Stories of hope

Sue Miller


Being asked to write my own survivor story took me on an emotional journey. It got me thinking about my mom and my daughter. When my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer I was seven years younger than my daughter is today.

My mom, Jean Mehlhope McKarney was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1972. I was 11 yrs old. The cancer had already spread to her spine and the prognosis was not good.

Mom was a very strong-willed woman who demonstrated courage and humor throughout her battle with breast cancer. She was NOT going to let this disease take her life before she achieved certain milestones. So, while enduring numerous hormone and radiation therapies, she began to set goals. As she achieved them, she set more. Mom’s goals, along with the medical intervention of that time kept her alive longer than expected. She outlived her doctors predictions over and over throughout the years…. It was the goals.

Goal #1: See my older sister’s high school diploma: Jan handed her the diploma when she was in the hospital recovering from her radical mastectomy surgery.

Goal #2: See me graduate from elementary school. I realize now why she had tears in her eyes that day.

Goal #3: See me graduate from middle school. She must have known I would need her as I struggled to shop for the perfect dress and shoes for my gangly 6’ tall, 14 year old figure!

Goal #4: See my sister receive her baccalaureate in nursing. Mom always wished she had gone into nursing. She was bursting with pride to see her daughter become a nurse.

Goal #5: See me graduate from high school. I’ll never forget how tightly she hugged me that day.

Goal #6: See my sister, Jan, get married. She relished helping to plan every detail with grace and her ever-present sense of humor.

Goal #7: Hold her first grandchild. Having made medical arrangements, she traveled across the country to be present for his birth.

Goal #8: See me graduate college. I still cherish the string of pearls she gave me that day.

Goal #9: Walk down the aisle at my wedding...without the assistance of her walker. Not only was she there, she looked stunning and she danced with my Dad on that special night.

Mom achieved these goals with vigor and always with a smile, a laugh or a joke; a true testament to her enduring sense of humor.

She once told me about her goals and how important they were to her. She was willing to go through uncomfortable treatments and endure pain because she kept her eye to the future--seeing her children grow into adults and get settled into happy and fulfilling lives.

I had decided my wedding day was her last major goal, as she went downhill very quickly after that. Within a year, she was in hospital and we knew the end was near.My sister lived across the country and was about to give birth to her second child. Mom kept hanging on. She was waiting to hear about the birth of the baby...Sam was born October 19, 1986. She was so thrilled to receive the news! By this time, Mom was still with us, but she was in very bad shape. Then it became clear to us; she had one last goal.

As soon as baby Sam was old enough to travel safely, my sister boarded a plane. We were all together as a family at last and Mom got to hold her second grandchild in her arms. Mom died the next day.

It was clear that her "Goal #10" was to hold that precious second grandbaby in her arms with her family gathered around her. Once again, she achieved it.

Whenever I see a pink ribbon, I think of not only beauty, hope, faith and survival, but also I think of acheiving goals.

A little over a year after mom died, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 25. I am a poster child for early detection as I am still here 26 years later! The ability to detect this disease in its earliest stages is so important. We have come so far in detection and treatment of this disease, with so many of us benefiting from advances in research over the years. But we are not at the finish line yet.

My own goals? I’ll do what I can to help find a cure; not only for myself, but for my daughter, my sister, my nieces and all of you. I want this disease to end with me. I want to live a FULL life! I want to see MY children married and I want to hold all of my grandchildren. I want my daughter to witness the research that finds the cure. I want her daughter to read about the disease in the history books as a disease of the past. I believe we can achieve this goal if we keep our hope alive and keep working toward a cure. Many of us are touched by breast cancer in one way or another. Let's continue the fight to achieve the ultimate goal—a cure.

Back to Stories of Hope