for A Journey Not Chosen
“Early in this manuscript about her
discoveries in disability, Gloria Revilla Doyle writes of
making ‘a pilgrimage in search of grace.’ A
Journey Not Chosen demonstrates that she has indeed found
the grace she sought. There is no bitterness, self-pity, or
self-indulgence on these pages. Instead, Gloria’s clear,
insightful voice rings out with deeply achieved lessons in
SUSAN STAMBERG, National Public Radio
“This is a magnificent story about
suffering, growth, faith and strength. You will remember it
MORTON KONDRACKE, Roll Call
newspaper, Fox News, author of Saving Milly: Love, Politics
and Parkinson’s Disease
“An incredibly brave, beautiful, and
sparely written book, elegant and deeply affecting. Confronted
many years ago with cause for grinding suffering, Gloria Doyle
has made of her life a hymn of grace, honesty, and beauty.”
MICHAEL NOVAK, American
Enterprise Institute and author of The Universal
Hunger for Liberty
“A Journey Not Chosen is a fascinating odyssey
through the American medical system, a first-hand primer on
how to keep our wits when the logic and reason of science
not only can’t tell us why we are sick or how we are
to get well—but sometimes becomes as much an enemy as
the illness itself. Gloria Revilla Doyle’s moving account
of her struggle over two decades with quadriplegic disability
is full of insight on the human experience and the connection
of art, literature and spirituality with health.”
VICTOR DAVIS HANSON, author of The
Other Greeks and Carnage and Culture, Senior
Fellow, the Hoover Institution, Stanford University
“Gloria Doyle’s brave account of how she came
to terms with her own disability–and her description
of how others grappled with theirs—should be required
reading for anyone who has ever faced a dramatic or unexpected
ANNE APPLEBAUM, The Washington Post,
Pulitzer Prize author of Gulag
“During a week in which I myself was facing major surgery,
I found Gloria Revilla Doyle’s A Journey Not Chosen
a great gift. With simple elegance, and with an intimate’s
confidence, Doyle teaches the reader that survival and healing
are not granted by a surgeon’s knife, but come to the
person who is willing to accept responsibility for the gift
and mystery of one’s own life.”
RICHARD RODRIGUEZ, author of Hunger
of Memory and Brown: The Last Discovery of America
“We have so much to learn about where and how mind,
body and spirit align. Gloria Doyle’s search for that
place is one all of us will have to make one day; her determination
to live both fully and consciously is an inspiration to her
KATHRYN HARRISON, author of Seeking
Rapture, The Mother Knot and The Seal Wife
“Modern medicine has come to appreciate
how one’s state of mind—through the brain—can
affect the most rudimentary, subconscious bodily functions.
But modern medicine has not come to grips with the unique
power that some people have to influence another person’s
state of mind, and consequently their health. Gloria Doyle
skillfully articulates through her own medical saga, both
of these realities, and in her own way, exhorts us to challenge
the prevailing dogma when medical science does not have the
answers. As a medical professional, I took away important
lessons from Gloria Doyle’s story that will help me
to better communicate with and treat my patients. Patients
and families who must face neurological disorders can learn
much from this story including courage, resiliency, faith,
and the importance of taking the ultimate responsibility for
one’s own health.”
DAVID S. ZEE, M.D., Professor of Neurology,
Johns Hopkins Hospital
“This is a remarkable story, brave, honest and powerfully
encouraging to anyone challenged by health or fortune or circumstance.
It’s beautifully crafted, and it’s believable.
I can say that because I not only read the story but I know
the person. You search in life for coherence between word
and life, but seldom find it. You find it in Gloria Doyle’s
A Journey Not Chosen.”
THE REV. WILLIAM MCD. TULLY, Rector,
St. Bartholomew’s Church, New York
“This is a beautiful book, searching, life-living,
immediate, spontaneous, demanding–just like Gloria.
