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I Am Your Disease By Sheryl Letzgus McGinnis with Heiko Ganzer, LCSW, CASAC

I Am Your Disease By Sheryl Letzgus McGinnis with Heiko Ganzer, LCSW, CASAC
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Review by Richard Parks, photographic consultant Roger Rohrdanz


I do book reviews on hot rodding, car racing and other automotive related topics, but every now and then I will review a book on a subject that impacts the car culture. Car guys are typically hands on people who enjoy working on problems and solving them. The more difficult the problem, the more they are motivated to see if they can learn and then create a solution. The book, I Am Your Disease, by Sheryl Letzgus McGinnis, with Heiko Ganzer, LCSW, CASAC, is a very difficult one to read on a topic that is unpleasant at best. The typical car guy would rather avoid this issue and head out to the garage to work on engines, frames and parts for his hot rod. For many of us, the subject of drug addiction and death is one that we can’t seem to grasp, nor solve, and thus we avoid the topic altogether. However, we can’t walk away from this issue, for drug abuse and the consequences to our friends and family are simply too great to ignore. I Am Your Disease is a paperback book, measuring 6x9 inches, with a full one inch thickness.

There are 357 pages of text and 80 photographs, 41 in color. The importance of the book is in the text and the messages, while the photographs are mere haunting reminders of the lives lost to drug addiction. In fact the photographs are barely a half inch by a half inch in size, but they show the subjects of the book in happier days, before the ugliness of drug addiction twisted their lives and ended them. The book is divided into chapters, one for each of the 39 people whose lives are portrayed.

There are three pages of testimonials, a title page, five page table of contents, but no index. Normally an index would denote a higher quality of work by the author, but here it is not really needed. Each person’s story stands alone and is sufficient in itself. The reader doesn’t need to know where to find a story of horrific proportions, for each and every story has that quality. In additions to the stories are poems, a list to help people see how to grieve, a story concerning peer pressure and what our children are saying to us, if we would but listen to them before it is too late.  There is a section on where to go to find help and what types of drugs our children are finding on the streets. Another section presents coping skills for parents and family. Heiko Ganzer describes what addiction and gambling does to our young people and what family and friends can do. Ms McGinnis ends the book with an afterword, five short pages, terse and to the point. The final page gives websites where family and friends can go for more information and help. I Am Your Disease is not an owner’s manual on drug abuse or how to control it. The photographs show small images of happy faces, all but one who is white, mostly male, in their late teens and twenties. There are no graphic images of bloated bodies, cars mangled against trees, needle marks on the corpses arms or disfigured loved ones. The author left that to our imagination. I Am Your Disease is published by Outskirts Press, Inc, Denver, Colorado and is available from the author or at book stores or The price is $16.95 and the ISBN # is 10:1-59800-699-1. I Am Your Disease appears to be a self-publish book, but the style of writing is quite good.

Now to the content itself, and it is the content that makes this book valuable. It is a parent who writes each of the chapters about their son or daughter.  In that respect, I Am Your Disease should rightly be called an anthology, with many authors writing a chapter. The quality of the writing is not lessened by multiple authors. Many of the stories are only a few pages, but some are more than twenty pages long. Some parents express their grief quickly, while others go into detail about the causes of the drug addiction and the effect that it has on family and friends. In one case the death of one young man led to the depression, anger, sorrow and addiction of another young man, who eventually died as well. All of the mothers, fathers, relatives and friends tell us that drug addiction can happen to anyone and that no one is bad. Of course this is true, for all children are innocent at birth and the disease of addiction comes about silently with stealth. Even those who survive their addictions to dangerous and lethal drug usage are often unaware of the early signs. The bright, shining, smiling faces in the photographs show no evil intentions. As you look on the front cover at the 32 men and 7 women in the prime of their lives and ponder what they could have been, a profound sadness grips your mind. These were young men and women who had careers ahead of them. They might have had happy husbands and wives and wonderful children of their own. There might have been grandchildren and great-grandchildren to dote on someday. As you read their stories and grasp the reality that their drug addiction has led to tragedy, not only for themselves, but for their family and friends, a great sadness envelops your thoughts. That’s exactly why Sherry McGinnis compiled the stories of people who have lost their children. The author is committed to doing something to try and spare another mother or father from the anguish that she feels on the loss of her son to drug addiction. 

