Salt in My Soul is a powerful, heartbreaking and inspiring look at Mallory Smith’s life. There are some spoilers ahead, so use this as a warning.
She was a brilliant writer who embodied everything it means to live a shortened life to the absolute fullest. She managed to live independently, hold a job, have a seemingly endless list of friends, a loving family and boyfriend, and graduate from Stanford University despite living with a rapidly worsening cepacia infection. Her story sparked national headlines as her family made a plea for phage therapy in the final moments of her life.
Salt in My Soul is Mallory’s posthumously published memoir built from years of her journal entries. An alternative title could have been The Cystic Fibrosis Stream of Consciousness because Mallory had a way of saying what a lot of us think about on a daily basis. She talks about fear and happiness, love and loss, and motivation and despair. Initially I didn’t love the loose organization of semi-related journal entries, and wished Mallory would have had the chance to sit down and write a memoir start to finish, however, by the end, I felt like Mallory’s stream of consciousness explored the depths of cystic fibrosis in a way that would have been hard to capture in a more formal way.
At one point Mallory talks about wishing for happiness. I stopped, put the book down, and reflected. I had a sudden realization that many years ago a switch happened in my own life. When it came time to blow out my birthday candles, I, too, stopped wishing for a cure and instead started wishing for continued happiness. Why?
I think the answer is found in one of the overarching themes of the book, which is Mallory’s desire to look forward. She liked to talk about the next big thing in her life – from any number of vacations, to a new apartment, to a move back to San Francisco, plans with her friends, a work project, or anything in between. Mallory’s desire to look ahead at challenges or expectations was one of my bigger takeaways form the story, and it’s something that I think a lot of people can use as a tool help them to learn about their own challenges in life.
Mallory’s personality shines through the first two thirds of the book, the person that I felt like I knew from any of her public commentary that she used to share. She was living the typical CF life, and I think people who may not be familiar with CF can learn a lot in those pages.
The final third of the book was like watching a train run off the rails, and teaches an important lesson about superbugs. Mallory’s health crumbled faster and faster as the book progressed. It truly was difficult to read because it felt like she had lost control over everything in her life. She was surviving at the whim of the infection inside her. There where a few times when I had to put the book down and walk away. Her immense suffering, periodic opioid dependency and other health hurdles were described in such vivid detail that I couldn’t help but put myself in her hospital bed. It is here where I want to warn the parents of newly diagnosed children with CF that you must think long and hard before reading the book. Mallory (and the included brief anecdotes from her family) describes the science behind cepacia syndrome, antimicrobial resistance and organ failure in such an easy-to-understand way that it’s learning about one of the most important facts of CF life while simultaneously watching a horror movie.
Mallory’s death was heartbreaking and cruel. She had so much to live for and achieve on top of her mountain of existing monumental achievements, but her story serves as an important reminder for a threat that all of us with CF face.
I think her writing will leave behind a multifaceted legacy. Most importantly, though, she has given an international face to multidrug resistant bacteria, antimicrobial resistance, and outside the box thinking to tackle that issue – phage therapy.
Ultimately, Mallory Smith’s Salt in My Soul will go down in history as one of the preeminent cystic fibrosis books and stories alongside Frank Deford’s Alex: The Life of a Child. Mallory is raw, honest and vulnerable in Salt in My Soul simply because she wrote her journal entries for herself. She says what all of us are thinking. The stream of consciousness of someone living with a chronic condition is complex, fascinating and worth listening to. I think people within the cystic fibrosis community will relate to it, fear it and use it as a motivator. Folks outside of our community looking in, will see it as a guidebook through a life pit against insurmountable odds, and I think that’s important. Thank you, Mallory, for a beautiful life and for sharing it with the rest of the world. Breathe Easy.
You can buy Salt In My Soul: An Unfinished Life by Mallory Smith HERE