At twenty-six, Amy Daniels is a new mother with an exceedingly cranky baby. She and her husband, Dave, decide to get their daughter checked out by medical professionals, and when they do, they’re told seven-month-old Emily has a brain tumor the size of an orange sitting right in the middle of her brain. Reaching for Normal chronicles the Daniels family’s life from the time of Emily’s birth and throughout her countless medical procedures and treatments.
At the beginning of the memoir, Daniels informs her readers that her objectives in writing this book were twofold: 1) to help those caring for someone with a chronic illness feel less alone; and 2) to hopefully bridge the gap between “typical” and “special” families by showing that we’re not all that different from one another. I believe Reaching for Normal easily fulfills those objectives in the most heartwarming of ways.
As a person who’s suffered from chronic illnesses for nearly her entire life, and someone who was also born with a tumor, my heart broke for the Daniels family. I could sympathize with the unique financial, physical, and emotional struggles that come with caring for or being a chronically ill person. In fact, there were many times in which I stopped reading and reconsidered just how difficult my parents must have had it while raising me. I’d then resume reading and realize that for Amy and Dave Daniels, it must have been a million times more difficult.
A small sampling of Emily Daniels’ countless procedures includes six brain surgeries before she’s three years old, doctors repeatedly suctioning fluid out of cysts in her brain and inserting chemo into them, targeted radiation into the tumor, a feeding tube inserted into her stomach, blood transfusions, and more.
In addition to detailing Emily’s unending medical struggles, Daniels writes about how Emily’s special needs affected their young family in both positive and negative ways. She chronicles some of her battles with insurance providers, the love and support they received from extended family, friends, and employers, the countless impossible decisions she and Dave were forced to make regarding their daughter’s life and well-being, and the strain Emily’s medical issues had on their marriage, home, social lives, mental health, and vision for the future.
What I found most endearing about this book was that Ms. Daniels shows how her family, while facing some very grave and unusual circumstances, is still “normal” when it comes to the issues they face. Despite Emily’s unique medical conditions, she’s still a happy little girl who doesn’t like being seen as different from her peers. Even though Ryan grows up with his sister constantly in the hospital or receiving medical care at home, he and Emily still enjoy the same love-hate relationship that so many young siblings in America have. And just like every other parent in America, Amy and Dave struggle to find a work/home life balance, fight for the best interests of their children when it comes to their schooling and medical care, and try their best to find time for themselves and their relationship while also working and raising children.
I admire and can relate to each member of the Daniels family, and I feel honored to have gotten to know their lives a little better. They are undoubtedly a special family, and Reaching for Normal is an unquestionably special book.