Photo by Jean Fordyce
"I’ve learned that I am mortal. It’s funny how we all know we’re going to die at some point, but it’s never truly real until you have to look death in the eyes. Because I know my life could be taken from me sooner than I’d ever expected, I’ve learned to live every moment as if it’s my last."
New Jersey, USA
With just 4 months left to go before her dream wedding, she found out that she had cervical cancer... but Suzanne Kane was determined to rise from it. She wrote her heart away in her blog with full acceptance of her path and journey, inspiring people she met including none other than Sebastian Bach (frontman of the band Skid Row) who performed at her bridal party. The story she wrote about that night "The Mother Of All Bridal Showers... And Then Some" was blasted by Sebastian to his any followers on Twitter, I caught it, and it moved me so much I decided to seek out the writer and get her interviewed for Soulspeak. I'm not sure when I invited her to do this with me but when she responded I was so happy and bawling, really. I took it as a sign that things are really bouncing back in my life. I've been very ill lately, and still struggling with my gastrointestinal disease , and a bit demotivated to start doing what I normally do each day. Stories like this kind of jump start my spirit and bring me to a place of gratitude. . . for the sunrise, for my breath, for my writing, for every moment I can spend with my daughter, for life in general. So blessed and honored to share Suzanne's energy with the world today. She really is a star.
WHO IS SUZANNE KANE?
This is the first time I’ve ever really thought about who I am. The obvious answer would be I’m a wife and a mother of two amazing boys. But I’m assuming you’d like me to dig deeper into who I really am. Or should I say, who I’ve become over the last year.
I’d like to say I’m a survivor. But the truth is, I’m just a formerly strong woman who lives in constant fear of an invisible enemy that is trying to kill me. I used to know myself. I used to know who I was and what I wanted in life. Now all I want is to be able to live long enough to watch my kids grow up.
Cancer is a funny thing. It changes every single part of your life. It changes your relationships and your goals. It changes your feelings and your thoughts. In short, it changes who you are. I’m not the same person I was a year ago. Truthfully, I’m not sure who I really am anymore.
WHAT MOTIVATES YOU?
My husband and my kids are my motivation to continue my fight. I can’t even think of what life would be like for them without me in it. I know my husband would never forget me, but eventually he’d accept the loss and move on. My kids are another story. How would they grow up without their mom? What kind of men would they become? Would they forget about me?
These are the thoughts that keep me up at night. My boys need me. I need to be there for them. They keep me strong.
TELL ME ABOUT YOUR BLOG AND ITS BEGINNINGS.
When I was diagnosed with cancer in April of 2011, my head was a mess. There were too many doctors and too many tests and too much information to process. I went into a bit of a depression and closed myself off from the world. I didn’t want to talk to anyone about what was happening because it was too hard for me. Also, there were just too many unknowns. People would ask what the treatment plan was or when I’d have test results or what doctors had said, and most of the time, I didn't really have any answers.
I decided to start my blog for two reasons. The first one was for the basic need to get information to a large number of people without having to call each one and repeat the same story over and over again. The second reason was more of a coping mechanism. Writing has always been one of my talents, and it really helped me to vent and get all of my anger out without lashing out at the people I love.
I honestly had no idea people would become so interested in what I had to say. I found that if I didn’t write for a few days, people would start to get antsy. They’d ask my mom if I was ok or send me e-mails asking to please start blogging again because they were addicted and couldn’t wait for my next entry. Even after I decided to end the blog, for reasons explained in the last entry, people begged me to keep writing because they needed their daily fix. It really gave my ego quite a boost!
ROCK STARS PLAYING IN A BRIDAL PARTY...PRETTY SURREAL. WHO CAME OUT AND WHAT DID THEY PERFORM?
My bridal shower is an experience I will never ever forget. Talk about surreal! It was like my teenage fantasy come true! It’s a bit of a long story, but definitely worth telling.
Obviously, there is never a good time to hear the words, “You have cancer.” But I think hearing those words four months before your wedding is seriously bad timing. I was a mess. I didn’t know if I’d make it to the wedding at all, but I was determined to try. We continued with the planning and hoped for the best. But I wanted to make sure my bridal shower happened before I started treatments in mid-July.
My mom and my best friend, Jen, asked me if there was anything I wanted to do for my shower that would be out of the ordinary. After all, this was my second marriage, and Jimmi (my husband) and I didn’t feel like we needed to stick to any “normal” expectations of what our wedding “should” be. We were going all out to make this day unique, just like us.
Anyway, I came up with the idea of having a rock star come to the shower and play a few songs with an acoustic guitar to entertain the guests. At first, I said it half-kidding, never expecting my mom to take me seriously. But she didn’t even chuckle at my suggestion. Knowing the Hell I was in for, I think my mom would’ve done just about anything to make me smile, even if it could only be for one day. Before I knew it, a bunch of names were thrown out as possibilities, and then the phone calls were made.
