I found out yesterday that a mother I know of two young boys, who was fighting a very aggressive form of breast cancer, inflammatory breast cancer, had passed away.
It shouldn’t have been such a shock- Dr. Susan Niebur has been writing about her battle with cancer for years, on her blog, Toddler Planet. She had already survived almost 5 years since she was diagnosed with IBC, and had lived almost 3 years beyond the time most IBC patients live. Susan herself realized, one day she wasn’t going to be here- but that was always one day in the future.
I met Susan in 2010 in New York- we served on the American Cancer Blogger Advisory Council, and we had a meeting the day before the BlogHer conference. Susan had an aura to her. I knew the first moment I met her, she was fighting cancer. I didn’t know what kind, or the details, but she didn’t focus on that. I remember when we were taking a tour of the Hope Lodge, she had to rest on the bed in one of the rooms. I remember thinking at the time, having just fought thyroid cancer a year before, I was so lucky- that the cancer I had was very treatable and curable. Yet, I was amazed that Susan was even there- working on a cause she believed in.
And at the time, she made me think. Not by saying a word, but by her just being there, living her life, doing what she wanted. It was such a powerful example for me. Some people will never have to endure a sliver of what Susan went through, just to get a few more years of life.
It is so easy to take what we have for granted. To complain about the small things, worry about really trivial things. I realized I was lucky- for whatever reason. It could have been, just as easily me with IBC, fighting to live. I had a second chance to live my life, and not have to battle every day just to live. I didn’t have to lie down on a bed to rest, after walking down a hallway. When I heard her speak in the meeting, and give some background into her condition, she didn’t have to say it- I knew she going to die- someday. But that day was far off. She was strong, and determined. She had two little boys who needed their mother.
I followed Susan’s blog loosely the past year and a half since the day I met her. If am to be honest, her blog made me uncomfortable. I loved her words- she was such a gifted writer. But something about having a condition that can claim your life, shift your foundation, it hit too close to home for me. I don’t like to think about dying, and it breaks my heart to hear about cancer patients who have to fight so hard just to make it to another day, and to think about the children who will be left without their mother.
In some way I wanted to keep the vision I had of Susan in New York- she absolutely glowed when she was speaking, sharing her ideas, and working with people. I wanted to remember that about her. She gave me hope and was an example to me, that no matter what comes your way because of cancer, you can make the most with whatever time you have left.
I read the last post Susan wrote on her blog, on January 22nd. I saw it linked from my friend’s Facebook update. My heart sank as I read her post- hospice was coming to her home, but Susan was still fighting. She wasn’t ready to call it quits or say good-bye yet.
I checked her blog daily, since January 22. The one day I did not check it, Monday, was the day Susan’s battle with cancer ended. I received an email from BlogHer yesterday their thoughts were with Susan Niebur’s family, and I knew she was gone. That one day- that seemed so far off, had arrived.
Susan made me realize again yesterday, how precious life is, and how lucky I am- how lucky we all are really. Not everyone survives cancer. Not everyone has the quality of life they had before cancer. But everyone can live their life in the best way they can, and we can appreciate the small things. Being alive to give your child a hug. Telling your friends and family you love them. Following your passions. Living your dreams.
Susan was an astrophysicist, and had worked at NASA headquarters. She wrote numerous academic papers, but her mantra on her blog for her life was simple. It was, “All that survives after our death are publications and people. So look carefully after the words you write, the thoughts and publications you create, and how you love others. For these are the only things that will remain.”
For the short time I met Susan and worked with her, it will stay with me forever. She was a great voice for cancer awareness, and surviving cancer. She will be missed, and my deepest sympathies to her family and friends.
I found this a few weeks ago for another friend, whose mother had passed away, and I thought of it yesterday for Susan. The stars were one of Susan’s passions.
Rest in Peace, Susan.
“Perhaps they are not stars, but rather openings in Heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy.”
You can make a donation in Susan’s honor at The Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation
You can read more on Susan’s legacy at Care2 Make a Difference