Susan Blackstock, Dauphin County
My beautiful sister Janet was a hospice nurse for many years. She would tell her patients that her sister Susan was the luckiest person she had ever met. That’s because I was doing the unhealthiest thing a person can do. I was smoking when I discovered a lump the size of a baby pea in my breast.
In March 2007 I learned that I had breast cancer. I might have had a clue about that since it runs in my family, but I truly never thought I’d get it. My sister Karen says I live with the pixies and that I completely deny anything unpleasant. That true, but I wasn’t so much in denial that I didn’t get regular mammograms. For years I said it will skip us, my sisters and girl cousins and me, and by the time my nieces get older they will have cured it, but that didn’t happen. So I learned that I would be living without the two things that entered a room before me since the age of 15. They were big, and heavy, and incredibly squishy soft; I loved them. Unfortunately, the girls had to go. I remember standing in the shower the morning of my surgery and washing them for the last time, and I could not visualize what it would be like without them.
I thought I would never leave the house without the fake ones in. I learned that was wrong too. Those jokers itch and when you’re healing you don’t want something itchy next to your skin. So I started going out without them. Suddenly my belly seemed enormous whereas before it, it had provided a kind of resting place for my boobies…I told you they were heavy. I also learned something really awesome in the process, not wearing a bra is GREAT!!! Seriously, it rocks.
I learned during that first year that I would assess my life in terms of quality and not longevity and therefore I would not take chemotherapy. This decision confused and even angered people who love me, but it’s my life and I need to live it as I see fit. It was not because I did not want to lose my hair. It was because chemo is a horrible thing to go through, and I simply did not want to do it if I did not absolutely have to.
I learned that beauty can be painful with the first step of my reconstruction. When the expanders went in and I could not roll over to get out of bed, I was freaking out because it hurt like a beast. I learned that when you cough or sneeze after a procedure like this, you make sure you fold your arms over your chest, covering your new breasts.
I learned that I did not want to be seen as a victim to this thing that invaded my fairy-like existence. So I chose to ignore the unpleasantness and plow forward. I talked openly about my situation so others would feel at ease. If I felt weird about it, they might also. I asked people if they wanted to feel my chest once the expanders were in; men and women both. I never asked why me, because I already knew the answer. Why not you Susie baby, why not you? God does not make mistakes, and bad stuff happens all of the time to people who don’t deserve it. That is life. No one’s life is pain free. Maybe I got it because I had the strength and support to handle it. God knows why and I don’t need the details. Suffice it to say, I get a new rack out of the deal that will never sag. So let’s call it a day.
After a while it was my turn to give back. So I started with some wonderful people in my company, Ameriheath Caritas to raise money for the PBCC. Every year in October we hold a week of activities called Pink Week to raise awareness and funds for the PBCC. People are very generous and we raise over $5,000 each year! It is my great pleasure to do so because the PBCC is committed to finding a cure.
The most important thing I learned is that I was loved. I knew I was loved before this happened, but that year all of the love I had in my life leapt on me, threw me down on the bed, and kissed me all over my face. People called me, cooked me a freezer full of meals, sent cards, flowers, and gifts. They cleaned my house and did my laundry. They held my hand and changed my dressings. They kept my dog while I recovered and gave me sick time so I would still get paid. They laughed with me and held me and told me I was beautiful. You can have a wonderful life after cancer because, if you’re like me, you learn to say what you mean, to do what you say and to know that you need to do what you really want to because life is not a do over, this is it. You make the most you can out of it while you can.