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New Faculty Publication

You may know William Roth, a prominent faculty member in the University at Albany’s School of Social Welfare. His memoir, titled Movement is a tri-fold step into his life as he describes in his own words his world, living with dystonia, winning a battle with cancer and being the song of parents who escaped the Holocaust. This book is now available at the Dewey Library, Call Number:RC 280 T7 R68 2008.

Dystonia is a neurological movement disorder that causes unpredictable muscle spasms. It tends to develop in one’s childhood, which is what happened to Roth. He noticed one winter that his left foot began to curl inward and soon was diagnosed with dystonia, something that will remain with him until this day. Combined with a tricky bout of cancer later in life, Roth is an exemplary survivor.

Roth’s memoir starts with a prologue of his disorder and progresses as each chapter takes hold of one of three central topics: dystonia, cancer, and family history. While the chapters go back in forth in his life, the constant theme is indeed movement, particularly forward. As one delves into the book, each chapter progresses until the unfortunate circumstances of having his father treat family (and other) victims of the Holocaust and dystonia become one, and in the end, the stories come full circle.

Growing up, we learn he both comes to terms with and struggles with dystonia. He undergoes risky (some might call it experimental) surgery as a child to lessen, perhaps even stop, the dystonia that will infiltrate his body. The disorder causes his muscles to jerk randomly , limiting his social interactions, yet, Roth succeeds in keeping his ground and enters Yale, finding himself involved in many activist engagements. This would only be the start of Roth’s interest in becoming an activist: It is not until he takes a tour of Willowbrook in the 1970’s, an institution for young people with developmental disabilities, he sees the horror in how “the other��? is treated. Roth then becomes an activist gaining rights for disabled persons, and later establishes the Center for Computing and Disability at UAlbany.

In his adult life, Roth learns he has cancer via a large tumor in the back of his throat. Coupled with dystonia, the surgeries and chemotherapy to rid the cancer are even more complicated. Roth consults with some of the best doctors and surgeons in the northeast to be on his “team��?, just as one would select the best players in baseball to be part of their team. He assembles his team for medical expertise, to help him weigh decisions or just to be there to simply talk about the fears of cancer. After the first, invasive surgery and therapy, the cancer isn’t eliminated. The second time? Home run. All this after a few strikeouts at bat along the way.

This may seem simple on paper, but the vignettes of Roth’s life come together to tell a story of triumph and heartache that life gives. While the chapters do a dance to unfold the story, there is a sense that Roth himself moves continually forward, only stopping for brief moments to reflect. Often in his memoir, he will pose question as to why certain events happened in his life – why he got cancer, and how and what contributed to it. Roth ends his brief moments by saying “I will never know��? and then the story moves forward. Even when he gets unexpected grim news along his cancer journey, he decides to split into two people, a sort of coping mechanism Roth uses to deal with the reality and emotionally charged feelings of cancer.

Perhaps Movement is a way of Roth to reflect on his life, to string together the most important components to see his life, rather than just living it. He thrives despite his dystonia, overcomes cancer against all odds and dedicates his all to being a devoted father to his son, Daniel. In the end, Roth claims he is loves life and its people and is not afraid to die, nor afraid to live. These are words we can all take from as we read Movement and perhaps find ourselves in Roth, winning great battles and overcoming limitations.

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Faculty Member William Roth

Blog post created by Jill Parsons