Ten months ago, Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords survived the unthinkable: a bullet to the brain.
Now, for the first time since the Jan. 8 Tucson, Ariz., shooting that claimed six lives and left 12 others wounded, Giffords, 41, is opening up about her incredible recovery.
In this week’s PEOPLE cover story (with exclusive photos), Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, share personal pictures and an excerpt from their new memoir Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope, written in collaboration with The Last Lecture‘s Jeff Zaslow.
Though Giffords still struggles to speak, she makes herself crystal clear on one point in particular in the book’s epilogue.
“I will get stronger,” she vows. “I will return.”
Among the book’s revelations: that Giffords was desperate to have a child and had been undergoing fertility treatments when she was shot; intimate details of her relationships with Kelly’s teen daughters; her slow, painful realization of what happened to her; and insight into her intense struggle to regain her powers of speech and cognition.
In one heartbreaking passage, Kelly recalls the first time Giffords tried to speak, but found she could not.
“Gabby was sitting in her wheelchair, tears running down her face,” he writes. “She was hyperventilating, absolutely panicked. Gabby motioned with her left hand, waving it by her mouth. It didn’t take me long to figure out what was wrong.”
For the full story of Giffords s remarkable recovery, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday