Stories of Hope

Peeking Behind the Curtain: Suzy’s Breast Cancer Story

Peeking Behind the Curtain: Suzy’s Breast Cancer Story

In this unfiltered Q&A, NBCF Community Ambassador Suzy shares her breast cancer story. Please note, the story shared below includes breast cancer death.

NBCF: How have you been impacted by breast cancer?

Suzy: When I was a little girl, my mom was my superhero. I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world, and not only did she have a talent for fashion and design, but she was an incredible concert pianist. She competed at a national piano competition and came in second. We were all so proud of her!

Mom was one of those people who not only told me that anything was possible but showed me as well. When we moved to the United States from Puerto Rico, she had four small children, minimal cash in her purse, but the hope that she would give us a better life than she had as a child. She accomplished her goal. As a matter of fact, I watched Mom accomplish goal after goal as she wrote and published her first book and graduated with a doctorate degree. In my eyes, there was nothing Mom couldn’t do.

Our world changed when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Even though Mom had a passionate heart and the strength of a tiger, I never thought her journey would take the course it took. When she was diagnosed, Mom chose to have a lumpectomy and radiation treatment on her affected breast. This was her first battle. Several years later, cancer came back on the other breast, and she chose the same treatment. 

With each diagnosis, we watched Mom suffer through the fear, the hair loss, and the side effects cancer and chemo have. There is such a helpless feeling when you watch someone you love suffer, but something in me kept believing she would fight this disease and win.

Ten years later, Mom began having pain in her neck and back. Her doctor suggested physical therapy, which only made it worse. Finally, the pain got so bad she saw her cancer doctor, who admitted her immediately to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer. It had come back fast and fierce, and Mom had to undergo a seven-hour surgery with a team of five specialists to prevent her spine from snapping because it was so brittle from cancer. I will never forget the doctor talking to us after the surgery and realizing Mom was not going to be okay. I didn’t know what to expect and knew things would never be the same again.

Every time the phone would ring, I would panic and my heart would race. I remember praying and asking God to help me through this fear because I couldn’t do it alone. I called Mom every evening before dinner. It became our ritual. However, one night, I picked up the phone and an overwhelming feeling of fear and anxiety filled my soul. I have never experienced anything like it, and it terrified me. I heard God whisper, “Call her.” I stood looking out the window with the phone in one hand and my other hand holding my stomach and heard it again, “Call your mom.” I made a decision that would change my life. I set the phone down and told myself I would call later. Ten minutes later, I received a call from a family member telling me Mom had just died. She was talking on the phone and dropped it as she passed away. This moment changed my life in so many ways.

What feelings did you go through after losing your mom?

Suzy: The emotion of fear is so deep, and grief is such an overwhelming experience, especially when you combine grief with guilt. Nobody could have prepared me for the pain a person suffers when they grieve. For months the light would hurt my eyes, and sounds would pierce my ears. I fell into a deep depression and had to start seeing a grief counselor. 

Between my amazing husband, my counselor, and God, I slowly started to heal again. Except this time, I realized that God had a purpose for me: Turning my biggest mistake into my greatest achievement.

How has your journey shaped you and your goals now?

Suzy: Several years after Mom’s death, she came to me in several dreams. The first dream I had of her was so healing: We were standing on a stage peeking behind a large curtain; we were both laughing, and for the first time I remembered what it felt like to have fun with her again.

Then I had another dream where she was standing at the end of a stage holding a scepter and red velvet cape and waiting for me. She smiled and looked so happy. After I woke, I knew I was supposed to compete in pageants again, except this time it would be different. My journey would be to educate women about the importance of breast cancer awareness and early detection. Although I was terrified to share my story, I knew it was important to educate women as well, so I stepped out of my fear and stepped onto the pageant stage.

Suzy in a white evening dress with a pageant crown

What does empowerment look like to you?

Suzy: Being crowned with two international pageant titles since that dream, I have made it my mission to empower women with the tools and knowledge about the importance of early detection and listening to your body. My faith turned my agony into empowerment and my hopelessness into my mission to help women across the world—not only to listen to their own voices but to become their own advocates.

Being part of the NBCF family allowed me to become a Community Ambassador so I can further expand my mission to educate and empower others.

What would you say to women who don’t feel empowered right now?

Suzy: Through my personal journey I have endured tragedy and triumph, but this is true for all of our journeys. The best advice I can give is two-fold:

First, take care of your body and be proactive. Get your annual mammograms and perform your monthly self-exams. You have to be your own greatest advocate throughout every moment of your life.

Secondly, you are not alone. NBCF was created to provide knowledge and tools for support so you can feel like you are part of a community that cares about you and will fight for you. Take advantage of that community. Learn from them, volunteer for them, and donate to them so they can continue to help women around the world.

I have learned there is no greater illusion than fear. It will isolate you, prevent you from taking responsibility for yourself, and it can immobilize you. I’ve been there. In moments of helplessness, panic, and guilt, I have learned that you are never alone. Whether you have a cancer diagnosis or are being impacted by cancer in some way, take care of yourself and treat yourself with the love and respect you deserve. 

To learn more about becoming an NBCF Community Ambassador to give help and hope to members of your community, click here.

National Breast Cancer Foundation is here for you and your loved ones. Whether you need support, education, or help during treatment, we have a team dedicated to getting you the help you deserve.

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