The heroine of Love’s Secrets puts on perfume, goes to a barbecue, and meets Rod: caramel skin, wavy hair, muscles, and commitment issues.

The author of Love’s Secrets can never do two of those three things. Exposure to perfume or barbecue smoke could kill Yolandé McVey ’07, who suffers from severe asthma and allergies. “I’m so allergic to everything that when I was given an allergy test, I went into shock,” she said. “They had to call an ambulance to take me to a hospital.”

Courtesy Yolandé McVey
Courtesy Yolandé McVey

McVey began to lose ground in her lifelong battle with respiratory problems in 1997. She had just moved to Arizona to help her oldest son get over his asthma.

“His health improved while mine declined dramatically,” she says. She returned to the Chicago area and retreated to the filtered air of her home. “I believed the four walls of my bedroom would be my prison,” she says, “and that I would never live a fulfilling life.” Adding to her sense of defeat, her medications made her gain more than 100 pounds in less than a year.

“When you’re disabled and you’re home-bound and you’re bed-bound, your life is bound up in one room,” she says. “My whole world was four walls and a laptop.”

But McVey wasn’t ready to give up. After all, this is someone who made a triple grade jump in elementary school. Who graduated high school at 16 in the top 5 percent of her class. Who raised three foster children in addition to two of her own.

“One day,” she says, “I got very tired of being very tired and decided to take my life back.” First on her list was completing college, which she’d put off in 1985 to get married. She enrolled in Washington State University’s Distance Degree Program.

“It did a lot to make me feel empowered,” McVey says. She graduated from the online program in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in social sciences. “Washington State opened the doors to my life,” she says from her home in Hammond, Indiana. “It gave me hope. I met people from all over the country, shared experiences, and interacted with professors who inspired me to learn more, to push the envelope.”

McVey pushed it hard. She finished her first book Love’s Secrets, which was published by Genesis Press in July 2008 to positive reviews. The book is billed as a romance novel, but it focuses on the love between sisters, mothers, and daughters. The family’s last name is Foster, and they do foster one another, amid the blistering insults: “I hate you” is how sisters Veronica and Darlene say, “I love you.”

McVey is now earning a master’s degree in counseling and human services at National-Louis University. With the help of medication, she is able to attend classes once a week.

She carries a 4.0 grade point average, which she credits to the writing skills and self-discipline that she developed during her WSU studies. “The regimen I learned there has done me very well at National-Louis,” she says. After graduation, she’d like to create a support group for parents of bipolar teens.

Along with her grad school work, McVey has written a couple of plays and is “toying with” a mystery novel and a vampire series. She missed her calling as a chef, she said, so instead treats family and friends to “grand feasts with specially crafted sauces and desserts fit for royalty.” One favorite: Granny Smith apple pie cheesecake with a rich brandy sauce on a vanilla wafer and oatmeal crust.

“Good food is like real love,” she said. “Who ever really gets enough of either?”