Crossing Cancer (Chapter 1)

IMG_2856It’s odd to be writing about cancer in a blog I co-founded about swimming crazy distances to raise money to fight illiteracy.

This past wednesday when the doctor told me that the lump I found in the shower two days before was stage 2 breast cancer, I felt my life split into two: a before and after. Before I chose to swim difficult challenges because they’re kinda fun. This is a challenge I didn’t choose, will be the opposite of fun, and “it will be the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

“The hardest thing you’ve ever done”– those words were what came out of the surgeons mouth as he looked me squarely in the eye. He said the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes and I’d need surgery (!) and chemotherapy- (!!!!) Wait, what? How did that word elbow its way into the room? Baldness? I couldn’t process the information tumbling out of his mouth. Even so, I knew was sitting in the chair of naiveté.

How the brain absorbs information is bizarre. My friend and rock, Amanda Stephens, who was there in the room when I got the news, told me later that I blinked blankly at the doctors and kept asking: “Wait, can you say that last sentence one more time?” Then pepper in a few explicatives, tears, and deep breaths. Then again: “Can you repeat that last part?” In hindsight, I’m amazed at the patience and kindness of these doctors.

With all of this comes something else: fear. Fear is what I most want to overcome. My sister calls me a coconut: with a tough exterior that faces man-o-wars and sharks in the deep blue but right underneath is a soft interior filled with fear-milk. I’m a fainter: I pass out whenever I hear about suffering. As my friend Carrington can attest, I fainted cold in Café de Flore in Paris while reading about Steve Job’s passing and the ambulance médicalisée tried to take me away. I fainted upon finding the lump in the shower and knew it shouldn’t be there. I’m super vasovagal- how on earth am I going to deal with this new challenge?

Every time I crack open the door of “Why me?” it takes me to a terrible place so fast that I have to slam it shut. Feeling sorry for myself is negative. What I’m hearing from others is that cancer doesn’t care about anything you’ve done or what your plans might be. It doesn’t care that I moved to San Francisco to make a bigger impact in stomping out illiteracy in the developing world. It doesn’t know that I have a family and, more importantly, 10- and 12-year-old daughters who need their mother. It doesn’t hear my youngest, upon learning the news, sob: “But I am only 10 years old and I can’t be separated from you.” I later found out that our girls thought we were sitting them down to tell them we were getting a puppy.

What I find enormously helpful is support from friends/family all around the globe– and both surprisingly and wonderfully– from the new friends I’ve made in a short time since moving to the Bay Area. I don’t quite have my fighting boots on yet. I know I can’t do this alone. But I am scraping on the surface of something that I always knew was there and am finding a first knee-jerk reaction: Cancer–you’ve messed with the wrong girl.

Ps. Mauricio was supposed to swim the English Channel this weekend and had his bag packed before we got the diagnosis. Of course, he didn’t want to go once we found out this devastating news but I made him-asking him to bring me back a rock once he arrives to France.  I *need* him to do that. Follow him here:

Pss. After this cancer is kicked in the butt, I need a new swimming challenge.  It might involve the waters of Croatia. But, one step at time.

Related Articles:

Crossing Cancer (Chapter 1)
Crossing Cancer (Chapter 2)
Crossing Cancer (Chapter 3)
Crossing Cancer (Chapter 4)
Crossing Cancer (Chapter 5)
Crossing Cancer (Chapter 6)
Crossing Cancer (Chapter 7)
Crossing Cancer (Chapter 8)
Crossing Cancer (Chapter 9)


Categories: cancer

27 replies

  1. Susan, I just read two times your post. Could not believe what I was reading. In the past years several close friends have been diagnosed with cancer and the majority has beaten the beast. All those surviving are athletes and had the fighting attitude in them. I am convinced you will prevail.
    On the swimming side, they organize a swim each year to raise money to help bring awareness to the disease. Nora Toledano is in that group. I will ask her to send you the information.
    Abrazos muy fuertes

  2. I’m wishing you well from the east coast. I’ll be sending positive thoughts your way while I swim! (Which means I won’t be able to lead my lane, because I lose count when I think and swim 🙂 ) ~Angie

  3. Susan you have a beautiful voice and this is a most honest post that so many people will be able to relate to.
    Cancer has fucked with the wrong person as your journey will inspire and support so many to come.
    Once you name your next swimming challange, I’ll be right by your side in whatever capacity you want.

