My name is Suzy Hetherton Burke, I’m 66 years old and happily retired! I grew up in New Jersey, graduated from Rosemont College in PA and moved to NYC after graduation. Charlie and I met, dated and got married when we were living in the West Village and working in the city. We stayed in New York for two years after marrying and then decided to try New England. We both got jobs, rented and then decided to put down roots, so we bought a home in Massachusetts. We started a family and raised our son and daughter there. It was in Massachusetts when Charlie was 52 that our good friend and family doctor raised the alert at a check-up for a possible colorectal tumor. He suggested we consider one of five local general surgeons.
After trying to absorb the shock of a cancer diagnosis and what it might mean for us, I went into overdrive and called my former boss who was a Boston consultant who had recently started a medical-related consulting firm in Boston. Within a few days I was speaking with a well-known and well-connected physician at Mass General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. He explained the necessity of having a good surgeon, and recommended five to us. After chemo, surgery and additional chemo, Charlie was cancer free! We moved all our doctors to MGH physicians over fears of referral and insurance issues. The drive was worth the sense of security that we had access to the best doctors.
Fast forward to when Charlie was 64 and had lost some weight and wasn’t feeling well. We went to our MGH primary who did blood work, ordered a scan and set up an appointment with his MGH oncologist. We had become quite close to his oncologist, and had a number of friends in common. When he walked into the examining room after viewing the scan and the lab work he delivered the news that Charlie had a large and very rare GIST tumor. He had us stay in the room while he brought the MGH GIST specialist in to meet with us. Not only was it cancer again, but now very rare! When we received the very rare GIST diagnosis, I was confident we had the best doctors to guide us. I truly recommend that all going through this journey go the extra distance to find GIST specialists to help them.
Charlie’s tumor was large and the decision was made to go on Gleevec for five to six months to shrink the tumor and then operate. It worked so well that the tumor shrunk from the size of a Nerf football to a small kiwi. Charlie then had his successful surgery and stayed on Gleevec for four years. Cancer free is where we are! Life is good. Charlie’s GIST oncologist introduced us to the Life Raft Group and we have both become involved with them. Support systems are great!
I have been the one who believes that if I am to be supportive to Charlie, I have to take care of myself first, and for me that means taking care of my own health. I am a regular at the gym, and if that’s not available, I walk. Actually, Charlie and I usually walk every morning for three to four miles. It clears my head and helps me feel good. There are some things over which we have no control, but we can take care of ourselves with a program of regular exercise and healthy diet.
Life is good. We are now both retired and live in New Jersey, halfway in between our two grown children and closer to our granddaughter. Our adult children are a huge source of support for both Charlie and me. They’re good listeners and a great source of positive energy!
Our mantra is YOLO, you only live once. We do enjoy every single day and share our appreciation for life with all we meet. No guarantees, every day is a gift!