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.

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