As it turned out, my absolute favorite rock star from my teen years happened to be available and willing to perform at my shower. With only a week left before the party, a contract was signed to have Sebastian Bach, formerly of Skid Row, and his guitar player, Nick Sterling, play a 40-minute acoustic set at my parents’ house. Let me tell you, it was quite the party! Sebastian sang a few songs, including a special request of “This Is The Moment” from the Broadway show “Jekyll & Hyde”, in which he starred years ago. He joked with my family and friends in between songs, and just kept the mood light and friendly.
Because my parents have a lot of parties in an old stable in back of their property, there is a small stage area with a drum set that stays there all the time. Sebastian joked around about wishing he had a drummer so they could play some more rock songs, instead of the acoustic ballads. As it turns out, my husband is a professional drummer, and, although men aren’t usually allowed at a bridal shower, he was there to help with the sound at the party. Sebastian called him up and the next thing I knew, a rock jam broke out! They played everything from Skid Row to Guns n Roses to Led Zeppelin! The 40-minute set turned into two hours! The only reason they stopped was because the guitarist had to catch a flight back home. It was unreal!
I FEEL THAT VALUABLE FRIENDSHIPS WERE BORN THAT NIGHT. IT IS TRULY MOVING, THE SUPPORT AND THE OUTPOURING OF LOVE. DO YOU STILL KEEP IN TOUCH WITH SEBASTIAN AND HIS BAND?
I think one of the most incredible things about the day was something I found out after the performance was over. When Sebastian was booked to play my party, my best friend told his manager about my health situation, which I assumed was the reason he decided to play so long. In my mind, it was almost like a pity performance. You know, like, “Poor little cancer patient. I guess we should play as long as we can since this is her death wish.” But I was totally wrong.
When the guests were leaving and Sebastian was grabbing a quick sandwich before jumping into the car and heading out, I went over to thank him. I said something along the lines of, “Thank you so much. I really needed this since I’m starting chemo on Tuesday.” As soon as I saw the look on his face, I knew his manager hadn’t relayed the information about my health to him. I seriously thought he was going to burst into tears. He said, “What? Are you serious?” I laughed and said, “Why do you think you’re here? I’m sure you don’t get requests to play bridal showers every day.” He said, “I thought you were just a rock fan who wanted me to play her party!” He literally threw his arms around me and told me he’d be there for me if I needed anything. He gave me his number and told me to call him any time.
Honestly, I didn’t believe he’d even remember me the next day, but I was wrong. He checked on me throughout the summer, here and there, and even sent me an advanced copy of his new solo CD, “Kicking and Screaming”, so I’d have something to listen to during radiation treatments. He is an amazing person and he has a huge heart.
We don’t talk often, but every now and then I’ll text him or send him a Tweet to say hello. And if I’m ever having a bad day, I replay the events of my amazing bridal shower over in my head and I always end up with a huge smile on my face.
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM YOURSELF LATELY?
I’ve learned that I am mortal. It’s funny how we all know we’re going to die at some point, but it’s never truly real until you have to look death in the eyes. Because I know my life could be taken from me sooner than I’d ever expected, I’ve learned to live every moment as if it’s my last. I know that sounds cliché, but it’s the truth. If there’s something I want to do, I make plans to do it. If there’s something my kids want, I give it to them. I’m trying to make their lives special so they have a lot of memories of me that will stand out and last forever.
I’ve also learned to say what I feel, no matter what it is. There’s no reason to hold back if something is on my mind. I don’t want to come to the end and regret the one thing I never said.
The hardest thing I’ve learned is to let go of relationships that are one-sided or toxic. There’s no reason to hold onto people in your life out of pure habit. I’ve started thinking about WHY I’ve chosen to share my life with certain people and if they’re worth my energy. Unfortunately, some people haven’t made the cut. But, in the end, I feel that will be their cross to bear.
AND WHAT HAVE YOU UN-LEARNED?
In keeping with what I’ve learned, I’ve unlearned a lot of things I always thought to be true. I don’t believe in karma anymore. I always lived my life as a decent, caring and giving person. I did unto others as I would have done to myself. I thought good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. I was totally wrong. Bad things happen to good people all the time.
I’ve also always believed that my healthy lifestyle would keep me going strong until I was an old woman. Had to unlearn that belief. The fact that I’ve never been a drinker or a smoker, I’ve never done drugs, I eat healthy and I exercise regularly meant absolutely nothing when it came to getting cancer.
I also unlearned the thought that my healthy body would handle chemo well, because, apparently, the fact that I’ve never been a drinker made it harder for my liver to process toxins, thereby making chemo even harder for me.
YOU'RE FACE TO FACE WITH YOUR 10-YEAR OLD SELF...WHAT ONE PIECE OF ADVICE WOULD YOU LEAVE YOU?
