where-are-they-now[Editor's Note: Over the years Patient Power has heard from many patients and care partners. With our ongoing “Where are they now” campaign, we get an opportunity to check in and hear updates from Patient Power's amazing community members. Suzanne shares with us her latest news. For previous conversations and blogs with Suzanne, click the link(s) below.] 

suzanne-monkeyIt’s been said that everyone has a story to tell. I have a story. And I’ve conversed with enough people in my life to know that they have stories, too. Life can throw many kinds of challenges at us, including cancer, and we can learn, grow and be inspired at how those challenges make us stronger. It has now been 8 years since my autologous stem-cell transplant (my second birthday is June 4th)! I am forever grateful that I am still cancer-free. There are times when I think, “Did that really happen? Did I really have cancer?” Still, there are times when I’m reminded that I did indeed have cancer, and it’s not only when I look at the scars above my collarbone.

For example, one long-term side effect from my cancer treatment is pulmonary fibrosis, or scarring of the lungs. Fortunately, it’s not to the point that I need to be on oxygen, and it doesn’t limit my day-to-day living. But I certainly feel it on physical exertion, and I need to be mindful of the physical activities I pursue. This is frustrating for me. I’m an active person and don’t enjoy the feeling of being limited. But I’ve learned to live with and accept my post-cancer treatment reality. For example, when I’m going uphill on a hike, and I move a little slower and perhaps even need to stop and take a break, I try to not beat myself up about it. I’ve also learned since my treatment that I can push myself more in my physical activities—that perhaps my limitations are not as limiting as once believed. This provides me with hope and with physical activity goals to work towards. While I don’t see myself ever running a marathon, I do see myself building up more physical strength and endurance, which is exciting. Also, after I had some blood work done a couple of years ago at my annual check-up with the oncologist, it was determined that I have hypothyroidism. Most likely, the radiation I received caused this condition. Though I don’t enjoy having to take medication, I’m grateful that this common condition can be treated relatively easily with some medication.

suzanne-cyclingThere are special concerns surrounding being a young adult cancer survivor, both physical and emotional—concerns surrounding long-term side effects when I still have so much life ahead of me, including how those side effects could interfere with my desire to be married and have children. As a single woman, there were times when I found myself worried that a potential husband wouldn’t want me because of my cancer history, that somehow I was “damaged goods.” I’ve been able to recognize this thinking error for what it is—untrue—and instead look at my cancer journey in a different way.

Specifically, I’ve come to realize the power and importance of the story I tell myself. The power of the thoughts I allow to linger in my head. I’ve learned to focus on my strengths rather than my limitations. Do negative thoughts sometimes still come? Yes, but I’ve become better at challenging them and replacing them with positive thoughts. I’ve come to believe that my future husband will want me and be blessed to have me in his life, not in spite of my cancer journey, but in large part because of who I have become on that journey.

suzanne-travelYes, while I have lost some things to cancer, my story is more about what I have gained from my experience with cancer—including friendships with doctors, nurses, patients and their families; an amazement at the goodness of others as they served me in so many ways; an increased desire to help others in their trials; greater empathy and compassion; a stronger bond with God, my parents and other family members; and an increased confidence in my ability to do hard things.

My story is still being written. I am blessed to live in a beautiful place and have a rewarding job. I have wonderful family and friends. I sing in a community choir where we’re able to provide uplifting music through our concerts. I have the opportunity to work with teenage girls in my church community, to teach and nurture them, have fun with and be taught by them. I look forward with hope at the future ahead of me. I’ll take that path a day at a time. I may walk a little slower on the uphill, but I’ll continue to summon the strength within as I ascend to greater heights and discover new vistas.

Vista hunting,

Suzanne Hyte