Published on October 26, 2020
Susan Strong’s Story
When Susan Strong was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma at a young age, she knew very little about the disease and had no idea what to expect. Hear her share how she came to terms with her diagnosis and learned to overcome her fears and uncertainties. She also explains the importance of hope while navigating cancer and advice for newly diagnosed Hodgkin lymphoma patients. Susan is a two-time cancer survivor and patient advocate.
I heard a tapping on the door of my hospital room. I was 17 and had just graduated from high school, recently blindsided by a diagnosis of a blood cancer I’d never even heard of. My mind raced with thoughts about the future. Would I even have a future?
“Knock, knock?” called an unfamiliar voice, and into my room walked a young woman in her twenties, with shoulder-length brunette hair and smiling brown eyes. “Hi, Susan. I’m Mary. My mom is the librarian at Emerson Jr. High. Mom asked me to stop by for a visit.”
I’d never met Mary, and I hadn’t seen her mom for a few years, but Mrs. Woods knew I needed to hear Mary’s story. Seven years before Mary had been diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma, like me, while she was still in high school. And now Mary, a college graduate, had just started her first job as a teacher, like her mom. We talked for a while, and Mary left when a tech came in to wheel me off to radiology for a test.
Hope is one of the greatest gifts we can receive, and sometimes that gift comes from a complete stranger…
I never saw Mary again. But I’ll never forget that day or the gift of hope she gave me. I gave myself permission to plan for my future and to dream. And now, thirty-seven years later, I’m 55 years old. I’ve had a career in teaching myself, and I’ve spent many summers traveling all over the world and checking off places on my bucket list – from Australia to Greece, to New Zealand. I’ve done a lot of living since my cancer diagnosis, but on occasion, those familiar fears creep into my thoughts and cast their shadows of doubt.
Sometimes, we need a booster shot of hope. I received one from a woman I met at a conference sponsored by the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship in Washington, D.C. Susie was one of the speakers. As she told her story, I was amazed to hear how much it was like my own. Susie had been diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma in her early twenties when she was a nurse in Vietnam. My heart leaped in my chest when I learned that Susie was now in her seventies… I had never met anyone who had lived that long after our diagnosis!
Meeting Susie expanded my horizons to beginning to see myself living into my senior years. I had always questioned if that were possible as if some early expiration date hung over my head since the day I was diagnosed with cancer decades ago.
If you’re newly diagnosed and afraid about your future, my greatest wish is that my story gives you the gift of Hope to pursue your dreams and the courage to believe in your future.
By Susan Strong
Transcript | Hodgkin Lymphoma Patient Story: The Importance of Hope
How Did You React to Your Hodgkin Lymphoma Diagnosis?
Susan Strong: All I knew was that with all the tests they had done in the hospital, there was something, it had something to do with my lymph system. Across the street was a neighbor, a little old lady named Joy. She had a medical dictionary, and I asked to borrow it.
When I was first diagnosed with cancer, that was 38 years ago. I was 17 years old. Now, don't do the math. I didn't know a lot about cancer. I had just graduated from high school. I had been not well, knowing something was wrong the entire senior year of school.
But I saw cancer as something that happened to older people, definitely not me. And I saw cancer as something scary, and I thought cancer was something that people died from, and I was afraid that I might die when I was diagnosed. But I now know that cancer is not an automatic death sentence. It's now, and it certainly wasn't even then.
What Advice Do You Have for Newly Diagnosed Patients?
I think the cancer journey, something so important about it is knowing that you're not alone. And sometimes you can feel very alone, especially when the diagnosis first hits, especially on the days that are rough. There's an advocate friend, who I know, and her tagline is, "It's just a bad day, not a bad life." And that's really helpful to remember.
I've also learned that it does impact your life, for most people. Certainly me. I guess I can only talk about me. It impacted my life, and it had an emotional impact on my life. Maybe even more deep than the physical impact.
Cancer can be a gift, it can be a teacher, it can be a thief. It really is whatever you decide, and that you are the author of your life. And if your life with cancer, or going through treatment, or afterward isn't what you want it to be, then you're empowered to make it what you want it to be. Cancer doesn't get to choose.