Friday, August 20, 2010

Dear Friends, Family, and Blog followers,
Reflections on this past year.
So much has changed for me in just one year. One year ago I was facing the scariest, and possibly most horrific of all my surgeries up to that point, and I had had some doozies! We were hoping for the best (just getting rid of the neuroendocrine tumor on my pancreas) and a quick stay in the hospital, and preparing for the worst (a Whipple Procedure – removal of ½ of my pancreas, my gall bladder, my duodenum, and rewiring my digestive tract) and a lengthy hospital stay. Despite our prayers and my private negotiations with g-d (or someone), I got to have the full-blown Whipple and 23 days at the Stanford Spa (as we liked to call it). The whole experience was awful, to say the least. I thought my life would never return to normal – but it has.
This morning, on the 1- year anniversary of my surgery, our family did an early morning celebratory swim. What better way to celebrate and mark this occasion? One year ago, on the day of my surgery, I did the same thing – I believe it is important to mark a special date with a swim in honor of it. And so we did, and I must say, that it is much better being on this side of this past year!
Last year, the week before my surgery, Richard and I swam the length of Donner Lake near Lake Tahoe in the Sierras (for those of you non-Californians reading this). I was determined to prove that I was healthy – even though I did, in fact, have cancer. This year, just about one year after my Whipple, we did it again – and guess what? I swam the race 7 minutes faster than I did last year! Amazing! Someone asked me if I had done something special during this past year. Did I change my diet and/or training program – well, yes, I did! Actually, I didn’t eat for 23 days, and then I mostly ate pureed and liquid foods for many weeks. And yes, I was a little lighter this year, having lost those few organs. Could that have been the secret to my swimming accomplishment? Who knows? But whatever is happening, I am really doing OK.
To put it mildly, this past year has been a wild roller coaster ride for our family, but we seem to have all weathered the storm quite nicely. So much has changed and will continue to do so for the next several years. Both David and Aly will be leaving our nest, today, August 20th, 2010, exactly one year to the day after my surgery, we are flying east to get them both settled in college. David will be a junior at Brown and Aly will be starting at Williams College. When we come back on September 2nd, we will officially be “empty nesters”! Wow! I hear it isn’t so bad!
So, does surviving cancer 3 times teach you anything about life? I certainly hope so. As mentioned in earlier posts to this blog, the biggest and most important lesson that I’ve learned is that I am so grateful to have made it and to have my health back – for the most part. I have my days and moments when all I want is my old digestive system back (which wasn’t so great to begin with). There is not one material thing that I want – only my health and that of my family and friends. There seems to be nothing more important.
I have read a lot of books this past year about happiness and wellness and they all seem to say the same things. Basically, we should eat healthy foods, exercise daily, be mindful, de-clutter our physical and emotional lives, stay hydrated, do work that we love (either for pay or voluntary), feel connected to our friends and family and, most of all, be grateful. It all seems rather simple, and I am trying hard to live my life this way. I wish I had more wisdom to impart, but I don’t. What I’ve read in all those books matches perfectly with what I’ve learned from surviving cancer. Writing it down makes it seem so obvious and easy, but I suppose life is much harder than most of these simplistic formulas and recommendations. But we can just keep trying to reach a goal of simplicity and contentment. That, at least, is what I am striving for.
So, one more thing before I say good-bye. As you know, I am very involved with Swim Across America, a national, non-profit organization whose mission is to raise money for cancer research through swimming events in cities across the United States. Last year, I couldn’t swim as I was recovering from my surgery, but the event raised $200,000 which was divided between UCSF Children’s Hospital and Children’s Hospital Oakland – for cancer research and treatment right here in the Bay Area. This year, I’m jumping into the Bay and will be swimming for everyone I know who has died, is currently dealing with, or has survived cancer.
In particular, I will be swimming for my dear friend Andrea, who passed away last month from breast cancer, my old high school friend Kent, who is currently battling throat cancer, my friend Sarah, who has ovarian cancer, and my friend Jen, who has just finished a year of treatment for breast cancer. Sadly, I know that each and every one of you reading this has a list of your own. There is so much we want to do to help, and this is just one small way that we can try to make a difference.
This year, jumping into that frigid water is really going to mean a lot! If you can, and if you feel so inspired, please support my team, Team Susan Survives. Just go to to donate. Many of you have already given, and I am both honored and tremendously appreciative. I cannot thank you enough for your generosity, your friendship and support. May this coming year be a good one for all of you, and for those of you who are suffering in any way, I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers. As I have been for this entire past year, I am grateful to have you in my life, either in reality or virtually.
Thank you for reading my blog and for staying connected.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

10 Month Post-op Report/Update

This past Sunday was 10 months since my 6 ½ hour surgery for neuroendocrine pancreatic cancer, and I’m thrilled to report that I feel great - strong and healthy and pretty much back to normal. Ten months– wow! Time – it’s so strange – how long exactly is 10 months? Just about 40 weeks or 300 days (depending on how you count – from the day, from the date, etc)! Not that much time at all when you really think about it. On August 20th, I had a 6 ½ hour Whipple operation …and on June 20th I swam 2.7 miles and celebrated Aly’s high school graduation with about 80 friends for brunch! Amazing!

