An Interview with Sue Rowland, a 14-Year Breast Cancer Survivor

September 11, 2010 · 1 comment

I found Sue via the Susan G. Komen Tampa 3-Day for the Cure message boards and asked if she would answer questions for a profile on my blog. Thankfully, she said yes, she has an amazing story of survival and determination. Thank you, Sue! I can’t wait to meet you next month!

Congratulations on being a 14-year breast cancer survivor. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your family? What kind of breast cancer were you diagnosed with and what type of treatment did you receive?
I really always felt that breast cancer would be knocking on my door at some point in my life. My maternal grandmother had breast cancer. I actually remember it even though I was a little girl. She was living with us and had a radical mastectomy, which was standard then, and I remember my mother changing her dressings. She survived the breast cancer and later died of a stroke. My mother was diagnosed in 1977 when she was 60 years old and also had mastectomy. Three years later, it was back in the other breast and again she had a mastectomy. She dealt with 10 more recurrences before she died in 1977 at the age of 82. It reappeared in numerous places in her body, but always of the cellular structure of breast cancer. I think she is a living testament to the advances research has made. When she found her first lump she went in for a mammogram. They said it was suspicious and surgery was scheduled. There was no discussion of lumpectomy versus mastectomy. They did a frozen section, biopsied it, found it to be cancerous and removed her breast. She found out it was cancer when she woke up and found her breast gone – and it was the same for the second breast. Now fast forward to 1996, which is when I found my lump. I went to the same mammography clinic.    They did a mammogram, it looked suspicious BUT right in the same office, on the same day, they did an ultrasound and then a needle biopsy. I knew the next morning that it was cancer and I could then begin exploring options. I had choices she never had. Two weeks later I had a lumpectomy and axillary node dissection. It had spread to my nodes – 1 of 12 was positive and was diagnosed as Stage II. I was diagnosed on April 1 and had had mammogram 8 months earlier in August that did not reveal a lump. It was a fast growing aggressive cancer – which makes me even more grateful to be here 14 years later!!! I had 4 rounds of chemotherapy and 6 ½ weeks of radiation.

Which Komen 3-Day for the Cure events have you participated in and in what capacity?

My first involvement with the Komen 3-Day for the Cure was in 1996. On April 1, 1996, I received an UPS envelope with my 3 day registration information. My two daughters had registered the 3 of us to participate in the Boston walk in honor of my 10 year anniversary. I have always thought of that as a love/hate gift – they showed me their love by registering us and then sent me out to walk 6o miles!!!! As it turned out, my youngest daughter had a little one so she couldn’t join us but my oldest daughter & I walked and her husband crewed. And we made the whole 60 miles. In 2008, I just had to walk again. My husband & I had moved to Florida so I registered for Tampa. I didn’t know anyone walking when I started, but had a whole new set of friends 3 days later. In 2009 my husband and 2 great friends of ours joined me as Traffic & Safety crew in Tampa. We are crewing again this year and my goal is to walk in Tampa in 2011 to celebrate my 15 years as a survivor.

Tampa 2009

Crew - Tampa 2009

Do you have any tips and advice for first time walkers like me?
Advice – I didn’t train anywhere near as well for my first walk as the second – and felt the difference. Both walks were in extremely hot weather and, while I did the entire 60 in Boston ’06, it really took a toll. When I walked in ’08 in Tampa I really felt good – certainly hot and tired but I felt good at the finish. So I would highly recommend good training walks. Also, you hear all the push about hydrating – DO IT!!! I was really not a Gatorade person before the Boston walk, but you need to drink more than just the water – I saw people with issues from both not drinking the water and the Gatorade. I had a girl go down in front of me waiting for the showers – she hadn’t been drinking correctly.

