Susan Lee, 54, is a wife, mother of three, and vice president of sales who lives in Brookeville, MD. She’s partnered with the American Lung Association’s LUNG FORCE, an initiative focused on uniting women against lung cancer, the #1 cancer killer of both women and men. In November 2014, she was diagnosed with Stage 1A lung cancer. Her surgery to remove a tumor lasted more than twice as long as expected because the doctor also took out a section of her right lung. Her husband, Edward, a former Detroit Lions wide receiver, was devastated. Susan has shared her inspiring story with FirstforWomen.com. You can read part 1 here. Here’s part 2.
Hearing the word cancer sent me to a numb place. Knowing it was lung cancer, the same disease my mother struggled with, was difficult as well. After reviewing all of the findings and scans, the oncologist recommended I go on and live my life. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.
We were honest with my three children from the beginning. I realized that if you are calm, they will remain calm. But it did scare them because they remember what it was like when my mother went through lung cancer. We gave them the opportunity to help out more, and they became empowered through helping me get better.
My strong support system of friends and family also stepped in to help me through that difficult time. My church family and my coworkers chimed in with meals for my kids.
Getting back to life and my usual routine was extremely important, so I returned to work eight weeks after surgery. I thought I was doing well, but I would cry the whole way in when I was alone in my car, and then I would walk in the office and act as if nothing had occurred. I have a stressful, high-powered job, and it’s not a place where, as a leader, I felt I could show my emotions.
So I would go home every evening and talk it out with my husband. He would patiently listen to me. Eventually I was able to face the fact that it happened to me and I began to talk about my diagnosis with people outside of my family.
There is such a stigma about lung cancer and I did not want to face the same question over and over again about whether I was a smoker or not. LUNG FORCE was a blessing for me. I was able to meet other people from across the country who have experienced journeys like mine and beyond.
As for what caused my lung cancer, my doctor and I discussed the possibilities of early exposure, my brief experimentation, and my potential exposure to radon gas in one of our previous homes. Since I’ve been working with LUNG FORCE, I’ve learned more about the potential causes, but more research is essential to all future generations.
I wish we had more options for treatment when my mother battled the disease because she would still be here. I wish that no one in my family had ever picked up a cigarette. I wish I could have done more to help my mother quit smoking or that she could have quit earlier, as she might have still been here today. My father is; he’s 80 years old.
And I have wonderful kids who ask a lot of questions and we still talk about it today. We have strong faith and as a family we pray weekly for my continued health. I’ve been cancer-free for two years, and I get scans every six months.
I live every day with purpose. I realize that each day is a gift so I try to enjoy the simple things in life. I do not sweat the small things because in retrospect, they have no real impact. I also go for walks four to five times a week and spend time volunteering with various organizations that deal with lung cancer and children’s cancers. I spend time with my husband and my children and value each conversation and listen to what they have to say. Most importantly, I do not live in fear or live from scan to scan. I am prepared to fight as hard, and as long as it takes, to remain cancer-free.