude for the life she had lived.”
Vashti’s thoughts about nature was but one striking example of her ability to make a connection to the spirit world. At one point, June silently thanked the Divine Presence for getting the family through Vashti’s first transplant procedure. She then “prayed that the strongest force in the universe – love – would surround her daughter and kill any cancer cells in her blood.”
In the final chapter, Lowe unexpectedly finds Vashti’s journal while cleaning out her late daughter’s North Valley home. The find, Lowe writes, awakened a sense of her daughter’s continued presence in her life. The book is subtitled “A Rendezvous with Cancer, Knowing Death Is Not Final.”
Vashti graduated from La Cueva High School, and received undergraduate and law school degrees from the University of New Mexico. She was an Albuquerque attorney.
Lowe said March is Multiple Myeloma Awareness Month and that bethematch.org is the website of the organization handling all bone marrow testing for donations for transplants. The National Marrow Donor Program maintains a national registry for people willing to donate their bone marrow.
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