wsls logo

Beating cancer while inspiring others

Local author shares her story

ROANOKE, Va. – Susan Parris is a local author who found out she had cancer when she was 34 years old. Watch the video to hear her story and learn how you can get a copy of her book "Cancer Mom". 

Here is an excerpt from Susan's book to offer practical help and insight to caregivers: 

To Caretakers: A Guide

(from Cancer Mom)

As a caretaker, you play a unique role. You show your love to your spouse; you constantly affirm that things are improving; you work out the details of appointments and travel; you answer the countless questions of “How is she doing?”; you put on a determined front when the doctor gives you bad news; you take care of the children; you become the primary housekeeper; and you try to fulfill your obligations at work. Outside these responsibilities, you have a lot of free time!

I thought it would be important to share some insights that I learned from cancer, the great teacher.

1. Let others help you.

The Lone Ranger approach to cancer doesn’t work. I’m an independent, headstrong, do-it-yourself kind of man. Yet the relentless demands that cancer puts on a family forced my hand.

If someone offers, let them help you. You’ll be blessed, and they’ll get a blessing in helping you. I’ll discuss in a moment the need to say no, but there are also times when you need to say yes.

2. Be positive, but honest.

A positive attitude is an essential part of the cancer battle. Paul tells us in Philippians 1:27, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” The cancer patient will have good days and bad days. The caregiver will have good days and bad days. However, it’s important to maintain a positive attitude and be encouraging.

At the same time, it’s important to be honest about the situation. While being positive, the caregiver should also be careful not to alter the reality. Whatever the truth is, God will give you the faith to deal with it.

3. Focus on getting well, not on the obstacles.

A key mistake many people make in their healthcare decisions is to let what they perceive as obstacles hinder them from making the best decision. Certainly, medical costs and traveling are incredibly expensive. Susan and I spent much of our savings on medical expenses, hotels, plane tickets, and food. However, you shouldn’t let money determine your decision making. The stakes are too high to be consumed with the expenses.

Susan and I were blessed with friends and family who supported us financially on our cancer journey. Also, we sacrificed other things so we could travel and get the medical care Susan needed. There’s no doubt that God blessed us and provided what we needed.

4. Be disciplined physically and spiritually.

During Susan’s cancer journey, I made a terrible mistake. I didn’t take care of myself physically. I was flying to Houston more than thirty flights in a year, driving frequently from Virginia to North Carolina, and trying to maintain my job and to deal with our young sons. Meanwhile I wasn’t exercising or eating healthy. This took a toll on me, and it took years to recover. As hard as it can be, it’s important that you discipline yourself to stay physically healthy.

The Bible says there’s some good in bodily discipline—but it’s an essential that you discipline yourself spiritually. You’ll be on an emotional roller coaster. At times it will seem like the appointments, bad news, sickness, chemotherapy, and stress will never end. You need God.

People would often ask me if I was bitter that God allowed this to happen to my wife, especially since I was a pastor. I would respond, “Are you kidding? I’m not running from God; I am running to Him.”

Spend time with God every day. Pray. Read your Bible. Praise God.

5. Take a break from time-consuming people and activities.

During these difficult times, you have a great opportunity to say no. Take advantage of it. There will be people who want to insert themselves into what’s going on in your life. Some people love drama and love to become part of the story. And some people are just nosy. To be honest, they don’t really care about you that much; they’re interested in knowing information so they can be the first to share and get attention for it. When your loved one has cancer, you have a great opportunity to say no to such people.

Susan often joked that when she was battling cancer, she felt the least amount of stress in her life. Why? She had permission to say no.

You cannot afford to waste your physical and emotional energy on people and activities that are stressful and draining.

While most people have good intentions, some don’t have the emotional intelligence to understand when it’s time to leave or end the call on the phone. Don’t feel bad about confronting these people. Doing it early will save you a lot of stress on the journey.

6. Be an advocate for your spouse.

Seek excellence from everyone involved with your spouse’s care.

Susan was receiving medical treatment from some of the most renowned doctors and hospitals in the world. Yet, on several occasions we discovered mistakes. For instance, it was my job before every chemotherapy treatment to look at the doctor’s orders and ask the nurse to read to me what was in the bag. On at least two occasions, the bag contained the wrong medicine or wrong amount. Mistakes happen at hospitals all across the country with serious consequences. It’s essential that you watch carefully what’s happening to your loved one.

I would spend hours on the Internet researching possible treatment plans and the latest information available on breast-cancer drugs. Doctors and nurses are under a lot of pressure. They’re overworked and often taken for granted. Therefore, like all of us, they make mistakes. Your job is to be aware, ask questions, take notes, and speak up for your loved one—who will often be too sick, tired, or depressed to speak up for herself.

7. Pray.

You have two options on this journey. You can go through it alone. Or you can go through it with God.

Your connection to God is prayer. What a great resource you have to talk to the God of the universe, who knit together your loved one’s body! He loves you and your loved one—and He’s the Great Physician.

8. Journal and take pictures.

Susan and I weren’t very good at taking photographs during this time. Susan didn’t want the boys to remember her looking sick. Yet now, as we look back, we wish that we’d chronicled our journey with more pictures. The few we have are a great reminder to us of what we’ve been through, how God was working in our lives, and what God has done for us.

Susan did a great job of writing during her sickness. This book grew out of her journal entries. On the other hand, I did a terrible job of writing. I wish now I could go back and read what God was saying to me each day, and how He was leading me through the entire process.

9. Don’t make it about you.

It’s easy to have a pity party about how hard your life is. Being a caregiver is a huge burden, one that’s impossible to understand unless you’ve been there. Yet your loved one needs this support from you, and it’s essential that you don’t try to usurp the attention toward yourself. Although such attention might feel good and right, it’s not healthy for you, for your loved one, or for the healing process.

Find trusted friends and vent when you need too. Otherwise, focus on God and on your loved one getting well.

10. Celebrate the small things.

When you or someone you love has cancer, small things have a lot of meaning. As you go through your journey, take the time to celebrate, even if it seems small. Susan and I would celebrate when she left the hospital, knowing that at any moment she would be going back. Yet for the moment, it felt good. Rejoice and praise God for each answered prayer, and He’ll use that praise to encourage you, renew your faith, and increase your hope.

I was recently traveling from North Carolina to my home in Virginia, a drive of four-and-a-half hours. It was a few days after Christmas, and Susan and the boys had decided to stay at her parents’ house for a few extra days while I went back for work and to get ready for the following Sunday at church. During this drive I was having a pity party. Now, grant it, things weren’t that bad, and certainly they could have been worse. But I was taking advantage of the “alone” time to voice my concerns to God about His handling of my life and especially about other things I wanted to happen—and happen now.

On this day, during this particular conversation, I sensed God speaking to me as never before. It was as if He said, “Okay, Stan, how many times do I have to go over this with you?”

I looked out the window and noticed the most beautiful rainbow I’d ever seen. The colors were magnificent. The rainbow looked like it was a complete circle.

About a half hour later, I looked out my car window and noticed a second rainbow.

Finally, after seeing four rainbows during a three-hour period—I surrendered. Okay, God—as slow as I am, I think I get it. I can trust in Your promises!

Cancer is a great teacher, but God is the ultimate promise keeper.

And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.” (Genesis 9:12–13)

About the Author:

Bridget Curran is the host of Daytime Blue Ridge. She joined the station in March 2019.