  4. Sooz — You’re amazing, I’ve always admired you for your incredible resilience, and based on that alone, my money is on you 100%. I know you’ve got a lot of people by your side, and know that I’m here for you as well, whether in SF or Barcelona, or in a pilot boat somewhere out on the open waters. xo Zev

  5. You’re an incredible person and even though I haven’t known you that long, you’ve inspired me since day one. I’m looking forward to adding this to the list of “amazing things that Susan’s accomplished.” Until then, we’ve got your back at Worldreader.

    Huge hugs and much love…Brian

  6. Susan, you will get through this next life challenge, inspire many others in the process and come out even stronger on the other side. I can’t wait to read about your future swim adventures – Croatia sounds like a terrific goal. Sending you oodles of strength and energy from Seattle.

  7. Susan!! I cannot believe what I am reading!!! All my best wishes for you, Mau and the girls!! As you said, the cancer does not care about what you have done or what you have, but what I am 100% positive is that this time it chose the wrong woman, mum, athlete, friend and family.

    Best wishes for all of you! I bet that you will be back soon!! Everything you need we will be happy to help, starting with every single stroke we can swim for you!

    Rox and Miki

  8. Susan, we are here for you. If you can conquer oceans you can conquer cancer, too. We’ll be in touch to see what we can do to help you. Sending you lots of love, strength and hugs, Emily, Lance and the boys. xoxox

  9. Cancer, shmancer. It doesn’t know about your super powers. Definitely messed with the wrong girl!!

  10. this is only a drawback that you will overcome, and every difficulty will fall because you can with all! Ánimo Susan! You have the best & needed to surmount this situation, your family and friends!

  11. Hey Susan…woke up in the middle of the night last night thinking about you and never was able to fall back asleep. I know you will get through this and please know that we are all thinking of you (even random friends of your sisters who know that middle sisters rock!!) I dont think I cam going to be doing any swimming for you (as everyone else seems to be) but I promise to send positive thoughts your way every day. Xo, Cyndi

  12. FKCA…. you know what it means, and I know what it means, and it is going to get done!

  13. No, no, no, cancer has no chance against you. You are formidable and fierce and will amaze us all like you always do. No question you will kick this stupid disease and come back better than ever. We are thinking of you and sending our love! VJ and Laurie

  14. Your own words speak for themselves of the strength inside you – not many have the guts to be so honest and truthful. You are there, amongst the strongest, and we know you will be back with more drive than ever – if that is possible! All our loving thoughts are with you. Victoria & Family

    • Susan,

      You swam from Spain to Morocco
      You swam through Jelly Fish in the middle of the night in the Sea of Cortez

      You will swim and conquer this new adventure.

      All the best to you
      Keep your amazing and beautiful smile.

      You are a warrior
      A warrior of peace, of joy.

      There is nothing that can or will stop you.

      My highest admiration for all you have achieved, for who you are and for your soon to be new victory.


  15. I found out all this only by chance, reading a post by Mauricio which I could not really understand. Then I end up on this 2 posting you wrote….. I am shocked, cannot believe it! I am really sad to hear that.

    Susan you are a rock! You done the most challenging things in your life, this is going the challenge.
    You have the strength, the courage and the attitude to beat all this. You will do it!

    TOY Muchos Besos

  16. Harlowe and I are sending all of our healing love energy to you Susan and your family. A thousand hugs. You are in our hearts always.


  1. Crossing Cancer (chapter 2) | Swim4Good
  2. English Channel Swim – Swim4Good S4S | Swim4Good
  3. Running the Chicago Marathon with Susan | Swim4Good
  4. Corriendo la Maraton de Chicago con Susan | Swim4Good
  5. Crossing Cancer (Chapter 4) | Swim4Good
  6. Crossing Cancer (Chapter 5) | Swim4Good
  7. Crossing Cancer (Chapter 6) | Swim4Good
  8. Crossing Cancer (Chapter 7) | Swim4Good
  9. Crossing Cancer (Chapter 8) | Swim4Good
  10. Celebrating and Movin’ On! (10th and Hopefully Last Post in Crossing Cancer) | Swim4Good

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