Now I know the hot rodding community very well. My father before me knew the hot rodding community even better than I. He spent his life trying to bring order to the chaos of Illegal Street racing by organizing the youth into clubs and later into the National Hot Rod Association, or NHRA. Wally Parks spent his life saving your children from killing themselves on the highways of America. Thousands heeded the call and joined the NHRA and they are alive today, to see their children and grandchildren prosper. But it isn’t just illegal street racing that kills the children of hot rodders around the world. We also have car people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol and who suffer these diseases. We also have children and grandchildren who suffer from addiction. We have friends and family members who are addicted to excessive risky behavior. We all take risks and we all have our dysfunctions, but through luck or divine providence we survive to tell our families and give our examples of what to avoid. Can this book solve all your problems and keep your children from gambling with their lives? The answer is no, it is not going to be the answer to all your problems concerning addiction and drugs. But it will do something very important. It takes a subject that we don’t want to talk about and maybe even fear, and in a loving and compassionate manner it examines how lives have been ruined. If you care enough to protect your loved ones, you will put down your tools, turn off the TV set, put your racing schedule on hold and read this book. I Am Your Disease is not going to tell you what Step One is, or how to magically change the behavior of your children in regards to drugs. If you are a user and abuser, this book will not cure you either. If your children see you using drugs or alcohol, all the books in the world aren’t going to be of much help.

What I Am Your Disease will do for you is set the mood and maybe get you to thinking. Maybe you have been doing too much racing or cruising to the detriment of your family 
I Am Your Disease. is step one in your future sobriety, or the salvation of your children who are experimenting with the drug culture. There is also a lot of smugness on the part of families who haven’t suffered a lot from drug abuse. But in my life I have never seen a family that didn’t have some sort of dysfunctional behaviors and addiction is one of the worst. Sometimes it is simply dumb luck that determines whether our addictions kill us or spare us. I Am Your Disease is simply an eye opener, a book intended to give you some examples of how drug addiction kills. There are as many ways to suffer irreparable damage and death as there are people who experiment with drugs. You are car guys and hot rodders and you pride yourself on finding solutions to problems that arise in the automotive culture. Now it is time for you to spend some time and read this book and see how some young men and women got themselves into this problem and how it caused their deaths. It’s time to educate yourselves and learn what addiction is and what you can do to help prevent it. I Am Your Disease is an easy to read book that is easy for the whole family to read, separately and then later as a group, to promote a family unity. Before your children go to Junior High School, High School and College, have them read this book and discuss it with you. I know what you are going to say, “My children don’t talk to me and even if they did, I wouldn’t know what to say.” Unfortunately, you won’t be able to say very much at their funerals either. You’ll be just as tongue tied at the gravesite as you are sitting in the living room with a belligerent young person who would rather be somewhere else. But this is your child and you love them and your prized ’32 Deuce is going to be left to them to live the hot rodding life that you love so much. You’ll spend thousands of hours in the garage or auto shop building the car of your dreams, but you won’t spend an hour of your time with your wife and children on a topic that could save their lives. 

Typical of the stories is one written by the mother of Mike DiGiantommaso who died from an overdose of heroin. His mother gave the timeline of addiction; experimentation, abuse, addiction and death. But in between these phases comes other harmful aspects. Debt, theft, inability to function or see the plight of others as one’s life is being extinguished. For the parents and friends, a despair at the alienation of their child and friend as they are lost to a world of drugs. Mike began to use alcohol and marijuana at the age of 15, and then progressed on to harder and more addictive drugs. Since the majority of Americans have gone through the same stage, how was anyone to see the tragedy that was to unfold before their eyes?  The mother feels responsible and says her denial was a factor, but in a world where drugs and alcohol addiction is the norm, how could she have known what would happen to her son. Most addicts to drugs survive, though their health may never be as good as if they had never gotten hooked. Sometimes a parent feels that they are trying to hold back a flood of modern day behaviors from reaching their family. Guilt and shame are useless emotions after a child has died from addictive drugs. In some respects that is all that we have, this blaming of our inability to face the truth. Even in homes that do not use drugs, tobacco or alcohol, our children are still at risk. If we band together and send letters to our Congressmen when laws are proposed to curtail our car culture, shouldn’t we band together to save the lives of our family members too? Frankly, there is no easy solution and every program to curtail drug addiction has limitations. The author and the reviewer disagree on some of the programs, but this is unimportant. I Am Your Disease is a book for beginners. It isn’t intended to be a book for experienced professionals. The purpose of the book is to get you to think about the problem and then to talk about it and finally to act. In that respect, I Am Your Disease is a success, and frankly, based only on its content, one of the better books on my list of “must have for your library.” I rate this book a solid 8 out of 8 spark plugs, or a superior book. 

Gone Racin’ is at [email protected]

The author can be reached at

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