Tampa 2009

Can you tell us about your fundraising efforts?  Did you exceed your goal?  What kinds of ideas and tips do you have for first time participants?
I was very fortunate in my fundraising. I sent out letters, posted signs, emailed everyone I knew. The first year, when my daughter & I walked, the minimum was $2,100.00 and we raised $5,000.00. In ’08, I raised $3,300.00. One idea – a friend of mine has a dog grooming salon. Anyone who donated at least $5 to my walk was entered into a raffle for a “Doggie Goodie Basket” – that raised $850.00. We’re going to repeat that next year. Also, when you do your training walks, walk in populated areas, wear Komen 3-day PINK and have information about the walk on you – people ask questions & often will toss in $5-$10. Everything helps.

Were there items that you packed that you were glad you packed?  Items you couldn’t live without?
The things that I packed that made the most difference were primarily “feet” related – good socks, “glide”, powder, bandaids. I also had bandanas for “sopping & mopping” and those neck cooling ties. And sunscreen – you don’t need sunburn on top of sore feet!!! I was also glad that I pack “soft” clothes for the evenings – loose sweats, shirts & something easy on the feet. I liked the crocs –  you are usually camped in a grassy area and if it gets wet they are great.

What is your best memory from the 3-Day for the Cure?
There are so many memories.  In Boston, I camped next to a woman who was terminal. She was the last walker in on the last day – as she came in she found me, threw her arms around me sobbing, “I DID IT”. The memory tents – so much of the reason why we are walking is in those tents – spend some time there. Walking with my daughter – laughing and crying – meeting new wonderful friends. People helping each other – you stop along the walk to rest a minute & everyone going by checking to make sure you are OK. I loved walking around camp at night – just soaking up the “feeling” of the walk. But for me one of the best memories is of the people along the way as you walk. There are large staged cheering stations – wait ‘til you see St.  John’s – that are awesome. And then there are people in front of their houses or along the street – adults and kids of all ages – with frozen washcloths to cool you, water, snack bars, stickers (we love stickers!), beads, high fives and the signs! Signs that say “You’re walking for me” held by a lady with no hair, “Thank you for my MOM”, “NO MORE CANCER”, “We love Walkers”, etc – and in all kinds of costumes. It is amazing.

Thanks so much for your time.  Is there anything else you would like to add?
I appreciate your doing this and asking for my thoughts. I can’t wait for the walk. As a survivor, it means so much to see what people go through to do this – both the fundraising and actually putting yourself through walking 60 miles. For my family, I want 3 generations to be enough – I have 2 daughters and 2 granddaughters and I hope we find a cure soon so one of my 4th generation doesn’t have to hear the words “It’s breast cancer.”

I was doing some photo organization and came across this picture. This picture was taken Dec. 1995. I am in the gray sweatshirt. The woman in the green sweatshirt and the woman with the t-shirt both have died from breast cancer since that pic was taken. The other lady red has gone through another form of cancer. Those three all graduated from high school with my husband, a couple of years before me, and were good friends of ours. And that's a part of why I walk.

Sue, you and your family are truly an inspiration. Thank you for sharing your breast cancer and Komen Tampa 3-Day for the Cure story with me. I love the pictures you shared from the events and I can’t wait to meet you and your family in 7 weeks. I also wanted to mention again about the Energizer Bunny’s facebook page. At the beginning of September, Energizer® announced that for every fan that they get in September, they will donate $1 to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, up to $35,000! They started at 32,400 fans, so they’re aiming for 67,400. Right now, they have 38,912 fans. I hope if you’re reading this, you’ll become a fan of the Energizer Bunny and then suggest the page to at least 10 friends! 🙂 Thanks! I’m in Atlanta this weekend for a food blog forum seminar and am going to do a training walk tomorrow. I’m so excited to meet some Komen Atlanta 3-Day for the Cure tweeps I have “met” on twitter. You’ll hear more about that next week.

Disclosure: Energizer is sponsoring my participation in the 2010 Susan G. Komen Tampa 3-Day for the Cure. They are also providing me with some Energizer goodies, which I will be reviewing from time to time. I am not receiving any monetary compensation. This post was written by me and the opinions expressed are my own.

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