Getting the news that you have cancer changes everything. Your life gets put on hold, your plans derailed and those close to you are devastated. For Sue Jones, that’s exactly what happened. Life came to a screeching halt. Now, three years later, she’s cancer free and taking what she learned from her experience to mentor and guide others who are going through the very same thing that she went through.
Sue worked as a paraprofessional at Edgewood Elementary School in Michigan City and a teacher, and close friend, that she worked with in the classroom had just gotten her yearly breast examination.
“For me it was about a year and a half,” Sue said of her last check at the time. “She was getting on me about going in and doing it and I thought, ‘well it doesn’t run in my family and I’ll get there.”
“I had gotten home that evening and, this may sound a little strange but, my boston terrier had jumped up on me and it hurt. I felt underneath and noticed something there. I thought, ‘What?! No it’s just something else.’ So I went to work in the morning and I called my doctor and she got me in right away.”
Sue then went to La Porte Hospital where she had a mammogram done and after the procedure was finished, she was met with silence.
“They got me into a room right away and the nurse said, ‘If the doctor comes in they’re going to want to do a biopsy. If I come back it’s okay.’ So, of course, the doctor came in and they did the biopsy.”
The medical professionals then told Sue that the biopsy would most likely come back positive for cancer and to be prepared for that. That was when the reality of the situation hit her like a ton of bricks.
“As I’m walking out of the hospital I was just bawling and I called my husband, Jerry, and I just couldn’t believe the words that had come out of her mouth were that I had breast cancer,” Sue said. “I then got on the phone and talked to Sam (Lubeznik) and my daughter, Erika, who was very upset, and by then my son, Ryan, was home.”
“Everybody met at home and my first realization that it was true was when I walked in the house and saw all of their faces. Just that look of devastation like, ‘oh my God, mom you have cancer.’ It just tore me apart.”
After that moment, Sue began to reflect on her own mortality and what the next steps will be. She spoke with people close to her and knew that, no matter what, she was going to be aggressive in the fight.
“I made an appointment, got in right away and, with Sam, Erika, Ryan and Jerry all in the room with me, I found out that I had stage two, triple negative breast cancer which can be a killer,” Sue said. “That was another hurdle between the love that I had from them but still not really understanding how to deal with this now.”
Sue then met with her surgeon whom she told to remove everything that could remotely go wrong. Also during the surgery, doctors removed 24 lymph nodes which ultimately came back clear of cancer which was an early indication that the cancer had not spread. After recovering from surgery, Sue faced chemotherapy.
“Chemo is a monster when you have cancer. You look at chemo like it’s just going to tear me up inside. My husband went to every single one and Sam and Erika came to as many as they could.”
When Sue walked in for her first chemo treatment she noticed two starkly different atmospheres in the waiting room. On one side of the room there was a lot of doom and gloom, while on the other side Sue noticed people talking and laughing and she knew that’s what she needed from this experience.
“I sat with those people at every single session because I chose to do that,” Sue said. “They provided me with some education about what I was going through. I started reading more and my family started exploring things more, but it’s still a lonely hole that you’re in.”
“You lose your hair and that’s horrible. I wore baseball caps which were a little more comfortable for me. I didn’t feel like myself wearing a wig. The steroids bloat you up so then you just feel not yourself.”
After two years doctors told Sue that they had pretty much gotten all of the cancer out of her body. The type of cancer that she had typically comes back after two years and she’s now going on three years of being cancer-free. While Sue considers herself “beyond blessed”, the tests and treatments continue and that serves as a constant reminder of what she has been through.
“You’re in remission and things are looking really good but then the testing process comes up again, and the MRI’s and the bone scans,” Sue reflected. “It follows you. I didn’t have somebody there who was going through it. My family’s understanding of what I was going through was as much as they could give me and I didn’t have that extra person there who had gone through it themselves.”
Sue’s journey inspired her to act and she began to reach out to cancer patients, and she’s been able to connect with them in a much more intimate way on a level that only a survivor can.
“I reached out and have mentored, and made friends with, several people who I have either gone through the entire process with or I’ve met in the middle of their treatment,” said Sue. “I was there for phone calls and to answer questions. I was there to do for them what I needed someone to have done for me. That’s what I do now and I will continue to do it until I can’t do it anymore!”
“Life is beautiful and I appreciate everyday as a golden moment. I made it to my daughter's wedding with Sam and I didn’t think I was going to do that. There are so many other things that I didn’t think I was going to make it to and I’ve made it! Climbing out of the hole is hard but it’s so worth the fight. You have to be positive, you have to have people that you can talk to and relate to, and you have to have people there to be able to call and say, ‘hey, I feel this way, did you feel this way?’ I’m there to let them know that it’s going to be okay.”
Having seen so many highs and lows over the last several years, Sue summed up her outlook that she now passes on to those whom she mentors in saying, “Life is worth living, fight for it!”
Pictures above feature Sue dancing with her daughter Erika on her wedding day, with family at Erika and Sam's wedding, catching her first Cubs game, spending three wonderful Christmases with family, and the SURVIVOR shirt that went with her to every doctor visit.
If you’re a cancer survivor or you have a friend or family member that is, please share your story and how long you have been cancer free to firstname.lastname@example.org. Simply send us your name and how long you’ve been cancer free to be added to our growing list of Survivors. We look forward to sharing some inspirational journeys with you through this series!