If I could meet my 10 year-old self, I’m not sure I’d warn myself about the cancer. Living in fear has been hard enough for the last year, let alone adding 27 more years of terror on top of that! I think I would tell myself to do what I feel is right and stop trying to please everyone. There are many paths I took in my life because I was scared of taking a turn into the unknown. I would tell myself to take a chance and move to California for a little while after college. I would tell myself to have a few years of a real career before getting married and having kids. I would tell myself to work hard to gain my own identity so I could be proud of my accomplishments. Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids and being their mom is a great job. But being known by people outside the PTA would be a wonderful feeling.
IF YOU COULD BE ANYWHERE RIGHT NOW AT THIS VERY MOMENT, WHERE WOULD YOU BE?
If I could be anywhere right now, I’d be on my honeymoon! Because I found out about the cancer a few months before my wedding, I ended up having to postpone my honeymoon and finish treatments.
The plan was to go to two of Tahiti’s islands, Taha’a and Bora Bora, for two weeks of relaxation. Instead, a few days after the wedding, I headed back to the chemo chair. We postponed the honeymoon until the end of August 2012, with the thought that we could spend our first anniversary there.
As I live CT scan to CT scan, I needed the last one (May 2012) to be clear before even making the trip a reality in my mind. Well, the last scan was ALMOST clear, but there was a small pocket of fluid in my abdomen that is a bit questionable. It could be nothing or it could be something, but there’s no way to test it. All we can do is wait for the next scan to see if it grows, shrinks or goes away. The doctors agreed that it would be ok to wait until after the honeymoon to scan me again, and though it worries me, I decided to take my trip as planned and hope for the best. But now I’ve been having headaches for the last month, causing my doctor to schedule a CT of my head on July 13, 2012. If this scan shows any sign that the cancer has spread, the honeymoon will be scrapped, and I’ll have to decide if I want to go through treatments again or just let the cancer take its course.
So, in short, I’d really love to be on the deck of my private, over-water bungalow, sipping a drink and staring at Mt. Otemanu.
If I could change one thing about the world it would be to find a cure for all childhood cancers and other life-threatening illnesses. While I was going through my treatments, I would think to myself, as awful as this is, there are CHILDREN going through this. Babies who don’t even know what it’s like to have a normal life are in a hospital being stuck with needles and pumped full of poison. That’s not right. No child should ever have to be afraid of dying. No mother should have to watch as her toddler’s hair falls out. No father should have to comfort his baby when his skin is burned and peeling from the radiation beams. Kids are supposed to be carefree and spend their lives playing and laughing and complaining about school and homework. They shouldn’t be living a life of torture.
IF YOU COULD SHARE ONE MESSAGE TO THE WORLD, WHAT MESSAGE WOULD THAT BE?
If I could share one message with the world right now, it would be do not take your life for granted. Hug your kids and tell them you love them every day. Take risks that might benefit you. Don’t waste your time with people who can’t give back what you give them. If you aren’t in love with your current partner, move on so you can experience real love. Do what you want to do so you don’t have any regrets.
THE QUINTESSENTIAL QUESTION... WHAT FOR YOU IS LOVE?
It’s sad to think that I might have gone my whole life without knowing REAL love. It’s also sad to think that I might not have even known what REAL love is, had it not been for cancer.
Obviously, there are different kinds of love. There’s the love you feel for your parents and your kids, which doesn’t need to build and grow. It just is. Not that this love isn’t real, but it’s not something that starts out as friendship or something that you even remember as having a beginning. When you’re a child, you know you love your parents. When you have a child, you are programmed to love that little piece of you. But I was lucky enough to learn a new kind of love.
I knew I loved Jimmi when I agreed to marry him seven months before my diagnosis. I also knew I loved him during the four years we dated before the engagement. But I didn’t understand the extent of that love until I watched him transform into someone who gave up everything to take care of me.
Before I even had my hysterectomy, I rushed to have my eggs harvested. The doctors explained that embryos freeze better than eggs, so it’s best to fertilize them. Without even knowing whether or not he wanted kids of his own, Jimmi agreed to the fertilization process without a second thought.
Then, after surgery, I was stuck with a catheter for a few days. My dignity was gone and I was totally embarrassed, but Jimmi didn’t bat an eye as he helped me into the bathroom to empty and clean the catheter bag.
When treatments started, he drove me to the hospital every day. He sat with me through five hours of chemo treatments and endless days of IV hydration. When we got home, he’d walk me to the couch and tell me to rest. He would note the time and make sure I had my anti-nausea pills ready every four hours. He would take me upstairs at night and put me into bed. When my hair started to fall out, he told me I was beautiful. He helped me tape my wig in place so I knew it was straight. He cleaned the house and took care of the animals. And after each chemo cycle I completed, he bought me flowers.
And through it all, he never once faltered in his decision to marry me.
I was bald and pale and weak, but he still married me.
When you find a love like that with someone who isn’t biologically or even legally obligated to stay by your side, you know you have something special. You know you have REAL love.
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All articles written within the period of Oct 2011 through present. © Juno Cristi 2011-2012, All Rights Reserved