SUE BUCHANAN was 45 and a successful video and meeting producer in 1983. She was raising her kids and having the time of her life. Then she found a thickening in her breast. While a mammogram revealed nothing abnormal, Sue knew she was in a high-risk category; her mother had died of breast cancer at age 67. A nagging feeling that something was wrong led Sue to several different physicians, all of whom reassured her not to be concerned. Finally, she found one who took her concern seriously. He ordered another mammogram and found a discrepancy. Immediately, Sue had a biopsy that showed cancer cells, followed by a mastectomy. The results after surgery were ominous: 14 lymph nodes were affected. So Sue's physician scheduled an aggressive protocol of chemotherapy for a full year.
"When I heard I needed a mastectomy, I thought I'd be less of a woman, that my husband wouldn't find me appealing," admits Sue. "After surgery, I looked in the mirror and saw a woman who looked as though she'd been hit in the chest with an axe."
Soon Sue realized the statistics were stacked against her. "Ten months into the chemotherapy treatments, I was in my physician's office, impatiently waiting for him. So I decided to take a peek at my file. In it I discovered a letter he'd written to an associate saying he didn't expect me to live through the end of the year. I was shockeduntil I looked at the date of the letter. It had been written at the beginning of my treatments, 10 months earlier. I thought, I'll show them. I'm doing pretty well for someone who's supposed to be dead in two months!"
Throughout her chemotherapy, Sue found power in the Bible verses she'd learned as a child. "My church pounded those Scriptures into my head, but it never meant much to me until I came face-to-face with dying. I'm glad I learned them!"
But Sue gained some of her greatest strength from the family members and friends who rallied around her. Every time Sue had a treatment, they celebrated. Her friends brought presents or took her on trips. Instead of saying, "Oh, that horrible treatment, it's poison," they said, "Got through another treatment. Let's celebrate!" Sometimes someone would just take animal crackers to her office and they'd munch them together. "My friends and family definitely helped me keep my sense of humor intact.
"I decided I wasn't going to let this experience define me as 'that person with cancer,' " Sue explains. "I was still the same person I was before I had this diseasea wife, mother, video producer, and humorist. I just had a new set of circumstances."
After her recovery, Sue visited and supported others with cancer. But not until her friend, best-selling author Jerry Jenkins, encouraged her to write about her experience as a survivor, did she discover her gifts as a speaker and writer. Her first book, I'm Alive and the Doctor's Dead, created an opportunity for her to help others on a bigger scale. She began accepting offers for speaking engagements to share her story. Starting this September, Hallmark stores nationwide will carry Sue's book.
Sixteen years after her initial diagnosis, Sue's now encouraging her daughter, Dana, who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. "I told her, 'Don't listen to statistics.' We're individuals. We each do things differently. Nobody knows how much I laugh, how much I cry, how much I'm prayed for. Just this morning, I read in Psalm 139 how God assures us he has things under control. I'm happy with that."
You can reach Sue at Dynamic Media, Inc., 718 Sixth Ave. S., Nashville, TN 37203; 1-615-242-6508; www.SueBue.com.
1999 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian Woman magazine. Click here for reprint information on Today's Christian Woman.