Netflix’s documentary film ‘American Symphony’ follows the cancer journey of writer and columnist Suleika Jaouad. Suleika and her Grammy Award-winning husband Jon Batiste dealt with the former’s leukemia while the latter was reaching new heights in his career as a musician. The author bravely fought the return of her cancer after a period of remission mainly during the year 2022. Her disease affected the couple’s lives severely but they managed to find a way to embrace joy even while getting immersed in pain. Today, Suleika continues her fight, inspiring countless cancer patients from all across the world!
Suleika’s Cancer Journey
Suleika was diagnosed with a rare form of acute myeloid leukemia in 2011, right after graduating from Princeton University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 2010. Her dreams of becoming a war correspondent were hindered when she was given only a 35% chance of survival. At the age of 22, upon starting to fight leukemia, Suleika started to document her journey of survival in writing. The New York Times became the home of the writer in her. Her column “Life, Interrupted” received immense acclaim but the same was just the start of her career as an author.
Suleika eventually went into remission. The experience of battling cancer inspired her to share her life saga with the world, only for her to become a motivational speaker. In June 2019, she gave a TED Talk titled, “What almost dying taught me about living.” She published her memoir ‘Between Two Kingdoms: A Memoir of a Life Interrupted’ in 2021, in which she explores her cancer treatment and recovery. Suleika’s life, however, turned around towards the end of the same year. In December 2021, she announced that her cancer returned. By March 22, she underwent her second bone marrow transplant as well.
Suleika married Jon Batiste in 2022, a day before she underwent a bone marrow transplant. The musician tried his best to help his partner deal with her life-threatening disease. He created lullabies to ease her pain at night after night, which made her feel that “he was right there sleeping by my bedside,” as per an interview given to CBS News’ ‘Sunday Morning.’
Suleika’s Battle Against Cancer Continues
Suleika is still undergoing treatment. She occasionally shares her treatment journey through her social media platforms. In August 2023, she shared a photograph from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York City, while getting treatment for her allergic reactions. “When you’re having an allergic reaction to your donor lymphocyte infusion and high on IV benny but still beating your bff at scrab grab,” the author previously shared in March 2023 while getting the same treatment.
In July 2023, while celebrating her 35th birthday, Suleika described the past year as a “lost year.” “I spent my birthday in Switzerland, and leading up to it, I announced to my family that, although I was supposed to be turning 35, I would be sticking with 34 — a stance not motivated by vanity or fear of aging, but because so much of the last year felt like a lost year. Maybe once in our lifetime, I said, we should get a redo,” she shared. But along with Batiste, she is committed to trying new adventures.
Seemingly as a start, Suleika and Batiste went for paragliding over the Swiss mountains. “We were able to do things this year that last year were impossible. She has a level of appreciation for life and being in the world that is profound. Everything is going as great as it can go, and we just pray that it continues,” Batiste told People. In September 2023, Batiste had an update concerning his wife to share while appearing in ‘Sherri.’ “It’s a miracle. She [Suleika] is doing so much better after her transplant,” the musician said about his partner’s health.
In May 2023, Suleika revealed that she is planning to start writing her second book. The details concerning the same are currently under wraps. Earlier this year, she received the inaugural INSPIRE Award at the Be The Match, an organization committed to connecting patients needing one marrow transplantation with donors, gala. Suleika’s wish to share her story motivated her to reveal her vulnerability in ‘American Symphony.’ “This film is by far the most vulnerable thing we’ve ever created. For seven months, we filmed from sun-up long past sundown […]. It’s a story of love and art and survival — about what happens when the human spirit is tested again and again,” she shared about the documentary.
Suleika is also engaged with The Isolation Journals, an artist-led community and publishing platform she founded during the Covid-19 pandemic. The community sends weekly journaling prompts from celebrated writers and artists. The contributors of the same include ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ author Elizabeth Gilbert, Whiting Award-winner Esmé Weijun Wang, singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers, and social justice activist Rachel Cargle. The author spends her time painting regularly as well.