This Educator Battled Back Against Breast Cancer and Learned How Much She Is Loved
“Susan, we’re going to take care of you.”
Those reassuring words were sweet music to the ears of Dieruff High School principal Susan Bocian, as she recovered from a bilateral mastectomy and breast reconstruction in September 2014. She had her surgery at St. Luke’s Hospital – Allentown Campus. Surgical oncologist Dr. Lee Riley gave her and her family the good news, along with the report that her sentinel lymph node was clean, suggesting that her breast cancer was caught early.
Susan’s diagnosis, invasive ductal carcinoma, came at the busiest time for the educator. It was August, weeks before the start of school. The first indication there might be a concern came while lying in bed. “I rolled over and felt a lump,” says Susan, who has fibrocystic breasts and had three benign lumps removed through the years. “However, I could tell this one was different than the others.”
Susan’s gynecologist sent her for a mammogram, which was followed by a breast ultrasound and a biopsy which confirmed the breast cancer diagnosis. The lump was the size of a small marble. She was shocked and scared, but definitely not alone.
Her family and friends all rallied behind her, including her church and school community. It was her niece-in-law who advised her about where she should receive her breast cancer care. “When she learned I had breast cancer, she immediately persuaded me to get a second opinion at St. Luke’s with Dr. Riley,” says Susan. “She kept urging me to call him, having been diagnosed with breast cancer just six months earlier.”
Susan is thankful she took her advice. “Dr. Riley is a special person. He took the time to reassure me, explain things, and then moved quickly to get the treatment I needed to fight my cancer. He gave me hope. To me, he’s a rock star, my angel on earth,” she says.
Susan’s breast cancer was HER2 positive, meaning it contained the gene human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 that can play role in the development of breast cancer. She was referred to medical oncologist Dr. Hikaru Nakajima and received an aggressive course of chemotherapy. “Everyone reacts differently to treatment; I was very symptomatic,” she says. “Just the smell of food made me sick to my stomach; I was extremely nauseous and had no appetite. Dr. Nakajima was there to give me the hope and encouragement I needed to get through it. He is such as sweetheart; I just love him.”
Susan also speaks highly of St. Luke’s nurses. “I had great care. Now I know why the World War II GI’s loved their nurses, because the nurses really were my heroes through all of this,” she says.
Support Came From All Directions
For Susan, cancer turned out to be a family affair, affecting all those who loved her. She received tremendous support from her husband Blaze, son Zach and daughter Veronica, along with her mom, dad, sister and brother-in-law.
“They are all incredible,” says Susan. “My chemo treatments were on a Thursday, so I was the sickest over the weekend. Blaze, Zach and Veronica cared for me during the worst of the days. The week after treatment, I didn’t want to eat. My parents would spend the work-week with me, with my mom ready to make anything I wanted as soon as I could stand it. Mom brought along my 89-year-old dad, since he was recovering from colon cancer surgery. Today, we are both cancer-free.”
The treatments left Susan exhausted; her sister would clean and decorate her house for the seasons. Once her chemotherapy came to an end, Veronica, an active blogger, wrote the break-up letter “My Hateful Grateful Letter to Chemotherapy” and expressed in detail how the journey impacted her entire family, actually making them closer and stronger.
The faculty and students at Dieruff also expressed how much Susan touched their lives. On the walls of her office, she has kind notes from grateful parents and students of how much she means to them. A page was taken out in the school yearbook and football program booklet to raise awareness about breast cancer and honor Susan. The students even held an in-school parade, presented her with a touching, personal video and continue to have “Pink Out” days to raise proceeds for breast cancer – all for Susan.
As she walks down the halls, Susan gushes about her students and their achievements. At each turn, she is happily greeted by admiring teens and colleagues who know just how wonderful and strong she is. “The outpouring of love and support has been amazing. I feel truly blessed,” she says.