The photograph of the sweet-faced second-grader on the book jacket belies the story within the book’s covers.
He may only be in his 40s, but former City of Hope patient Andrew Bridge already has a lifetime of stories of tragedy and hope to share, and he has gathered them together in his memoir, “Hope’s Boy,” currently one of the nation’s bestselling nonfiction books. The soft-spoken author recently read from his memoir at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, Calif.
Hope was his mother’s name, and hope was what he clung to through poverty, heartbreak and his adolescence in exile among strangers. After witnessing his mother’s delusional descent into mental illness and institutionalization, he too was institutionalized — warehoused in the notorious MacLaren Hall, a now-closed Dickensian foster care facility — then placed with a loveless foster family that refused to accept him.
Through the encouragement of a few teachers, along with his intellect, survival skills and unwavering devotion to his mother, Bridge triumphed. He was student body president, received a scholarship to Wesleyan University, proceeded to Harvard Law School and a Fulbright scholarship, and ultimately began a career championing the rights of the nation’s half-million children in foster care.
Bridge named another hope that impacted his life, as well. In 1992, when he was 28, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and underwent eight months of chemotherapy at City of Hope. While his cancer is not the focus of the book, Bridge told the standing-room-only crowd before the reading that he was grateful to City of Hope and its people — one in particular.
“I want to thank Dr. Stephen Forman. I owe him everything,” he said.
Following the book signing (partial proceeds benefited City of Hope), Bridge spoke to Hope News about his diagnosis and treatment.
“What was so hard about this was that I had this feeling that I had done all the things I was supposed to do, and in my own head there was a sense of ‘now you’re safe.’ This disease went to a place where I wasn’t safe.
“It hit at that other part I could never make better – that I didn’t have a family. It was enormously frightening. The truth is, when you’re 27 or 28 and that happens to you, you go home. I didn’t have anyplace to go.”
He remembered Forman’s “quiet assurance.”
“It was so important to me,” he said. “I remember the first time he explained exactly what we were going to do. I asked, ‘What if this doesn’t work?’ Dr. Forman calmly looked at me and with just enough confidence and reassurance said, ‘Well then, we’ll do something else. We’ll try another protocol.’”
Bridge admits he was frightened, and Forman knew and understood it. “I always felt safe around him — that feeling in his eyes, the way he touched me and the way he walked into those rooms — that just said, ‘I get you,’” Bridge said. “That meant so much.”
“Hope’s Boy” (Hyperion, $22.95) is available through major booksellers including Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.