What comes to mind is the poem, Invictus: ‘…it
matters not how straight the gate, how charged with punishment
the scroll. I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of
my soul.’ Gloria’s journey also takes us into
the uncertainty of modern medicine and the promise of alternative
forms of healing. We can all learn from Gloria’s combination
of skepticism and fate, her courage to face devastating facts
about her treatment and refusal to give in to despair.”
DR. MICHAEL MACCOBY, author of The
Gamesman and The Productive Narcissist
“This is a powerful book—disturbing and yet hope-filled,
intensely personal yet never self-pitying. Gloria Doyle is
a courageous woman, possessed of an indomitable spirit and
keen self-awareness. In her compellingly written chronicle
of twenty years of physical disability, she offers her readers
a rare insight into the resilience of the human soul. A
Journey Not Chosen tells of her zest for life, her capacity
to love, and her tenacious search for truth. Its carefully
presented exposition of the fallibility of modern medicine
should make it a must-read for both physicians and laity.”
THE REV. MARGARET B. GUENTHER, Associate
Rector, St. Columba’s Episcopal Church, Washington
DC, author of Toward Holy Ground: The Art of Spiritual
“A remarkable story about an unconquerable will to
live. In the prime of life—happily married, two fine
children, and a professional career—Gloria Doyle becomes
progressively immobilized by a rare disease. A gifted writer,
she guides us on her travels—geographic, physical, and
psychological—over the ensuing years in search of cures,
both traditional and untraditional. Her body failing her as
she once could not have imagined, but her mind sharpened by
experience, she remarkably stabilizes her condition beyond
what conventional medicine would have predicted. Her astonishing
determination to live life as fully as possible is riveting
in itself. But it also is a gift to us all, reminding us of
the capacity of the human spirit, when summoned fully.”
JOHN O. FOX, Professor, Mount Holyoke
College, author of If Americans Really Understood the
“Sharing the Right Spirit”—Guy Keeler, The Fresno Bee
Fate has not been kind to former Fresno resident Gloria Revilla Doyle. In 1981, on the advice of her doctors, she submitted to spinal cords surgery in an effort to find out why she was experiencing heaviness in her limbs and difficulty walking.
After a six-hour operation, Doyle was diagnosed with an inoperable spinal cord tumor. She woke up with partial paralysis caused by the exploratory cutting. As for her future, doctors felt she would be lucky to live five more years.
Doyle could have turned bitter. She could have given up. Instead, she vowed to pursue a full life, even if it meant traveling in a disabled body. For nearly 25 years now, she has struggled to live beyond the limitations of western medicine and the reality of disabling illness.
Doyle, 65, tells her story in “A Journey Not Chosen,” an inspiring self-published memoir that offers hope for all who find themselves locked in lifelong struggles with adversity.
“I knew I wasn’t the only person this had ever happened to,” she says. “And I knew if I hadn’t done what I did, I would have ended up lying in a bed somewhere. I did find help in alternative medicine, and felt I had to bear witness that what I experienced was true.”
Doyle’s narrative is filled with the highs and lows of her struggle. Some 20 years after her journey began, an MRI scan revealed no evidence of a tumor in her spinal cord. Doctors concluded her condition had been caused by a rare widening of the spinal cord for which there is no treatment or cure. Knowing she had been misdiagnosed shook Doyle’s confidence in modern medicine but not her faith in the ability of the human spirit to triumph over pain.
It’s this strong desire to rise above her circumstances that makes Doyle’s account so compelling. Whether learning to live with physical limitations or trying to cope with uncertainty, her goal is to move forward, not look back.
Doyle, who lives in Chevy Chase, Md., was born in Chihuahua, Mexico in 1940 and grew up in Fresno, where she attended Dailey Elementary School and Fort Miller Junior High School, then graduated from Fresno High School in 1958.
She earned a history degree from the University of California at Berkeley, where she met her husband, Denis. They married in 1962 and 10 years later moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked as a research librarian for the Los Angeles Times.
