Shelley Callaghan: We all know that breast cancer is common in women... too common. But when Susanne Pruitt, (my dear friend and now business partner) was diagnosed with Breast Cancer 18 years ago, her life as she knew it, came to a screeching halt. It was a horrific wakeup call that changed her world.
As arguably the most pro-active, scrappy and “get-er done” woman I know, Susanne embarked on a mission to do everything in her power to fight her cancer and survive it. To say that cancer changed her life is a massive understatement. She changed her career, she changed her outlook and she inspired change in those around her. And she beat it.
18 years later, cancer free and healthy, Susanne shares the deep, meaningful and emotional journey she experienced during her battle with cancer...
SC: Give us the full picture... where were you when you were diagnosed. How were you informed?
SP: I was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 42 years old. There is no cancer in my family and I am somewhat athletic and healthy, so finding a lump in my breast was a complete shock. I found the lump in my left breast after a routine self-breast exam. What I distinctly remember is that after I went in for a biopsy on a Friday, I had to wait the entire weekend for the results. On Monday morning, when the surgeon called me (as opposed to the nurse) I knew it was not good news.
SC: What stage and what was the treatment plan from the outset?
SP: After I met with a highly recommended oncologist, it was determined that I had Stage IIA cancer, which meant that the tumor was 3+ centimeters and had spread into the auxiliary lymph node, but only a trace. The first decision was whether to get a lumpectomy or a mastectomy. Because the cancer had not spread far into the lymph node, chemo treatments were up for discussion. I chose to get a lumpectomy and full radiation and chemo. I was only 42 so I wanted to be sure to beat it.
SC: Your boys, Austin and Evan were little guys. How do you recall them responding to your news of cancer?
SP: My boys were 4 and 8 years old — too young to fully understand the situation. I realized that the hair loss would be the hardest part for them. I chose a wonderful wig maker that was able to shave my hair and make a wig with it. It was more for my kids than for me.
SC: I remember this day so well. A few best friends rallied around... we popped the champagne, pumped the music and nervously watched this master wig maker go to work. We were all shocked at how gorgeous your bald head was and how beautiful the wig turned out!
SP: I know, right? It was definitely best case scenario... I wanted to keep a sense of normalcy at that age. I found out I had a pretty decent skull. Who knew!
SC: On this note, you were physically in perhaps the best shape of your life... you looked like Demi Moore in GI Jill. I thought you looked gorgeous without hair, but how difficult was that part of the process?
SP: Losing your hair is certainly a difficult part of the process, but I think the loss of eyebrows and eye lashes are the most difficult part for any cancer patient. You truly lose a sense self and look particularly unhealthy. The eyebrow pencil just did not cut it!
Antica Co-Owner Susanne Pruitt and her pup, Oakley.
SC: You often talk about how the cancer years of your life were the most peaceful for you. Explain that...
SP: Quite frankly, getting breast cancer was a blessing in disguise for me. Prior to the diagnosis, I had spent 15 years working in the fast paced financial world. I was traveling constantly and missing a lot of the “moments” with my boys. Once I was diagnosed, the world became very small and finite. It all slowed down and became simple. Every word, smile or tear became more important. It was freeing and peaceful.
SC: What do you wish you knew then that you know now, regarding your battle with cancer?
SP: Time has given me an enormous amount of perspective on all procedures and considerations. As an example, I wish someone had better explained to me the negative effects of radiation of the breast tissue.
SC: I think this is a really important topic to discuss. I had no idea the physical repercussions of breast cancer continue long after recovery.
SP: I agree, I had no idea either. The scar tissue becomes severely hardened over time. I have had 4 follow up surgeries over the past 12 years due to this issue. If I had known, I would have just had a full mastectomy, which I ended up having 8 years later!
All in all, cancer allowed me to embrace my life in a completely different way than I ever would have otherwise. My friendships are richer and my relationships are more authentic. You never wish for cancer, but it can be just the renewed energy and awakening someone needs.
SC: Tell us about the Young Survival Coalition.
SP: The Young Survival Coalition, YSC, is mainly focused on young adult breast cancer. This resonates with me because I was so young when I received my diagnosis. Having cancer is pretty different at a young age because it is typically more aggressive, expensive for many at that age and also emotionally more difficult because of all the physical hurdles at a young age (more vulnerable). There is also very little research on why people get breast cancer under the age of 40. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I chose YSC as a worthy cause I want to support. This weekend, we are donating 20% of our total sales to YSC. You can learn more at youngsurvival.org.