Mrs. Sue Varner
In a 2008 Pine Needle Interview, Mrs. Sue Varner recalled her experiences with breast cancer and a double mastectomy as “strangely positive.” The Upper School Spanish teacher remembers that she had never felt “more fortunate or appreciated” than during her experiences with cancer. “It’s odd,” she said at the time, “that cancer would bring that about.”
Ten years later, we interviewed her again to reflect on how cancer has changed her life. Her feelings remained largely the same, though time has somewhat muted her memories. “I feel sometimes a little numb,” she said. “It feels like a lifetime ago that I went through it.”
She discovered a lump while doing a breast self-exam and at first thought it was a cyst or something else minor. She went to a doctor who referred her to a specialist. She was waking up from anesthesia when she was diagnosed, so all she remembers about that moment was hearing the blunt diagnosis and crying. Luckily, she was diagnosed early in the cancer’s development. “It was very treatable and very manageable, but I felt like I was facing something more severe,” she said.
While fighting cancer, Mrs. Varner said she didn’t lose any years of her life, but did lose some time in school because of the various appointments and steps in the processes of mastectomy and reconstruction. She recalled “one student with all of the right intentions saying to me, ‘Why are you gone all the time?’” “I felt like I was shortchanging him,” she said.
Boys should know about her battle, she said, because she finds it “important for young men to know how to address it, how to be respectful about it, how to ask questions and how to be supportive.” She also mentioned the importance of acknowledging cancer. “Sometimes it’s a little more painful when people don’t talk about it. You can feel shunned or you can even feel embarrassed to bring up the subject.”
She likes the idea of sharing her story with other students so that they realize that in challenging times, even a simple “What can I do for you?” or “How can I support you?” can make a positive impact.