From the onset of her illness, Doyle trusted her doctors to do what was best. She even went through six weeks of radiation on her spine, which left her feeling fatigued for 18 months.
Doyle was able to care for herself for five years after her initial surgery. But one day, when she was unable to rise from her chair after listening to a lecture at the National Gallery of Art, she knew her days of living independently were over. Two years later, she had to hire full-time aides to help with her daily needs.
Although she gradually lost her ability to walk or feed herself without assistance, Doyle never lost her resolve to keep fighting. On the recommendation of a friend, she explored alternative treatments. In Italy, she experienced improved muscle function after visiting a practitioner of pranotherapy, the therapeutic transfer of energy from a healer’s hands to the patient’s body.
Over the years, Doyle has sought help from a number of nontraditional heaers with varying results. The alternative treatments have not reversed Doyle’s condition, but she says they have produced improvements and given her hope. In the end, she says, overcoming adversity is more about how a person responds to a problem than in finding a cure.
“Somewhere, deep inside, I knew I was not alone,” she says, explaining how she managed to cope with her disability. You can sink into self-pity and envy while everyone around you is normal and doing their own stuff. I finally had to see that what had happened to me was generic, not persona. A broken leg is a broken leg, whether it’s mine or yours. The personal part is what you do about it. How your respond. I was able to focus on that and it released me.”
Doyle says in one regard, disability has had a positive impact on her life.
“When you’re very busy, you don’t have time to do the kind of thinking I did after I became disabled,” she says. “You’re distracted by the stuff of life.”
Doyle hopes her story will resonate with others who are living with adversity. “Life is difficult for a lot of people,” she says. “I want to be a good example for others, even if I can’t single-handedly save the world.”
Gloria Revilla Doyle — a 15–year parishioner this very month, known by sight if not by name to many St. Columbans (not least because of her bright red wheelchair) — has completed a memoir, A Journey Not Chosen, Healing, Survival and the Human Spirit. Claimed by an inoperable spinal cord tumor 22 year ago, her story is not one of difficulties and travail, but of overcoming them through openness to non–Western medicine and progressively deeper faith. St. Columba’s plays a significant part in her story:
At Denis’s request we began to attend church in January, 1990. Our friend Morton took us the first time. We sat in the second pew.
At first I wondered why I was there. It was not my place. I felt alien. But I had promised. Promised that I would go to church in good spirit, with an open mind and heart...
We went every Sunday. Denis partook of the Episcopal service, singing the hymns, saying the responses, sitting, kneeling and standing. I sat, watched and listened.
Then something happened. The message touched me. Deep inside, it resonated with something heretofore unknown. I began to cry. Silently. At first it was a few tears, then a steady stream. Those around me were preoccupied with the service. Mercifully, they did not notice. I was relieved.
Bit by bit, as the weeks passed, I found solace, then sustenance. After three months of church, I wanted to celebrate the eucharist. Denis signaled for the priest to bring me communion.
“This bittersweet, courageous and poignant chronicle
carries important lessons for physicians and patients alike.
It should help doctors to recognize the limits of their knowledge
and encourage them to share far more information with their
patients, particularly in complicated and ambiguous situations
such as that presented by my friend Gloria Revilla Doyle.
Patients, too, should learn from this tale to insist on all
the relevant information and to make themselves key players
in all the medical decision-making relating to treatment.
The pros and cons of every therapy should be openly weighed
by patients and doctors together. Medicine is not a perfect
science. We doctors make mistakes, though nearly always with
the best of intentions. It saddens me that Gloria’s
saga occurred as it did, but it should inspire us all that
she has had the courage, the candor and the pluck to recount
it so frankly and eloquently. An important book for physicians,
patients and those who love them.”
RENU VIRMANI, M.D., Chair, Department
of Cardiovascular Pathology, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology,