We know Dr. Francine Kaufman as a renowned endo and global force, helping to change the fate of those with diabetes in developing parts of the world where access to medicine and care is at its lowest.
She is a professor at the University of Southern California (USC) and runs her own clinic nearby, serves as Chief Medical Officer for Medtronic Diabetes, and has been past president of the American Diabetes Association.
Fran is a frequent author of medical journal articles and speaker at influential events. She has also written two diabetes books, one on diabesity and a D-management guide to best practices for using pumps and CGMs. She's also the mind behind the yummy Extend Nutrition bars designed to be optimal for people with diabetes.
In short, she's a legend in diabetes.
Now, we can add fiction writer to Fran's accomplishments! Who would've thought...?
In May, Fran published her first novel called Rhythms, a 300-page story about a physician navigating the final days of her aging mother's life and reflecting on her younger years. The story takes place over the course of three days, jumping back and forth through time as it exposes the protagonist's life.
Focus on Caregivers
Yes, diabetes does play a role in the story, but it's not a main focus. One of the secondary characters is described as living with diabetes, and the topic is brought up about 20 times all tolled in different ways throughout.
But this story actually focuses on the very real and very important issue of elder care, especially relevant to the so-called "sandwich generation," now caught between taking care of their aging parents (who may also be living with Alzheimer's or dementia) and their own children -- not to mention trying to take care of themselves.
This quagmire is at the core of the book, Fran says: "The fear, disgust, and rawness of realizing that you have become your mother's mother intermingles with the realization that you don't really even know who she is, what has happened to her in her life, or most importantly, what secrets she is keeping -- about herself, and therefore, everyone."
We talked with Fran earlier this summer about the new book, and the diabetes expert made one point very clear: Don't think the story's main character, Rebecca Brodie, is based on Fran herself.
"Yes, (Rebecca) is a physician and diabetes is a part of this story in different ways, but this isn't based on me or my life. That was my biggest fear in writing this, that people would think it's really me. But that's not true."
Why Write a Novel?
Still, Fran tells us her motivation for writing the book was to tell a story that does, in part, reflect some of the challenges she went through early in her medical career.
"I wanted to write the book to help... portray what a physician's life is really like -- particularly at the time that I started and went through medical school," she says. "There weren't many women in medicine, and it was a different time and pay structure. That was before CAT scans, when you had to be a detective sometimes to diagnosis someone. You'd get told stories all day long, and it was your job to figure out what it all meant. That is how I wrote this book, kind of like a mathematical equation that goes back and forth in time, and you have to put the formula together to get to the answer."
This is the first time she's tried her hand at fiction-writing, and she says it could be her last. The goal was to challenge herself by tackling a type of writing outside her comfort zone -- and honestly we think she nailed it!
The "secondary character" with diabetes mentioned starts out as an 11-year-old who gets diagnosed at Girl Scout camp after experiencing extreme thirst and other typical D-symptoms. I really enjoyed the parts of the novel describing how she deals with diabetes at different stages of life. For me, the teen and college years were particularly tough, so I appreciate how this character gives readers a snapshot of those challenges.
Particularly moving was an episode in which this girl goes into a seizure, and the main character Rebecca and her family need to jump into immediate action to combat this violent low. In a captivating and heart-tugging description, Fran talks about how the girl falls to the floor convulsing and how Rebecca -- as a doctor -- has to remind herself that she's the medical expert.
"Get the sugar, get the sugar bowl... fast, run!!" Rebecca shouts in the book, before breaking into the emergency glucagon kit and rest of the post-hypo routine.
All turns out well in the end, but that hypo description painted a vivid picture in my mind that takes me back to days when I was young (post-diagnosis at age 5), when I personally went through violent hypos like that. I had to think of my parents, fighting off the urge to panic, just as Rebecca does in the book.
There are other passing mentions of diabetes, like a woman with this illness going through the kidney transplant process, or when Rebecca reflects on her medical school days and the diabetes studies included, or when she's a young doctor, and the "endocrinology textbook flashes in Rebecca's mind" at one point in the story.
A fascinating aspect is how this physician seems to be highly tuned in to the psychosocial and mental health aspects of diabetes; I hope that any physicans (or just general readers) going through this novel will take that point to heart! We all know there isn't enough talk generally about the mental health challenges associated with diabetes, and it's great to see this highlighted in Fran's story.
Emotional Ending, No Spoilers
Being a work of fiction, it's tough for me to go into any more particulars without revealing spoilers -- especially since the story moves backwards and forwards through time. Let's just say: It's best to read it all the way through, finding these gems and hidden treasures as they're revealed in the story (i.e. don't try to jump ahead).
In the end, based on the premise of the book and the title, you can imagine how the story plays out. Rebecca's mom dies, and I have to hand it to Fran for the way she describes this. How real she made it feel rivals any of the best fiction writers I've ever read. I teared up for sure, feeling like I was right there as the death was unfolding.
The ending also has a surprise twist, which was even more of an emotional roller-coaster, that eventaually brought a smile to my heart once all was resolved.
This should be the goal of any good piece of writing: to tell a story that makes you feel and see it as clearly as if you were there. And Fran Kaufman gets the job done, incredibly well, IMHO.
Overall, I would highly recommend this novel as a good read. I think it not only tells a good emotional story about life and making a difference in this world, but also helps paint a picture of what real life with diabetes is for many of us, and it's all accurate and based on actual medicine and science thanks to this storyteller's expertise.
But before you go buy the book, here's your chance to win a copy of your own...
A DMBooks Giveaway
Interested in winning your own free copy of the new novel Rhythms by Dr. Francine Kaufman? We're giving away TWO free copies -- one print edition and one e-book version. Entering this giveaway is as easy as leaving a comment below:
1. Post your comment below and include the codeword "DMBooks" somewhere in the the text so we know you'd like to enter the giveaway.
2. You have until Friday, July 31, 2015, at 5pm PST to enter.
*NOTE: Our new comment system does require login via Facebook or via a few select email platforms. If you prefer, you can also enter this giveaway by emailing us at email@example.com with the subject header "Rhythms Novel."
3. A valid email address is required to win. The winner will be chosen using Random.org.
Good luck, Fiction-Lovers!
This contest is now closed. Congrats to Ryan Christensen and Lisa Dickinson Gastaldo who were chosen by Random.org as our two winners! Please send us your contact details, so we can get you the book ASAP. Thanks!