Husband and wife battle disease together
Courtny Gerrish, Stephanie Graham
Courtny Gerrish reportsPhoto: Video by tmj4.com
GLENDALE - It's tough enough when one spouse battles a deadly disease, but what about a husband and wife fighting illness--at the same time?
43-year-old Sue Doyle lives in Campbellsport, and has been educating kids for years in the Glendale-River Hills school district. It's those kids who helped her through the toughest years of her life.
She shows us a ceiling tile of a pink ribbon that four 8th graders made her last year. Sue says, "They just asked me one of my favorite quotes, and it says 'With a new day comes new strength, and new thoughts', by Eleanor Roosevelt."
Sue was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 at the age of 39.
"I woke up one morning and just felt like I had an ache in my left breast and felt a lump," Sue recalls.
Her husband Dan adds, "I guess I wasn't shocked I was more scared, I didn't know."
Doctors at Froedtert performed a lumpectomy, and followed up with chemo and radiation. Dr. John Charlson is an oncologist at Froedtert and the Medical College. He says, "Sue like a lot of our patients... the courage you see, and the strength you see people exhibit as they go through treatment is really kinda inspirational."
Sue got back to work and life got normal again. Then... the unimaginable.
"Once she got done with radiation, and was starting to recover, I started to have symptoms of, at that time of what I didn't know was a brain tumor," Dan says.
It was Dan's turn to be the patient... when an emergency CAT scan revealed a non-cancerous brain tumor. Dan explains, "They weren't able to remove it, too dangerous... It'll be a maintenance thing the rest of my life--I'll have to check it."
Like Sue, Dan also had to get radiation. Just when he was starting to feel like his old self, Sue's world was turned upside down again! Another lump... in the same breast... almost three years to the day since her first breast cancer diagnosis.
"I guess i wasn't quite as shocked that time, and not quite as scared--because I had my doctors, I kinda knew the plan," Sue says.
Dr. Charlson adds, "It was another breast cancer, but it had some different characteristics which made us think it was a second primary cancer."
This time, doctors performed a double-mastectomy.
Battling together, Sue and Dan knew they had to stay strong for each other, and their four kids.
"You can sit and have extended pity parties, but that doesn't get ya anywhere. We would kinda pick each other up. When she was having a bad day," Dan says. Sue adds, "We're usually not sick on the same day."
They even learned to find the humor in the situation. Dan says, "We challenge each other everyday--who's got the trump card. Whether a brain tumor that's still there or breast cancer twice, kinda our inside joke I guess."
Sue responds, "I think he can win. I don't really want cancer back!"
Sue owes her double-recovery to her faith and family, and of course, her students. "One little boy would say hey Mrs. Doyle, looking good, I like your hair today. So they kinda go with the flow, tell you what they're thinking," Sue laughs.
Neither Dan or Sue can do everything they used to do, but this couple, married 25 years this Valentine's Day, celebrates life each and every day.
"So the other things that used to be a priority, not so much any more, and the little things used to be annoyance, not so much," Dan exclaims.
Sue found both lumps on her own, and doctors credit much of her recovery to that early detection. Yet again, here's an example of why women need to perform self breast exams--no matter how young they are.