By: Sulie Spencer
Breast Cancer Survivor
“I might have had cancer, but it never had me!” That’s what I always tell people when they ask me how I survived breast cancer for 40 years.
Sulie Spencer, May 2016
In 1976, when I was 38 years old, I was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time. The day of my surgery was actually my wedding anniversary… but neither my husband nor I realized it! We were too caught up in everything that was happening to even realize what day it was. My two daughters were ten and thirteen years old at the time, and all I could think was that I would live for them – that their mother would be there.
It all began when I found a lump in my breast. I tried to make an appointment to see a doctor, but had to wait two weeks before seeing anyone. I was working for a lovely family, who I am still with 53 years later. The mother in the family (a Caucasian woman a bit older than me) actually found a lump in her breast as well, but hadn’t done anything about it. The fact that I went to the doctor encouraged her to do the same, and she too was diagnosed with breast cancer. We had our surgeries just a day apart – hers on a Monday; mine on Tuesday. We ended up sharing the same surgeon and so much more! She bought both of us breast prostheses (which were fairly pricey in the ‘70s). They only came in Caucasian flesh tone, so I had a brown boob and a white boob. This was my reality for many years. I didn’t mind, though, as there weren’t other options and the larger gift was life.
Sulie Spencer, breast cancer survivor
Things were definitely different then. People didn’t talk about cancer, especially in the African-American community. It was just something you didn’t share. When they did, it was referred to as “The Big C.” Even my mother-in-law told me not to tell anyone. But I wasn’t afraid to share my story – no matter who asked. For example, when people at my church would ask about my health, and how I was doing, I would tell them. I learned that there is healing for you and others when you share your faith, your journey and your victory.
I know what breast cancer can do to families, so I was all the more thankful each day that I was able to get up, go to work and take care of my kids. The little things like combing my daughters’ hair felt like such a blessing. It was important for me to remember that I am bigger than cancer; that it would not have the final say. And to this day, it hasn’t. I never stopped working, teaching Sunday School, baking or any of the other things I love. Even after a second breast cancer diagnosis in 2002, watching my eldest daughter face breast cancer in 2013 (she’s doing great today), and then being treated and cleared of lymphoma and mesothelioma in 2015, I remain strong in my resolve, and live with a heart of gratitude.
No matter what comes my way, I try to live in such a way that if I can help somebody as I walk along, then my living is not in vain. So, I will continue to share my story, support my church and my community, and enjoy every moment I can with my children and grandchildren. Because, like I said, “cancer never had me . . . and never will.”
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