Just about every day someone tells me that I should write a book. Of course, that sounds like a great idea, but honestly, I’m not so sure I have that much to say. I think about what I’ve been through all the time, and of course, I worry a lot about my future health. I have had a few minor bumps in the road since the surgery, but I have every reason to believe that I am fine, and am going to stay fine. Mostly, I feel grateful to have made it through the surgery and the 23 days in the hospital, which were a total nightmare.

Right now, I am living without the following: a reproductive system, one lobe of my left lung, ½ of a pancreas, a duodenum, a gall bladder, parts of my large and small intestines, my appendix – and guess what? I’m OK! It really is amazing what we are capable of living without! Regaining my strength, getting used to my rewired digestive system, learning to live with a new body (both inside and out), seeing a pretty ugly scar the width of my entire abdomen every day, having to relearn how to eat solid food, figuring out how much food was too much, accepting the fact that I might never do a sit-up again, figuring out what it means to be a 3-time cancer survivor, and just putting it all in perspective have been my challenges during these 10 months.

So much has happened in this time period – it’s rather difficult to imagine, and it’s scary to think how quickly time seems to pass, on the one hand, and how it feels like the surgery was just yesterday on the other! While I was in the hospital, my daughter, Aly turned 17, and my son, David left for his sophomore year in college. Since then, Aly applied and was accepted early to Williams College, the SF Swim Across America event took place in the Bay which raised $90,000 for both UCSF and Oakland Children’s Hospitals for cancer research, we watched David run in the NYC Marathon and he came in 7th in his age group, my website for my Wellness Coaching business was launched, my parents celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary, Richard and I celebrated our 24th, I resumed fundraising for Berkeley High and then retired, Aly graduated from high school, David completed his sophomore year in college, and on and on. What is so strange about all of this is that life seemed to come to a screeching halt for a while. I got off the merry-go-round that we all seem to be on and thought my world was going to fall apart. But then, lo and behold, after it was all over with, I managed to get right back on the merry-go-round, almost as if nothing had happened! I saw that my world was intact, nothing much had changed, and most of the things that I put on hold were just waiting for me to pick up where I left off. It is so amazing. Life went on for everyone else – it was just temporarily on hold for me (and for Richard)!

What have I learned from experiencing and getting though my 3rd bout with cancer, my 8th surgery and my umpteenth hospitalization? Quite a lot, actually, but nothing so profound that I didn’t already know it. Some of the lessons learned:
• To be grateful.
• Not to sweat the small stuff but to know how important the small stuff actually is – like a smile, a thank you, a phone call, a card, a gift, a meal – it all means so much and it came to me from people from all different parts of my life.
• To live one day at a time and enjoy each and every day because we have no idea what can happen tomorrow.
• To exercise a lot because it makes you feel so good – especially, as you all know – swimming is a must .
• To appreciate your friends….and your family - even if you sometimes don’t see the world the same way or agree on everything.

So, these days, if I happen to have a bad one, I look around and I see that I have a wonderful husband, 2 fabulous kids, a beautiful home, both of my parents alive and well, work that I enjoy, am able to swim outside every single day, and I’ve just survived my 3rd bout with cancer. My thoughts generally turn to ones of thanks and gratitude for all the things I do have and for having “dodged a bullet” or as one friend pointed out, it was more like a missile! In any case, it is now all behind me, and I am looking forward to this next stage of my life. The empty nest is fast approaching, and while I am terrified on the one hand, I’m thrilled to have raised my kids to be engaged and happy individuals forging their own unique and exciting paths in the world.

This next part is going to be fun for Richard and me, and we are thrilled for David and Aly. Quite frankly, I never thought I’d make it to my “mid-fifties” – but here I am. I’ve amassed a wonderful network of friends, family and acquaintances - both physically and virtually- and it is great knowing you are all out there. Thank you for the support and encouragement you have given me this past year and a half. As I have written many times before, I could never have made it without you.

So, until the next time I get inspired to post on my blog, or find enough to write about that could fill up a book, I will say good-bye for now. I just wanted those of you who don’t see me regularly to know that I am doing well. I’m really fine. Please check out my website at

Also, yes, I will be swimming 1.5 miles in the SF Bay on September 25th to raise money for cancer research. If you are able to support my team, Team Susan Survives!, please do so by going to, and I thank you in advance. And of course, don’t forget… Just Keep Swimming

Much love and thanks,