Susan Walter: Survivor
Snowshoe for the Cure is back! Tennessee Participant Finds Heart and Hope at the Annual Event
Komen Colorado recently talked with Snowshoe for the Cure participant Susan Walter. Walter, who spoke with us from her home in Tennessee, is a Snowshoe top fundraiser. In addition to her snowshoeing abilities – she has an amazing 5K time! – she also is a 6-year breast cancer survivor who wants to share her message of survival and hope.
I completed my first Snowshoe in 2012; that’s when it was Romp to Stomp out Breast Cancer. I was 90 days post chemo and 40 days past radiation, and I did the 3K course.
Wow! People must have asked you what on earth you were thinking doing that so soon after treatment.
For me, it’s about survival and growth from the challenge of being a breast cancer survivor – because it makes you a different person. I was blessed to live, and I was able to take the treatment and move forward with my life. I felt like I had to take every opportunity to show people that you can get up every day and do a little bit more every day than you did the day before and be an example for those who may be struggling more than you.
You have to keep the faith that it’s the success that you can have.
You live in Tennessee. What is your connection to Snowshoe?
I lived in Colorado twice in my professional career, and many of my dearest friends are in Colorado. They’re outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen. They knew I was going through treatment for breast cancer, and they called me and said, ‘We’re going to do Romp the Stomp this year, would you go?’ I might have had 2 mm of hair on my head. It was a chance to reconnect with them, and show them how much it meant to me that they supported me.
I have only missed one year [of Snowshoe for the Cure] because I had knee surgery.
It’s doing what I can for all that I can while I’m here. Every day I wake up I’m surprised I’m still here. Every day I can make that survival a little stronger and be an example for others, I do it.
Many of the same friends still do it with me. [Our team] has been called The Treasured Chest for the past few years. These are friends in my industry that have supported me and fundraised with me. My friendships [in Colorado] are amazing. They are the people that sent me cards and care packages and called me weekly during my treatment.
[My Snowshoe team] was born out of work relationships and comradery there. I also brought family with me one year. It’s just a reconnection and a rekindling of hope and faith and drive for survival.
You could put your fundraising efforts into a program in Tennessee. What is it about Snowshoe for the Cure that keeps you coming back and giving to Komen Colorado?
After I was diagnosed, my connections were to Colorado because I’d lived there twice. I had recently lost my father and my dog, and, other than a few close friends here [in Tennessee], my Colorado friends were my support team.
I keep coming back to [Komen Colorado Snowshoe for the Cure] because of the way Komen Colorado treats me. That’s why I come back there. It’s about the recognition I receive about the heart and soul I have and the passion I have for helping others.
There are people there who care and want you to make it. That’s why I come, because the heart’s there. Komen Colorado [staff] were so excited to see me last year, and I took pictures with them.
Snowshoe is such a fabulous sport. It’s hard to put into words. It’s a cherished event in my heart. I’ve walked a few things, and I’ve thought about the [Komen] 3-day, but I cannot imagine anything being more rewarding than accomplishing something in the cold and snow. And there’s not a prettier place on the planet. It gives you a chance to reconnect with nature. It’s better than walking 20 miles a day, I think.
Snowshoe is a fun event, but as you know the reason and need behind the event is serious. What would you say to others to encourage others to participate in Snowshoe for a Cure?
I would have to say people that snowshoe are a different animal than people who walk. And you will be associating with a group of people that are likeminded in a way that you won’t understand until you’re there.
It’s a very soulful experience to see these people and be surrounded by everyone who are in the cold giving their heart and soul in support of you and others. If anybody’s in pain you don’t know it. No one ever says ‘my feet hurt’ or ‘it’s too cold.’ It’s from a different part of what I call the human factor, they’re different people. Their connection with the earth is different. It’s a very emotional event. People have been running since the beginning of time – from fire or in the Olympics. But people who snowshoe do it for different reasons.
It is a unique calling to do Snowshoe for the Cure. Every year you see more families and people bringing their children. And they take back their experiences to their friends and families.
You have been our top fundraiser for the past few years raising roughly $20,000 since 2012. People are always looking for ways to boost their fundraising. Would you share your fundraising techniques with others?[In 2017] I started 3 or 4 weeks before the event.
Wait, three or four weeks before Snowshoe?
Yeah, I wasn’t sure I was coming due to a work event that’s around the same time as Snowshoe. So this past year I said I wasn’t coming. But my friends said, ‘Yes, you are.” So I registered and I said. ‘You know I’ve got to fundraise.’
First of all, it’s remarkable how many people want to help the cause of Susan G. Komen, but they don’t understand how to do that. People will donate money to something they understand and something they see. As an example, my friends saw what I went through [during my treatment], so I said, ‘Hey, would you give me $20 for fundraising?’ They’ll say, ‘Oh, I’ll give you more than $20. I’ll give you $100.’
I also send thank you notes not only from Komen but from myself. And I make sure to reconnect with all of them 2 or 3 times a year. I let them know I just got back from a checkup and I’m doing great.
Many people who donate to Komen Colorado have a personal connection to breast cancer. You fought this disease. When were you diagnosed? Tell us your story.
I was diagnosed in May 2011. It was caught from a routine mammogram. I had a mammogram in March, and the first physician who read my scans said they didn’t see any abnormalities. But a new female doctor who specialized in breast cancer read it and said she saw something different. She asked me to come back in and have another mammogram. They called me back and wanted to do a biopsy. It turns out that second doctor was right. The tumor was right at the chest wall and difficult to find, but she had seen the cells around it.
Doctors put me in the really unfavorable category. I took the maximum treatment allowed, and my oncologist said at the time ‘I can’t give you what you need because you wouldn’t survive the treatment.’
I chose to have a lumpectomy. They told me I would have received the same treatment with a lumpectomy as I would had I had a mastectomy, so I said I would keep my breasts. It was a difficult decision, but I think I made the right one.
I never missed a day of work other than the lumpectomy. I went to the gym every day. If I couldn’t ride the bike for 10 minutes, I would ride it for 5. If I couldn’t lift a 5 lb weight, I’d lift a 2 lb.
I carry a placard when I am at Snowshoe for the Cure that shows which family members, friends and colleagues have had breast cancer. There have been 11 or 12 on my mom and dad’s side with breast cancer.
Susan Walter plans to attend the 2018 Snowshoe for a Cure, March 3 held at the Frisco Nordic Center. Learn more about and register for Snowshoe for a Cure!