For Carly Fiorina this week, the personal is political. The day after she launches her campaign for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, the former Hewlett-Packard CEO will release a book that details the personal struggles she’s faced.
In its discussion of what Fiorina calls her “leadership journey,” Rising to the Challenge covers similar territory to Fiorina’s previous book, Tough Choices. But while that book focused mostly on her career in business, the new one talks more about some of the challenges in her private life.
Putting the book out the same week as her campaign launch ensures that Fiorina will get her story told on her terms as well as soften her image among voters who may not be familiar with her life story.
Here’s a look at three major parts of her life outlined in the book.
Losing a Daughter
Fiorina often mentions that her stepdaughter Lori died in 2009, but she typically only notes that she was “lost to the demons of addiction.” It’s striking, then, that Rising to the Challenge opens with a detailed section about Lori’s death.
“The two police officers stood awkwardly in our living room,” the book begins. And farther down the first page: “They asked us to sit down. Frank collapsed in a chair. I sat on the carpet next to him, my arms wrapped around his knees. The police officers said our daughter was dead, three thousand miles away.”
Fiorina talks about her daughter’s struggles with alcohol, prescription pills and bulimia that led to her death at age 35. It’s at the end of the prologue that Fiorina first unites the personal with the political: “Lori’s potential was never fulfilled but death is not the only thing that crushes potential. … What I also know is that Americans are failing to achieve their potential today.”
Fiorina returns to this theme throughout the book. While “unlocking potential” is a favorite political catchphrase of Fiorina’s (her group for conservative women is called the Unlocking Potential Project), she shows readers in Rising to the Challenge that her image of unfulfilled citizens around the country is haunted by the memory of her late daughter’s decline.
Fiorina has never hidden the fact that she had breast cancer. She ran much of her Senate campaign in California in 2009 nearly bald from chemotherapy. But starting with the first line of the cancer section of her book – “I was in a bathtub in Mexico when I found the lump” – Fiorina is blunt about the medical and emotional strain of the disease, which she was diagnosed with the night before she was due to announce her run for Senate.
On the campaign trail Fiorina underwent three surgeries, multiple hospital stays, chemotherapy and a bilateral mastectomy, as well as dealing with Lori’s death, which happened the same year.
Fiorina describes one night after a “grueling day of campaigning” when one of the implants from her breast reconstruction surgery became infected. “I knew I was in trouble,” she writes, “My entire left side was on fire.” After she got to the hospital, “The last thing I remember is the nurse taking my temperature. It was 107 degrees.” And this was one week until election night.
As with Lori’s death, Fiorina talks about how her battle with cancer ended up powering her political drive rather than stunting it, although she lost the election. “As any survivor knows, going through an experience like fighting cancer is transformative, although not altogether negative,” she says. “Suddenly, for me, running for the Senate was no longer just a cold calculation of the odds of beating Barbara Boxer. It was a rare chance to change the order of things for the better.”
Rediscovering Her Faith
It’s in dealing with the year that had thrown at her both cancer and the loss of a child that Fiorina reconnects with her faith, which has since become a pillar of her conservatism.
Fiorina admits that in adulthood her faith had become “more abstract,” saying she viewed God “as something of a super CEO of a massive enterprise” who “didn’t attend to every detail.” But after Lori’s death, when her husband Frank turned away from religion, Fiorina turned towards it, realizing that “of course God knew every single one of us personally and kept track of us and heard our prayers. … God knows everything that is happening in the universe – not in broad management strokes, but in minute, personal detail.”
It was this rediscovered faith that Fiorina says sustained her. “When my mother died a decade earlier, I didn’t have this personal connection with God, and her death shattered me,” she writes. “When Lori died, my personal relationship with Jesus Christ saved me.”