Radical Survivor:
One Woman's Path Through Life, Love, and Uncharted Tragedy

by Nancy Saltzman



WoWo Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0-615-65819-3.
Reviewed by Donna B. Russell
Posted on 04/26/2013

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Life Lessons; Nonfiction: Relationships

Nancy Saltzman had it all: a handsome, athletic husband, two equally handsome and bright sons, a career as an educator that brought her immense satisfaction, a loving, supportive extended family, and friends who were the kind you could count on in tough times.

And there were tough times. In the midst of her wonderful life, Nancy was diagnosed with breast cancer—not once, but twice. With courage and grace and the support of her family and friends, she met the challenges of chemo, radiation, and surgery, and used her experiences to help others.

It looked like the worst was behind her—until September 24, 1995. To celebrate their son Seth's eleventh birthday, her husband Joel, with Seth and thirteen-year-old Adam, had flown on a friend's private plane to watch the Davis Cup in Las Vegas. Nancy had another engagement, but when it was canceled at the last minute, she took a commercial flight to join them for the weekend. Afterward, she bid them all goodbye and went to the airport to catch her flight home.

In spite of bad weather, Joel's friend, the pilot of the plane, thought they could make it. They didn't. Joel, Adam, Seth, the pilot and his wife were all killed when the plane crashed. When Nancy got the call, she was told "There were no survivors." But they were wrong.

Somehow, Nancy would have to draw on her own inner strength, her family and friends, and the love she had shared with Joel and the boys to not only survive, but to forge a new life without them while enduring the overwhelming pain and grief of their loss. She says, "I'd been raised to deal with adversity by focusing on whatever would move me forward...and although I dreaded the passage ahead, I knew the only way out was through it. Normal wasn't even remotely possible, but I needed to find whatever the new version of it was."

Throughout the book, Nancy Saltzman shares her life story with an openness and vulnerability that drew me into it and a strength and determination that will inspire everyone who reads it. She includes family photos, excerpts from letters and notes from family and friends after the tragedy, and notes from school children who had known her as teacher or principal. The most poignant are the excerpts from Seth's journal, which survived the crash.

Radical Survivor is more than a book about a terrible tragedy, it is a story about the power of love, the importance of relationships, and the strength and support they provide. There is sorrow, yes. There is also laughter and joy and the power of the human will to survive.

When she was asked, "How did you do it [survive the loss of your family]?" Nancy replied, "What choice did I have?" Besides making a conscious decision to live her life rather than giving up, Nancy shares the life lessons she has learned through all of her life experiences. Today, she says, she has a wonderful life "but it's definitely in spite of my losses, not because of them."


Nancy Saltzman has a Ph.D. in education, and retired in 2006 from a 32-year career as a teacher, assistant director of special education, middle school assistant principal, and elementary school principal. She received the Milken Family Foundation Award for her work in education, was recognized as Colorado's National Distinguished Principal, and received the American Cancer Society's Sword of Hope. She lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado with her fiancé Greg Roman and their two dogs Nacho and Macy. Visit her blog & her website.

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