Of Friendship and Love and Why Cancer Is a Terrible Thief


Teach Mama, Susan Niebur, myself, and Parentopia Devra at a MomzShare event that raised money for the American Cancer Society. I don't know who took this photo with my camera in order to give them credit.

I really wanted to call this “Cancer Sucks” — a button I’ve seen before, but I’m trying to remember that I expect my children to use better adjectives when they want to resort to colorful language. Forgive me if the parent — and mature adult in me — lapses from time to time during this post.

Cancer really is a thief who robs us — all of us — not only of friends and cherished family members but robs society of so many valuable people. I’m not going to make this a post about statistics. There are so many posts about statistics. I’m just going to say the numbers are way too high and it affects the very, very young, the kinda young, the middle-aged, the lived-some-but-not-enough, and yes, even those who have “lived a good live and are ready to go.” But it’s a terrible way to go. For anyone.

There are so many people I know who have been afflicted that I can’t even keep track of them all. A childhood friend of mine died from it so fast that she was dead before I knew she had cancer. Another friend posted a status on Facebook that she was cancer-free for a year and I didn’t know she had it. I have friends who have been in remission and have it yet again. And sadly, a friend who has chronicled and amazing journey of surviving cancer four times but is currently receiving hospice care as she fights metastatic breast cancer in her spine, neck, ribs, and hips.  If you read my blog or Facebook regularly at all, you know I am talking about my friend, Dr. Susan Niebur, a blogger, mother, and astrophysicist.

I cannot answer for you any questions about “what does this mean” that she is receiving hospice care.  She calls it regrouping. I have done my own share of mental gymnastics around the word hospice and you’ll have to do your own. Susan has done her share of miraculous rallying in the past. What I will say is that many of us are putting together photos into a video for Susan — for encouragement, laughter, and love and we invite anyone who has any way felt touched by Susan and her story (stories?) to contribute. Amy of TeachMama has already written it up and is putting it together so I will simply link to her post.  Just know that it doesn’t have to be fancy — a photo, with your caption added or emailed in or you holding a piece of paper in your photo is all you need.  The photo doesn’t even have to be of a person/face.  It can be a drawing, a piece of artwork.

With so many people coping with cancer, why does Susan garner so much love and attention?

Because she’s so inspirational in so many ways.

As a friend, Susan is “geographically undesirable.” I don’t get to see her very often, in fact, mostly at blogging conferences. And I’ve been a really terrible friend in terms of phone calls and emails because my own personal life has been a bit chaotic in recent months. And yet, Susan is ever-present in my life and always finding a way to touch and inspire me in some way — sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly. I’m not the only one who says that — she has that effect on nearly everyone she meets. But what is more amazing is that she is so multi-faceted that she impacts you in more than one facet of your life.

As a Writer/Speaker/Media Superstar

Susan blogs as WhyMommy at her own blog, Toddler Planet.  Then she’s a regular contributor to the Women in Planetary Science blog where in 2010-2011 she conducted 40 of the planned 51 interviews of women in planetary science WHILE fighting cancer. And is one of the 20 women of the Mothers with Cancer blog. And spoke at Blogalicious 2011 despite being in the middle of chemo therapy. Throughout her battle with cancer she has continue to write numerous scientific papers, work on a book about her career with NASA, present scientific papers at conferences with lofty sounding names and is an active speaker on the social media circuit. She makes me feel lazy as a writer. She is inspirational without fighting cancer, but that she does it while fighting cancer just ratchets everything up by a factor of a million. (She might correct my math there.)

As a Mother

Yes, all mothers get tired. All mothers run out of ideas. All mothers sometimes just wish the kids would stop asking questions. But the way she cherishes her children recharges my maternal batteries and makes me go hug my kids, sometimes even when they are asleep, and makes me think that if Susan can be that good of a mother “even if…” (it’s been a bad day at chemo therapy for… the future seems uncertain, she’s in pain that day…) then certainly I can be a good mother no matter what challenges I face. And sometimes she also inspires me to work in a little more science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) into our day.

As an Advocate

I’ve always believed in volunteering.  But Susan has taught me so much about how to choose wisely with how you support an important cause. About “pinkwashing” and that you have to go far beyond “awareness” to actual action. That it is not just enough to TALK about breast cancer but to actually DO something, like she did when she brought partners together to make lymphedema sleeves available to those who could not afford them. And how Facebook memes can sometimes hurt the very people they were meant to help.

As a Christian

Despite “prayer” being in the name of my blog, I don’t discuss my faith much here, but I have a lot of it and yes, I am a Christian. Susan has shared thoughts about faith from time to time and one blog post in particular really struck me and I think about it often — about the life being unfair and yet God keeping his promises. One phrase people use to describe Susan repeatedly is “full of grace” and I think if you read this post, you’ll see why.

As a Friend

No matter what she is going through, Susan remembers to congratulate others on their achievements, reach out to those going through rough times, and share a hearty laugh.  Is she perfect, oh goodness, no — none of us are. Sure, I’ve seen the pain make her cross. (And she’ll probably wince if she ever sees that line – she doesn’t like to be cross.) But she’s awfully close to being perfect. She makes the rest of us strive to be better in so many ways. She forgives me when I go weeks without contact and welcomes my intrusions into her busy life when with all my loud Ariesness I come charging in with my overwhelming boisterous love trying not to crush her fragile body with a hug and my loud laughs. She encourages my clumsy attempts at science with my children. And she is responsive to her many, many, many readers everywhere she writes despite her need to conserve her energy.

Susan is one of the many, many people cancer is robbing this world of. I beg you, in her honor, please go sign up for Avon’s Army of Women today, or find another active way to participate in research or contribute to the funding of research for a cure to cancer. Susan’s cancer is inflammatory breast cancer — a kind that “kills without a lump” but if you choose to advocate about a different kind, that’s fine, too. It all needs to GO.



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  1. Bless you, and Susan and all who are waging war against cancer… or have in the past, will in the future.

    Your timing is interesting… I am still wrapping my head around the fact that my friend, my physician, is suddenly battling breast cancer as well. Stage 4, with two young children, a fab husband, etc. I will so gladly take a moment from my already chaotic work day and blog and link, for you, for Susan (whom I don’t know at all, but I still feel robbed), and for my friends and the others…

  2. Well said. I totally agree. Susan inspires me, too. More than once I have read a blog post of hers, while I was having a rough day with my kids and complaining about it, and I’ve thought, “What on earth is my problem?” Here is a momma who is in pain, who is fighting for her life, and she has nothing but smiles for her kids and a positive outlook and is so full of hope. It has challenged me to turn my day around, to hug my kids for a long time and to remember the sweetness of life. It’s there, every day, sometimes you just have to remember to look for it.

    So I’m going to look for it today. Susan is surrounded by love. She is home. She is with her family. I hope she is comfortable and warm. I know she will be so touched to see the messages that we are all sending her. I’ve never met her, but I know that about her. And while she rests and regroups and soaks up all the love around her, we will carry her message on, as you have done so well today, my friend.

  3. Channnon, I am so sorry about your friend and physician. Thank you for the cross-link and I will keep your friend in my prayrs.

    Julie, Susan is just amazing. Simply amazing. She’ll never be able to fully comprehend how many lives she changes with her daily examples of living with grace.

  4. Cancer is a horrible thing. My best friend of over 15 years whom my children and I spent almost everyday with (with her 2 children as well) died just over a year ago at 29 of breast cancer. I also have many more people in my life who have been afflicted with this disease. I hope that your friend Susan is able to continue to use hospice to regroup in a positive and strong way and I hope that the journey is not to difficult.


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