When Susanne was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, she took it upon herself to find out everything she could about her options for treatment and recovery – both medical and emotional. “When I was first diagnosed, I was just devastated,” says Susanne, who was diagnosed the day before her 71st birthday. “My mother died of metastatic breast cancer at age 77. I also have a sister with stage IV cancer, and my father died of colon cancer at the age of 54.”
Because the type of cancer Susanne had was estrogen receptor positive, the recommended treatment course was to take an aromatase inhibitor. She also underwent a mastectomy. Even before her surgery, Susanne started attending a support group at the Community Memorial Hospital Cancer Resource Center in Ventura – a program offered in partnership with CMH and the Cancer Support Community Valley/Ventura/Santa Barbara. “The group is a community where you’ve all been through the same thing so you feel that everyone understands what you’ve been through,” says Susanne.
Another tool that has helped Susanne manage her stress is the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction series, also offered at the Cancer Resource Center. Susanne attended the eight-week series twice, with her husband Gary. “It was the most incredible experience because it got me thinking about things I’d never thought about before,” says Susanne. “Even though I am looking at my cancer experience as a positive thing, I can get depressed sometimes and wonder if it’s growing somewhere else in my body. I often think about my longevity and leaving my husband, son and grandchildren. MBSR is a tool I can use during those times when I’m stressed out. Even if it’s just sitting in my car, closing my eyes for a few moments and concentrating on my breathing, it can help calm me down and center me.”
Susanne has tried three different medications to prevent a recurrence. “I have tremendous hot flashes and joint pain, but this third pill seems to be better than the others,” says Susanne. “My doctors are following up so closely and I feel very good about my care. I have a wonderful surgeon who makes me feel great every time I see him.”
With a community of support around her, including her healthcare team, her husband (with whom she recently celebrated her 50-year anniversary), as well as family and friends, and the emotional support tools she has gained, Susanne has not let her diagnosis steal her positivity. In fact, she says that facing cancer head-on has completely changed her outlook on life – for the better.
“Cancer made me look at life in a different way – not feeling angry about the things I couldn’t change, but looking at the positive things I can do to help myself. Now I think about how I can make my life better for the time I have. I take more time to slow down and look at the beauty in the world.”
Susanne Gottfried is a recently-retired art restorer who lives in Ventura with her husband Gary. We would like to thank Susanne for sharing her story with us.