PGC’s co-CEO Susan Cary-Hanson is a five-year breast cancer survivor. To mark this milestone, Susan asked to share her story on the PGC blog. She hopes her experience helps other women diagnosed with breast cancer on their journeys.
Could you share a little about how you found out you had cancer?
I found the tumor myself on June 6, 2013. I was fortunate to have discovered it at an early stage. A biopsy found that the cancer cells were HER 2+, an aggressive form of cancer. Breast Cancer affects one in eight women. This meant I had a longer treatment journey ahead of me than many other cancer survivors.
During my treatment, I had two lumpectomies, 18 weeks of chemotherapy, 33 radiation treatments, and 13 months of medication. While treatment was certainly no picnic, I’m grateful for the aggressive treatment plan my oncologist designed for me. My type of cancer had a 25% chance of reoccurring within the first three years after diagnosis I’m grateful to be cancer-free for five years.
What did you find most helpful during treatment?
I tried to stay forward-thinking and reached out to people who would support me. My advice to anyone who’s received this diagnosis: stay positive and surround yourself with positive people.
Breast cancer treatment is an arduous journey. It’s not for the faint of heart, and I quickly learned that I couldn’t do it alone. Having support and people I trusted with me for chemo appointments helped quell my anxiety and made these long days bearable. It was also helpful to have someone who could take notes at appointments with me. Every appointment was an emotional challenge, so having someone who could sit there and write everything the doctor told me was essential.
Early in my treatment, I had an idea of whom I thought would be my support team through this experience. But the people who ended up showing up surprised me. Often, they were casual friends or coworkers rather than family and close friends who were deeply emotionally affected by my diagnosis. The people who can show up will show up, and I still feel blessed that they did. I learned very quickly to withhold any judgment of anyone who was or was not able to actively support me in my journey.
I also took advantage of all the free support I was offered. Abbott Northwestern Hospital offers lots of free resources and support groups. I still read the hospital’s Cure Today magazine today, five years after finishing treatment.
Finally, I listened to my body to learn what it needed. Exercise was very helpful for me during treatment, even if it was just walking a half-mile. It wasn’t always easy, especially during chemotherapy, but I always felt better after moving my body. I also became very sensitive to scents and certain foods. I wrote down when things made me feel ill so I knew to avoid them in the future.
So, how is life now that you’re five years cancer-free? Do you do anything to mark the occasion?
I’m so grateful to be on this side of my diagnosis! If I’m being very honest, part of me wants to forget my cancer ever happened. But I’m happy to talk about my story with anybody who asks.
Even five years on, I’m surprised at the things I can roll with the punches with, and the things that I can’t. For the last few years, I attended my annual mammogram appointments by myself. But these exams have always created a lot of anxiety for me. So, on my next one, I plan to take my husband along.
I also keep a gratitude journal. This is something I started during treatment that I have continued over the last five years. It helps me focus on the positive and keep things in perspectives.
Everyone’s breast cancer story is different, and everyone’s situation is different. But the one thing to remember is that you’re not alone. Put your support system in place early, whether you recruit friends and family or attend the support groups your hospital offers.
Thank you for sharing your breast cancer story, Susan! We’re grateful to have you on the PGC leadership team.
Here are a few links on battling cancer – you are not alone!