She calls herself a work in progress


Shari Bookstaff, author of "When Life Throws You Lemons…Make Cranberry Juice!" (Antoinette Estigoy)

On Monday April 19, Shari Bookstaff, a marine biologist and biology professor at Skyline College, presented her story about the rigors of life after having surgery to remove a brain tumor.

Bookstaff wrote about her journey in a book titled, “When Life Throws You Lemons…Make Cranberry Juice!” chronicling memorable moments post her operation.

In July of 2006, Bookstaff had undergone invasive surgery to remove an acoustic neuroma—a benign brain tumor. Doctor’s had reassured her that the typical recovery time was brief, but she soon found that neither her surgery nor recovery time was a typical one.

What was supposed to be a five to 10 day recovery period in the hospital became nearly nine months. After being the subject of multiple tests, injections, and under the careful supervision of the doctors and nurses, Bookstaff was able to return home to her children and dogs, which provided her ultimate comfort during a difficult time.

“When people are going through a tough time, others grasp for the ‘right’ words to say,” Bookstaff said.

She thought that many of the trait sayings were too cliché, giving the crowd examples of ones that she would hear tirelessly, such as “It could be worse,” or “Think positive.”

Bookstaff’s recreation of the famous line, “When life throws you lemons, make lemonade” to “When life throws you lemons…make cranberry juice,” truly reflects her character. She is known for finding the humor and wit in life’s idiosyncrasies—which is made apparent in the title of her book, which was published in 2009.

This book illustrates her view on how to exercise your right to choose what you want out of life—and for Bookstaff, that meant that she did not have to take life’s sour lemons as they came, or to simply settle for making “lemonade from lemons.” Rather, she felt that we all have the ability to garnish what we have been given in life—and she personally aimed to sweeten it up—literally and figuratively.

“The whole point of my book is to look for the good things in spite of the bad things,” Bookstaff said.

Bookstaff is not one for settling, and in this case, she was adamant on changing the sour drudgery of reality to something more palatable by adding her own twist—sugar and cranberry juice—and making her drink of choice, lemon cranberry juice.

But no matter which way you spin it, the reality of the matter is that Bookstaff will never live like she had before she was diagnosed with cancer. Although her doctor assured her that she had “excellent prognosis,” no one had foresight into how her future would instead become a grand undertaking.

To many people’s ease, Bookstaff survived. But unfortunately, she is challenged every day of her life by the after effects of the brain tumor.

It is “like removing a bird’s nest from lots of branches,” Bookstaff said, repeating the example her doctor had given her to describe the complexity of her operation.

She never expected or could have prepared herself for what came next—a tracheostomy (the creation of an artificial opening through the trachea to aid in breathing), or having to relearn things that come naturally, such as breathing.

It is four years since her surgery and she still has minimal sensation in her right arm, as well as a decline in coordination of her left arm. In addition, she occasionally experiences speech distortion.

Although she has wanted to give up at times, the hope for a better future and the thought of her two children is what has kept her going.

“A life of rehab” is how she explained life in the aftermath of her operation.

“It has been a lifestyle change,” Bookstaff said. “Automatic functions had to be practiced—I had to exercise to blink.”

Chip Chandler, adaptive physical education teacher at Skyline College, has known Bookstaff for over 20 years and has been her personal trainer since 2007, helping to guide her successfully on her road to recovery.

“When I first started working with her, she could barely walk with a walker,” Chandler said. “I wanted her to improve quickly, so I worked her hard doing a variety of exercises. I had to make it so that she was challenging the circuitry of her brain.”

Bookstaff’s gait is true evidence of the progress that she has made. Today, Chandler continues to push her limits to strengthen the condition of her physical body and conjointly, strengthening her mental willpower.

Bookstaff’s return to Skyline as a Biology professor was driven by her passion for teaching. But this time around, it was not marine mammal science that she was gearing up for. It was to teach a different subject altogether—brain science. She desired to share her experiences firsthand with students.

She is hoping to continue to teach on a full time basis as her condition continues to improve. With the help of her family, friends, and trainer, she proves resolute in her effort to overcome her condition—and through it, she remains resilient.

“I have come to realize that even when you don’t feel like doing something, you just have to do it—to keep going,” Bookstaff said. “Just by going through the motions, you’ll feel better—and eventually your emotions will catch up.”

For more information about Bookstaff’s book, visit: