They say in life, when you are born you are predestined for greatness. Most believe it has to do with your race, gender, or social status. I think it's deeper than that. This first SQUAD story is truly an inspiring tale that didn't start with a fairytale beginning at all. This is a story about defeating the odds, and defeating modern medicine.
The stories that I share each Sunday from here on out will be a part of Cardio Couture series that we will call #SundaySquad that shares the heart & soul of what makes our community so unique.
This is Susan's story, . . .
Once upon a time back in 1985, a sweet little baby girl was brought into this world. This baby girl was quickly diagnosed with a rare type of cancer called a germ cell tumor, which is made of cells that form the reproductive system. When asked about her childhood, the-never-before performed surgeries and countless rounds of treatments, she simply doesn't remember. Sometimes trauma does that to us.
She grew up in a household with a strong family, especially her devoted mother who was hell bent on not seeing her baby girl suffer. A mother's strength is sometimes the best medicine in the world. When the doctors would give a grim diagnosis, it was Susan's mom who would look at her and say "There is no way you are going to die. Everything will be just fine." Those words, read them again. "There is no way you are going to die. Everything will be just fine." are pretty powerful. She wasn't going to let anyone tell her differently. Susan is lucky to have her mother as a strong role model to look up to. That strength would be what guides her throughout her whole life. Her parents made it their mission to give her normalcy. She remembers many of the same childhood memories we all had in the late 80's, early 90's.
Susan grew up a fighter, not by choice, but out of necessity. It was her will, the minute she was brought into this world, to fight. To fight for her own life, to fight the pains, the aches, the hard times, and the times where she felt ashamed. She recalls having to pack diapers in a ziplock baggy and hide them at a friend's sleepover. She never wanted to be treated any differently, even though she knew her circumstances were not like most girls her own age.
A simple day of going to the beach wasn't something she could always participate in. It was those little things that were constant reminders that her life was far from normal. but that never stopped her, she graduated with a Bachelor's Degree from Cornell University and then received her Juris Doctor Degree from NYU. Today, she is a lawyer at a prestigious firm in NYC. The little one month old baby girl that the doctor's doubted did the impossible, she didn't just survive, she's thriving!
When watching/hearing Susan's story, (which I'll link at the bottom), standing at the podium is this beautiful, strong, confident woman. It took Susan til the age of 26 to even utter the words "survivor". Through the help of the organization First Descents, she was able to find a community of other survivors that gave her the strength to be vulnerable and share her truth. It was on that trip to Estes State Park that will be cemented in her memory forever. It was on that trip that she discovered what the word survivor meant and how it wouldn't define who she was, but instead it would motivate and inspire her.
She speaks in the video below about how the woman that you see and that I've gotten to know, is very different than the woman a few years ago. It's a constant journey for her daily.
Susan never let her cancer stop her from traveling and challenging her. She's competed & completed 20 Challenges.
Stair climb challenge (Completed - October 21)
30 day push up challenge (Completed – October 30)
Silent Spin Battle Class (Completed - November 20th)
30 day squat challenge (Completed - December)
SLT Class ( Completed - December 20)
Guided Meditation (Completed - December 13)
Participate in an Irish dance/song (Completed - January 2)
Wateraerobics (Completed - January 17)
Try new martial art (Krav Maga) (Completed - January 26)
Boxing Class (Completed - January 27)
Pole Dancing class (Completed - January 28)
Barre class (Completed - February 1)
Skiing (Completed - February 13/14)
Throback Fitness Class (Completed - February 21)
Mat pilates (Completed - February 28)
Aeriel Class (Completed - March 24)
Run 30 miles in a month (Completed - May)
Rock Climbing (indoor) (Completed - May 28)
30 day ab challenge (Completed - May)
Half Marathon (Competed - June 12)
It's not just about the physical challenges, it's the mental and emotional challenge she has had to conquer. She's acknowledged that some days will be better than others and she has stopped rejecting the fact that she is a survivor, instead she wears it like a badge of honor. Susan's found that her survivor badge is something to be proud of. Her story isn't like anyone else's, it's her story and she's owned it. She's now vowed to make it her mission to give back. Susan sharing her truth has made her into the woman that is now a better daughter, sister, friend, and wife.
"I longed believed it was a burden on those around me to discuss my cancer experience. My silence was just as much about not burdening others, as it was about my desire to not be perceived as weak. It is the sincerity and kindness, those around me have exhibited and embracing my willingness to discuss my cancer experience that has helped me to both acknowledge the effect that cancer has had on my life, while maintaining a sense and fervent belief that cancer does not define who I have been, who I am, or who I will be."
The stigma for many that have battled, are battling, or have lost their battle, is that they will be seen as weak. That is a false stigma related to a serious illness that we as humans can change. Life, no matter what the circumstance should be celebrated!
In 2016, she was hospitalized for two months, post appendicostomy surgery. This is what she recalls as her lowest point.
"I would hit my weakest (seriously I could barely hold myself up) during that time, my life was not my own to control, but instead felt like I was a passenger on a never ending downward spiral without any guarantee or hint of when (or if) I would feel strong and healthy again."
Susan is an example to all of us, no matter what age, no matter what race, gender, or social status, you see cancer doesn't care about any of those things. She's manifested all of this with her mindset, her will, and she's done it with grace. She didn't quit when the doctors said no, she believed in the impossible. She knew who and what she was going to be when she was a little girl and not even "Stupid Cancer" (which is how she refers to it) was going to stand in this determined, strong-willed, and radiant woman's way!
She now raises money for First Decents, and I welcome any and all who feel moved by her story to donate, even if it's $1. She's started a movement and a commitment to send 30 cancer survivors on a trip, the same trip that helped her shed the stigma and spread her beautiful wings.
This Squad Story isn't about cancer. It's about strength, finding that inner strength that we are all born with. That fire that burns and even in the darkest moments of our lives, still makes us grateful for life.
This isn't a story of pity, I'll say it again. These Squad stories aren't for you to pity the person who is brave enough to share their story, it's for you to know that you too can be a survivor. You may not find yourself with cancer, but there are other things you can be a survivor from. And I hope you don't ever have to endure what cancer survivors go through, but life doesn't always deal a fair hand. But if you ever do go through something so traumatic, that seems so impossible, I hope that you find the smallest amount of hope from this article on Susan.
We can all fight whatever it is that plagues us, from cancer to divorce, to death, there is something about the soul that speaks when everything else is silenced.
Meet Susan: @SueModo17
Susan's Survivor Story, watch here.
First Descents provides life-changing outdoor adventures for young adults impacted by cancer. To Donate, even a $1, click here.
Here are the questions that I asked Susan because I think putting them into her own words speaks volumes.
What does the word “Fearless” mean to you? THE ABILITY TO CHANNEL YOUR MIND AND ENERGY TO TACKLE ANYTHING IN FRONT OF YOU WITHOUT HESITATION.
What’s something about having Cancer do you want people to know? POST TREATMENT SURVIVORSHIP IS ITS OWN DISEASE IN A WAY - THE LATE AND LONG TERM EFFECTS OF TREATMENT CAN BE DEBILITATING AND CAN CONTROL SOMEONE’S LIFE. IN ADDITION A LOT OF SURVIVORSHIP STRUGGLES ARE HIDDEN - CANCER PATIENTS CAN OFTEN BE IDENTIFIED BECAUSE THEY CAN ‘LOOK’ SICK WHEREAS THE STRUGGLES OF SURVIVORSHIP ARE OFTEN NOT OBVIOUS OR IN MANY CASES NOT EVEN PHYSICAL.
When you had suffered setbacks due to your illness, what kept you motivated? IN THE DARKEST OF MOMENTS I RELY ON MY STUBBORNNESS (LOL) - IN ALL SERIOUSNESS, I JUST REFUSE TO GIVE IN BECAUSE IVE ENDURED SO MUCH ALREADY. I KNOW THIS MINDSET HAS BEEN ENGRAINED IN ME SINCE BIRTH (MY FAMILY KNEW I WOULD SURVIVE WHEN MEDICINE SAID I WOULDN'T). HISTORICALLY I WAS MOTIVATED BY MY DRIVE TO SUCCEED AND TODAY I FIND IMMENSE MOTIVATION FROM MY HUSBAND, FAMILY AND FRIENDS. I HAVE TOO MUCH TO LOVE AND TOO MUCH PRIDE IN MY ABILITY TO OVERCOME TO LET THINGS KNOCK ME DOWN
Who would you say is your rock today? MY HUSBAND, MY FAMILY AND A CORE GROUP OF AMAZING FRIENDS - NOT ONLY DO THEY PROVIDE INCREDIBLE SUPPORT EVERY DAY BUT WHEN I AM IN THE HOSPITAL MY HUSBAND/FAMILY STAYS BY MY SIDE AND MY FRIENDS SHOW UP PRETTY MUCH EVERYDAY.
How does fitness play a role in your mental recovery? WHEN I AM ACTIVE AND CONSISTENT WITH MY FITNESS I NOTICE AN INCREDIBLE DIFFERENCE IN HOW I FEEL PHYSICALLY. MY DAILY ISSUES WILL NEVER BE FULLY CONTROLLED BUT FITNESS PLAYS AN INTEGRAL ROLE IN MANAGING THEM AND I HAVE NOTICED SIGNIFICANT STRETCHES IN TIME WHERE MY PAIN IS REDUCED, MY HEALTH BATTLES MINIMIZED BECAUSE IM TAKING CARE OF MY BODY. I WILL ALWAYS HAVE PAINS AND ISSUES BUT STAYING PHYSICALLY FIT IS SO HELPFUL. BEYOND THE PHYSICAL, THE FEELING OF BEING STRONG HELPS ME EMOTIONALLY AND MENTALLY AS WELL. WHEN YOU DONT FEEL LIKE YOUR BODY IS YOURS TO CONTROL AND YOU HAVE HAD SO MANY EXPERIENCES WHERE YOU ARE SO WEAK AND IN HOSPITALS THE FEELING OF BEING PHYSICALLY STRONG DOES INCREDIBLE THINGS TO YOUR OUTLOOK ON LIFE AND PRIDE IN YOURSELF. I LOVE PHYSICAL CHALLENGES - I LOVE PUSHING MYSELF IN EVERYDAY FITNESS AND I ALSO LOVE TAKING ON PHYSICAL CHALLENGES OUTSIDE MY EVERYDAY ( BUNGEE JUMPING ROCK CLIMBING ETC)
What does the FD organization mean to you? FIRST DESCENTS ALLOWED ME TO FIND TRUE HAPPINESS. FD HELPED ME FIND PRIDE IN MY STORY AND HELPED ME MOVE PAST AN ANGER I DIDN'T RECOGNIZE GOVERNED MY LIFE, IT HELPED ME UNDERSTAND THAT EVEN THOUGH IM AN ANOMALY EVEN IN THE CANCER COMMUNITY I CAN CONNECT WITH OTHERS AND BEING SHAPED BY MY CANCER EXPERIENCE DOESNT MEAN I AM DEFINED BY MY ILLNESS. IT IS BECAUSE OF FD THAT I OPENED UP ABOUT MY SURVIVORSHIP EXPERIENCE - THE DIAPERS, ENEMAS, PAINS (PHYSICAL, MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL). I BELIEVE FD HELPED ME REACH A SPOT SO THAT I COULD MANAGE THE HEALTH ISSUES THAT HAVE COME SINCE WITH A CLEARER MIND - HEARING I WILL NEED A GESTATIONAL CARRIER TO HAVE CHILDREN AND GETTING MY COLOSTOMY IN NOV 2016 WERE CHALLENGES THAT I HAVE BEEN ABLE TO NAVIGATE WITH A SENSE OF COMFORT (STILL STRUGGLED) BECAUSE I HAVE BEEN ABLE TO BUILD A BETTER RELATIONSHIP WITH MY SURVIVORSHIP AS A RESULT OF MY FD EXPERIENCES. AFTER FD I LET PEOPLE IN ON MY STRUGGLES AND I FOUND A SUPPORT NETWORK I NEVER KNEW I HAD - THAT HAS BEEN PRICELESS.
Why should we be funding more for research for cancer? THE FIRST GENERATION OF PEDIATRIC CANCER SURVIVORS ARE GROWN UP NOW AND FACING A PLETHORA OF LATE AND LONG TERM EFFECTS - THEY SHOULDNT BE TREATED AS ONE OFFS, WE ARE A COMMUNITY WITH SHARED EXPERIENCES AND WE SHOULD UNDERSTAND WHY THESE EFFECTS REMAIN AND HOW TREATMENT CAN IMPACT LIVES DOWN THE ROAD (EG FERTILITY).
What is one thing you could say to your younger self (this doesn’t have to do with your cancer persay, but of your strength) now? YOUR INTENSITY SHOULD BE CELEBRATED. MANY WILL MISUNDERSTAND THIS CHARACTERISTIC AND TRY TO MAKE YOU FEEL AS THOUGH IT IS WRONG OR NEGATIVE BUT EMBRACE IT BECAUSE IT WILL BE A REASON FOR YOUR ABILITY TO CONNECT WITH OTHERS, TO LOVE OTHERS AND TO SUCCEED IN WHATEVER YOU DECIDE TO TAKE ON.
To someone else right now, that is reading this and is battling with the treatments & surgeries that you don’t remember, what can you say to them? What is something that they should hear to stay hopeful? THE STRENGTH OF A SURVIVOR IS UNMATCHED. KNOW THAT YOU ARE NOT ALONE IN ANY OF YOUR EXPERIENCES OR FEELINGS - THERE IS A VAST COMMUNITY OF PEOPLE WHO GET YOU AND STAND AT THE READY TO SUPPORT YOU, TO LET YOU BE SAD OR ANGRY WHEN YOU NEED TO BE AND TO CELEBRATE IN THINGS OTHERS MAY NOT REALLY DESERVE TO BE CELEBRATED.
What are the things you are most grateful for? I'M INCREDIBLY FORTUNATE - I'M BEYOND GRATEFUL FOR MY NETWORK OF SUPPORT AND I AM THANKFUL THAT WITH A LOT OF WORK AND TONS OF HELP AND ENCOURAGEMENT FROM OTHERS I HAVE BEEN ABLE TO MOVE THROUGH A JOURNEY OF SELF DISCOVERY AND LANDED IN A PLACE WHERE I DON’T HIDE MY EXPERIENCES AND MY INTENSITY IS BORN OUT OF JOY AND NOT ANGER - I CONTINUE TO FIND A BALANCE BETWEEN MAKING SURE IM NOT DEFINED BY MY HEALTH EXPERIENCE BUT IM ALSO OPEN AND HONEST ABOUT HOW IT IMPACTS MY LIFE AND SHAPES WHO I AM. IM THANKFUL FOR BEING IN A PLACE AT THIS MOMENT TO BE ABLE TO TAKE ON MY DAY AND PUSH MYSELF PHYSICALLY.