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Cancer Patient Stories

Susan PilcherSusan Pilcher's Story

There is something special that lies within the hearts and minds of people who’ve battled cancer.  Billings Clinic gets the distinct privilege of meeting and caring for many amazing breast cancer survivors throughout their life changing journey.  

What we’ve discovered in the process, however, is that these women tend to teach us much more than we could ever repay in care.  As breast cancer survivor Susan Pilcher shares, a cancer patient’s journey may begin at diagnosis, but the unspoken wisdom a patient survivor acquires along the way never really leaves you.  

Meet Susan, then never forget her:

Walking Susan Pilcher through the Billings Clinic Cancer Center could be likened to escorting a celebrity.  Though her treatment is long behind her, Susan still graces the halls of Billings Clinic every Thursday as a volunteer in the ACS wig boutique, where she meets women at critical moment in their journey with cancer.  She is often greeted by radiation technicians, who, arms open wide, lean in for a warm embrace, soaking up Susan’s positive energy and warmth (she’s a hugger, not a hand shaker).  Recently, on a quick tour through the new Center for Breast Health at Billings Clinic, Pat Mahana, Billings Clinic’s Diagnostic Breast Navigator and the first person Susan saw after receiving her diagnosis, was overcome with joy and tears when Susan walked through the doors for a quick reunion.   In other words, in a world so dependent on the advancement of medicine to cure us, Susan reminds us all that there are many kinds of healers in this world – of which she is certainly one.  

Diagnosed with stage 2B lobular carcinoma found in her left breast on Valentine’s Day of 2012, Susan has come a long way, baby.  After a mastectomy, Susan faced weeks of chemo and radiation.  Over the course of that past year, she lost her energy, her taste for food, and her hair.  What she gained, however, is the regal dignity of one who has looked fear in the eye, invited it to dinner, and greeted it at the door with a long embrace.  How’d she come full circle?  We’ll let her tell you.  

On facing the “C” word:  

Chemo and radiation weren’t fun, but they weren’t the worst thing in my life.   People don’t believe me when I say this, but cancer in my life was a blessing.  It was all a growing, strengthening experience that gave me something I’ll have for the rest of my life.

Everything is so different in your life when you’re going through treatment, though I would argue that the cancer patient has an easier time than the family.  I knew I had to find my own way through this journey, and I needed to do it with peace and dignity.

On Giving Back:

I’ve been given so much by those who’ve cared for me; my faith in humanity and God has strengthened.  So, it makes me feel good to make others feel better and meet them where they’re at in their journey.  When women come in to the wig boutique, it’s really a critical time.  They’re tender.  They need someone to say “I have been there.  You will get to the other side.”

On losing her hair:

Losing your hair is the first reality that you have cancer.  You hold a clump in your hand and look at yourself in the mirror and say “Wow, I really do have cancer.”

My friends and family and I had a hair party when I started to lose my hair.  Everyone came over and I cut my hair in a short bob and died it such a bright red that I can tell you it wouldn’t look good on anyone!  Everyone else at the party put a touch of red in their hair too.  We laughed and had a great time, and then I shaved it all off.    

Did I love being bald?  Absolutely!  My skin was so soft!  A little mascara and eye liner and I was done.  I didn’t have to worry about my hair. It felt really liberating.

On where she’s at today:

Now, my priority is helping other people.  I get to do that through the wig boutique and sometimes just by having conversations with other patients.  It’s what makes me feel the absolute best.  It’s my passion and it’s what I want to do.  Really, it’s what helps me continue to heal. 

On what she’s learned:

You never know how strong you are when strength is all you have – that is it really.  That’s cancer.

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