Nicole Bell tells her story of a thriving marriage unexpectedly disrupted in What Lurks in the Woods: Struggle and Hope in the Midst of Chronic Illness. Once I started it, I couldn’t put it down. Bell and her husband have two young kids. She lands a dream job, they build their dream house, and things feel on target. Until her husband’s health starts to crumble and Bell must adjust. She tries to pick up the pieces against the odds.

This is a memoir about the hard realities of marriage vows, especially that phrase “in sickness and in health.” Bell marries an older man with a youthful mindset and plenty of smarts. But before their kids hit 10, his cognitive functions take a steep decline. He becomes combative and doctors think he’s facing early Alzheimer’s. Bell needs a solution and soon.

Her story feels conversational, like catching up with a college friend after a long hiatus. Bell demonstrates obvious love and cares for Russ, her husband. But she’s also at her wit’s end and wanting her kids to have a normal childhood.

If you or a loved one live with chronic illness, Bell’s story will feel familiar.

My conclusions

Bell focuses her memoir on how hard juggling caregiving with life feels. But it’s also about what happens when a caregiver loses themselves in the trauma of caregiving. In that way and many others, Bell talks about loss, as well as grieving real-time and anticipated changes. But in the end, it’s also about finding your inner self and inner strength again, despite all the hardship.

Bell uses her technical writing skills to break down the medical explanations in ways that laymen understand. She organizes the disease progression well but also allows readers a lens into life before the crisis so we know more about both her and Russ. And through it all, Bell opens her heart, pouring out emotions amid the conundrums of care decisions.

Because of the easy tone and the suspense behind how she copes, I finished What Lurks in the Woods in under 24 hours. Sure, it’s not long. But I also connected with Bell because of my own life experience.

If you’ve been a caregiver or searched for the right diagnosis and treatment plan, you’ll love this five-star medical memoir.

Pair with The Ghost in My Brain: How a Concussion Stole My Life and How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Helped Me Get It Back by Clark Elliott, Ph.D. While the memoir is quite different, the brain-related connection is strong.


Many thanks to Stress Free Book Marketing, Stonebrook Publishing, and the author for a digital advanced reader’s copy in exchange for this honest review.