In her memoir released in March, “Salt in My Soul: An Unfinished Life,” Mallory Smith ’14 detailed accounts of combating cystic fibrosis, a progressive, genetic disease that limited her ability to breathe. At the age of 25, three years after graduating from Stanford, Smith passed away from pneumonia, which she was not able to recover from due to her condition. When she was a toddler diagnosed with the disease in 1995, her life expectancy was between 25 and 30. When her mother, Diane Shader Smith, heard the news from the doctors, she collapsed.
Before her passing, Smith asked her mother to help her compile her journal entries into a memoir. Her book, titled “Salt in My Soul,” is a compilation of a 2,500-page long journal she had kept since the age of 15. A documentary based on the memoir is now in the works. Diane and her husband have been filmed and interviewed, but the documentary release date is unknown.
Salt played an important role in Mallory’s life. Due to a genetic difference that was caused by her condition, Mallory’s body had difficulties maintaining a balance between salt and water. Thick bacteria-hosting mucus would form in Mallory’s lungs, making her more susceptive to infections, and rendering her skin salty. Mallory found refuge and treatment in the calm waves of the ocean where the sea’s salt would clear the mucus in her lungs.
Diane began a 70-stop national book tour on March 11, the day before the memoir’s release. She has since spoken at Google, Microsoft, TED, high school and college campuses and hospitals. She is scheduled to deliver a speech, “A Conversation About Love, Hope, Caring and Legacy,” at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital on Wednesday.
Diane said that her daughter was always writing, and she was always trying to sneak a peek at her password-protected drafts. She said that she felt apprehensive over whether her daughter would depict their relationship unfavorably, but found that her daughter had focused solely on the positives.
“One day we had a fight, and she ran out of the room and started typing furiously,” Diane said. “So I expected it to be filled with all these awful mother-daughter dynamics, but actually in 2,500 pages there wasn’t anything angry or directed at me, which I think is a testament to her.”
Her other concern was over public reception of the memoir.
“If somebody gave a bad review, I would be crushed,” she said. “But Random House said, ‘The writing’s extraordinary, there’s not going to be bad reviews.’”
The support from the press, publishing company and readers is touching, Diane said, calling it an “incredible tribute to Mallory’s writing and to the legacy she leaves.”
“My life is a miracle,” Mallory wrote in her journal in October 2014. “Life in general is a miracle. Our existence is the result of stars exploding, solar systems forming, our Earth having an environment hospitable to life, and then, finally, millions of highly improbable events accumulating over millions of years to bring us, a capable and conscious bag of stardust, to the here and now.”
Jewish women at the Jewish Federations of North America wrote to Diane saying the novel is a must-read for every Jewish woman (Smith describes her family as atheist Jews and regularly references her Judaism). Furthermore, a Yale medical student included in her review that every student studying medicine should read this as well. And a producer from Hollywood told Diane that this is a must-read for every high-school senior. Diane says this is due to how many universal themes her daughter touches upon, such as access to healthcare, body image issues, the Duck Syndrome, high school, teaching assistants who had trouble understanding why her section attendance was low, depression, anxiety and invisible illness.
Even while awaiting a double-lung transplant, Smith spearheaded a social media campaign, “Lungs4Lungs,” to raise funds for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Despite the medical struggles she encountered, Smith flourished academically and athletically. At Beverly Hills High School, she was a straight-A student, voted prom queen and played three varsity sports.
Smith continued to thrive at Stanford where she majored in human biology, was a Peer Health Educator in Cedro, competed on the club volleyball team and was a radio producer for the environmental storytelling organization, Green Grid. During her time at Stanford, however, Smith also encountered many medical challenges, spending much of her time at the Stanford Hospital.
In an interview with The Daily, her best friend, Maya Humes, recounts Smith hosting friends in their room in Toyon while writing an essay and completing her high-frequency chest wall oscillation, a vest that aided her breathing. Humes remembers her best friend as compassionate, “radiating warmth and always smiling,” even as her condition took the better part of her energy.
In their time at Stanford, Smith and Humes would spend time hiking the Dish and recounting their Saturday nights with friends at Wilbur brunch the following morning.
Humes describes visiting campus as bittersweet and emotional.
“I’m so grateful to Stanford for bringing me together with Mallory,” she said.“But at the same time, Stanford is now sometimes painful to visit, because places like Tresidder or Toyon or 680 remind me of her and the memories we shared.”
Humes hopes “that [Mallory’s] novel resonates with Stanford students who are so good at being optimistic and positive and greatly impacting the lives of others and don’t always talk about what’s going on inside.”
On Thursday evening, Humes and Diane will be speaking at the Stanford Bookstore about “Salt in My Soul” and Mallory’s legacy. Many of Mallory’s professors and friends, including her senior thesis advisor Susan McConnell, have been invited to speak.
Diane said that although she loves so many passages of her daughter’s memoir, one stands out.
“We are the writers of our own story,” her daughter wrote. “That our story will someday end is inevitable for all of us, but the way we get there is not. My narrative begins with this and will continue with each and every moment I decide to love the present instead of pining for lost opportunities.”
Contact Leily Rezvani at lrezvani ‘at’ stanford.edu and Sonja Hansen at smhansen ‘at’ stanford.edu.