Mary Austin. She is the pseudonym for a physician who, in order to publicize a suppressed discovery in cancer research, had to sacrifice first her academic career, then a career as a board-certified pediatrician, and then her personal safety. She would do it again.
The Last Rose of Summer is based on a true story.
While pursuing an independent research project as a premed at Cleary University, Mary Austin discovers a remarkably nontoxic drug that could change cancer chemotherapy as we know it. Her work is set for publication in a top tier journal until her mentors involve Dullahan Pharmaceuticals, a multinational pharmaceutical giant. Soon Mary finds herself mysteriously excluded from negotiations with the drug company, despite the fact that the project is entirely her work. Amidst egregious sexual harassment, sabotage, and finally, death threats, her work becomes impossible. In response to her family’s pleas, she leaves Cleary and begins medical school at Whitehead College of Medicine, where she was accepted despite evidence her professors at Cleary tampered with her application process.
Years later, as a resident in pediatrics at Whitehead, she pours the story out to her brilliant and compassionate mentor, Dr. Daniel Taylor, who immediately allows her to leave residency for a period of time to recreate her work from Cleary. Her joy turns to horror and then determination when she finds out the following week that Dr. Taylor himself has just been diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. She encounters roadblock after roadblock in the laboratory Dr. Taylor procured for her, and as he lies dying, she finds out that in addition to these hassles, her drug stock has been deliberately sabotaged by the supplier the entire time she’s been working. The person who informs her of this laughs at her.
After Dr. Taylor’s death, none of the other doctors at Whitehead have any intention of letting her continue this work, nor leave the institution to work on it elsewhere. With no other ethical choice available, Mary gives up her academic career and sends all her work to a lab in another country. The story of her drug continues in the next book in the series, Abide With Me.
What Inspired You to Write This Book?*
This novel should never have been necessary. Its content should have been a scientific paper years ago. However, after exhausting other options discussed in subsequent books, the author had to give up her career as a board certified pediatrician and then her personal safety to tell the story to the public.
What is the targeted Age Group for this book?
Adult audiences only. Although there is nothing sexual in the book, some material is shocking, and the complexity of the story and the science would prove too challenging for many young readers.
How did you come up with your characters?*
Thinly veiled fiction.
An Excerpt from The Last Rose of Summer
Camera Aversion, Redux
It certainly came as news that I would, very much against my will, feature in that film [featuring Dr. Taylor] as I presented my patients that morning—and after a sleepless night and with no makeup on, because Murphy’s Law is never not in effect.
I ran around telling the other residents that we were apparently going to be filmed during rounds, and that we had to hurry it up.
“Oh, crap!” said one of the other female residents. “I have to put makeup on!”
“Well, how do you think I feel?” I asked her, laughing ruefully. Besides looking awful, I had twelve complex cases to present on zero hours of sleep. That my hair resembled a haystack in form as well as color that particular morning was the least of my concerns.
I wound up giving one of the best performances I’d ever given in rounds, presenting every single case without missing a beat. I made all the appropriate teaching points for the students and fielded every question they asked without dropping even one. I don’t even know how the hell I got through it all except that it was for him.
Well, that and I drank a shedload of caffeine. But that only served to kickstart my faltering brain; my heart was already in it all the way for him.
Passage from The Last Rose of Summer:
I was introduced to clinical researchers who were to develop the drug at the academic center, but Dr. Cromm also involved a drug company named Dullahan Pharmaceuticals. For a while, Dr. Cromm remained as elated about the drug as he had been on that April day, telling me at one point, “Mary, I wish I could be back at the lab bench, doing this with you!”
Dr. Everton subsequently invited me to a party Dullahan was throwing for the lab, and I came, embarrassed that I hadn’t known about it that morning. As luck would have it, I had to show up to a nice restaurant right after work wearing ripped jeans and that same damn greenish T-shirt, which had been that morning, as in times past, the only one that passed the smell test. Now, after a day in lab, it doubtless didn’t even do for that; nevertheless, I went, and I spoke with representatives from the company all evening.
Afterwards, Dr. Cromm became more guarded with me, and Evan had closed-door meetings with the drug company, to which I was not invited.
“Mary,” said Julia to me after one such meeting, “Evan has been talking about the project as if he did everything!”
What guidance would you offer to someone new, or trying to enhance their writing?
I’m no veteran author to dispense such wisdom at will, but I know this much: whatever you write about must matter intensely to you. Even before I had a subject more important than my career or safety, anything I wrote mattered to me. I wrote letters to public officials because I passionately supported a cause; I wrote satire because I knew people badly needed a laugh; I defended my friends’ blogs from trolls out of genuine, seething disgust at cyberbullying. I wrote poems I had no intention of showing anyone because I was really in love.
Whatever you’re writing, it’s got to matter so much that you would write it for no money or recognition at all.
Out of all the books in the world, and all the authors, which are your favorite and why?
Sir Terry Pratchett is hands down my favorite author; his genius and his passion for justice have held me captive since I was a teenager. I’m also a fan of Richard Feynman, whose gift for science writing impresses me now as never before in my life. You can’t truly appreciate the experts at science writing until you’ve agonized over it yourself. Even my love of Feynman’s humor now recedes before my awe at his gift for communicating science.
And I’m a big fan of Russian literature: Tolstoy, Turgenev, Dostoevsky, Nabokov. That surprises people sometimes, not (I hope) because they think I can’t read, but because people tend to assume that Russian literature only appeals to brooding, lugubrious types, and I’m pretty cheery. My explanation is that censorship of misery upsets me; confronting it draws me in. Poverty, suicide, child abuse, cruelty– nobody censors these issues out of people’s lives, so why censor them out of books?
Who do you think would be interested in this book, is it directed at any particular market?
There is no one who has not been hurt by cancer, and I wanted to write a book for all adults. God knows I tried, but as I began writing the book, I quickly realized I was probably going to have to shoot for an audience of adults with a college degree. I don’t love that, but I had a very hard time describing the science specifically enough to explain it credibly to scientists, but in broad enough terms that people in fields outside science could understand it. Every science writer has to strike a balance between precision and accessibility, and this was my first such book. (Did I mention how much further my respect for Feynman has deepened?)
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