Sue HeroNothing will stop you in your tracks and change your life's trajectory (and your family's life) like a cancer diagnosis. 

My story starts at the age of 46 when, because of the insistence of my GP, I scheduled the mammogram I had been putting off for four years.  There was no family history on my side, so I had not been concerned.  But I was wrong.

Cancer does not just affect the person who is diagnosed; it directly impacts the entire family.  My husband and my two teenage daughters were thrown into a journey of unknown outcomes.  Back in 2006, the Carol Milgard Center did not exist; the Virginia Mason Cancer Centers did not exist.  The wait for diagnosis could take up to two (excruciating) weeks, and although there were support groups for older women, we knew no one of my age.  When the diagnosis was confirmed, we sat down with our two girls (aged 15 and 14) and told them while trying to convince them that everything would be OK.  Later that night, my husband and I held each other and cried.  It would not be the only time that fear overtook us. For our girls, this was a scary time.  Their grandmother (Pat’s Mom) had passed away in 1999 (7 years earlier) from complications due to breast cancer. Now, they had it on both sides of the family.

The months passed with surgeries, radiation, medications, and treatments.  Our oldest daughter learned to drive by taking me to appointments.  Our youngest daughter held my hand during difficult and often painful procedures.  Their lives changed forever.  My wonderful, caring, and patient husband was there for every decision we had to make and to care for me when day-to-day life and procedures got too much.

Motorcycle 4But I’m the lucky one.  I’m still here.  The treatments worked, and this year, I am celebrating 17 years Cancer Free.  I am all too aware of friends and family whose journey ended or whose fight was much tougher than mine. Survivor’s guilt is real.

When my husband bought his first Indian Motorcycle in 2014, I had three choices: stay at home, ride on the back …….. or ride my own.  I chose to ride my own, “How hard can it be?”.  It turned out to be one of the hardest skills I have ever challenged myself to learn.  However, I was not prepared for what it would add to our lives.  The feeling of achievement, the friendships, and that Ah-Ha moment when it’s just you on a beautiful PNW windy road with tall fir trees and a view of the mountain. People who don’t ride ask me all the time why I do it, isn’t it dangerous?  Well, I say, “I could wake up tomorrow and find out the cancer is back, or I could go ride my motorcycle,” ….  and together with Jenny Fardink (also a survivor), this led to the creation of The Wigged Out Ride.

The only way I have ever been able to make sense of the bad things that happen is to find some good. Finding a way to make women feel good about themselves during an awful time in their lives is part of it.  But more than that …. for me, it’s the stories I hear every year.  The son who just lost his Mom.  The husband who re-donates his wife’s wig after she has passed away.  The friend who needs to talk about their cancer journey to someone who understands. That’s how I make sense of it, and only then does my story bring healing.