Happiness is your essential nature. So why are so many people suffering? Is it because they have learned that suffering will bring them love and attention? Some…
For Sue Glader, wife, mom of Hans and Roxie the rescue dog, “Life is good.”
An understatement, perhaps. At the age of 33, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Along her journey, she realized that her writing could facilitate “a jumping-off place for real conversation” on how to portray the story of cancer to kids.
With a background in marketing and advertising copywriting and a love of good design and illustration, she wrote and published Nowhere Hair, a book to help mothers and grandmothers explain cancer to children and to remind them that being bald is “a time to be brave and beautiful.”
Sue, when you were 33, you found the lump that led to a breast cancer diagnosis. At the time, you were in pain, both emotionally from the diagnosis and physically from the chemo. You mention that your son was a catalyst that kept you going. Can you tell us about that emotional time in your life?
Being a new mother is such a special time. Your life is centered around raw, total love and the amazing future of your life with a child. Mothers with young children are hard-wired to think about their children, not their mortality. My whole being was constantly thinking about Hans, and his needs. I dove deep into that and the importance of being there for him, short and long-term. The only time I really lost it early on was when I thought about him growing up without me.
I found my own cancer when I itched under my arm and felt a hard, tiny lump the size of a pea. I was young, healthy, in the prime of life, really, and yet there was this strange foreign thing in me. I was dealt a horrible hand at that moment in time. But yet, I found it early. I treated it quickly. I had surgery, chemo and radiation in quick succession and I am here, 15 years later, writing about it.
Your award-winning book, Nowhere Hair, was written to help children understand what their parent or loved one is going through with cancer. Can you walk us through your thought process as you were writing your book?
I’m a communicator. I love to talk but I also love to listen. When I decided to “do something” with my experience with cancer (and that turned into writing this story and making this book available to the world), I of course looked at what was out there.
I was moved – and not in a good way – by how the women were portrayed in the books in this genre. They looked really, really sick, partially because often they were illustrated by children. You don’t see books in your local bookstore illustrated by children. They are illustrated by professionals, because in the hands of a talented illustrator, a story can sing on a whole new level. And, to be honest, I felt like this story deserved to be served in the most beautiful, inspiring package possible. What woman fighting for her life wants to read something dreary, and read it over and over and over again?
I wanted children to be talked to in an honest way, but I didn’t want to overwhelm them with technical details. I wanted Nowhere Hair to be a tool, a jumping-off place for conversation. And I didn’t want it to be cancer specific. I wanted it to touch on the issues most important to kids: you didn’t cause it, you can’t catch it, you are still loved. But most importantly, I wanted it to have the right amount of silly without falling into the trap of seeming saccharine.
This is real life. Kids deserve to be leveled with in an age appropriate way. Sit back and let the book open the conversation, and then ask your child how they are feeling. Don’t try and fix it or negate their worry or feelings. I had a wise woman once tell me that sometimes the only way to heal a broken heart is to let it break.
You mention that you do not like the word “survivor”. What does the word survivor mean to you today? What other term, if any, could be used in place of it?
I think inherent in the term “survivor” is the underlying theme that you are dealing with something that kills. I don’t like being reminded of that. To tell the truth, I don’t really like having the word “cancer” associated with me on any level.
The media has played a large role in helping children understand difficult things like cancer and war. What is your thought on how media has evolved on the topic of cancer? Do we need more books, more targeted programming or are they are on the right track?
I would like to see us focus less on creating awareness of an illness and focus instead on why we are getting sick in the first place. As far as for patients who are actively in treatment, I know for certain there is an Everest-size amount of information that you must digest and understand: about your illness, how it impacts your body, decisions on choices, treatment options, side-effects, financial implications, survivorship issues. For women, especially, psycho-social issues are only just now starting to be appreciated. We are caregivers, and we worry how our illness will impact our family.
I’ll just put it out there. Let’s give any woman who has a child in her care (a parent, grandparent, or teacher) a tool like a book that can do the heavy lifting for those who are really struggling to find the words. Let the healing begin at home for the patient and the family.
How has cancer changed your life? Some people say that cancer made them more aware of the small things in life and was a reason to love and enjoy their families and life even more. What is your feeling?
Sure, it’s changed things for me. My family is a family of three, and it certainly would have been larger had I not gotten cancer a year after having my first child and then been on Tamoxifen for five more years after I ended treatment. But having just three of us means we enjoy a flexibility to do spontaneous things that larger families have a harder time just coordinating. And I’ve been able to focus on doing the things I’ve wanted to do far quicker than my girlfriends who have been juggling mothering many kids.
Professionally, I’ve taken a hard left turn away from full-time copywriting to becoming an author and publisher of a very niche topic. But if we are talking emotionally, the experience facing something so horrid that is totally consuming really changed me from the inside out. I’m grateful to be here. I think I carry that positivity with me wherever I go.
What is your message to other cancer patients who are now or who have undergone cancer treatment and how to get through it?
I took the “head down, power through” perspective to active treatment, but also got myself in therapy to talk about everything that was bubbling up. I had a toddler running around, so that meant lots of time with my girlfriends and their kids for keeping things grounded.
I am a big proponent, obviously, of involving kids in treatment. That does not mean taking them to every doctor appointment or chemo treatment, but it does mean letting them know what is happening so they have an ability to tell you how they are feeling. And not only does that give the children a way to help out at home and to feel part of something at the heart of the family, but it shows them that difficult things are best tackled together.
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