A Day to Take Note Of

One of the advantages of having my own web site is writing about whatever I want, and not having to get it approved by someone above me. Since we are now in the midst of a four-weekend break with no racing in the NTT IndyCar Series, I wanted to use the opportunity today to mark a personal milestone.

One year ago today, was perhaps the darkest day of my life. July 7, 2020 was the day that Susan was officially diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. We had feared it for a while. She had had symptoms that I recognized from when my father died of the exact same disease twenty-six years earlier. A CT Scan showed there were some abnormalities in her pancreas that needed further evaluation.

An ultrasound performed on Wed July 1, indicated a very suspicious mass, so they took a biopsy. The following Tuesday, we got the official confirmation that the biopsy showed the mass was malignant. I would like to say that I was informed in a dramatic fashion that would make Hollywood envious. I was not. Instead, I got the following text from Susan that told me all I needed to know. My one-word response said it all.


Some may find it odd that our communication for such a devastating message was so simplified, but that’s sort of how we operate. It works for us.

Her tumor was about 5.5 cm in size, which is bigger than a silver dollar. For comparison’s sake, my father was told his was the size of an orange when he was diagnosed. He lasted six and a half months. We obviously feared the worse, especially learning that the tumor was inoperable, since it was involved with key blood vessels. Going to the Google machine didn’t help. There we saw that the one-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer in women her age was only 20%, with a five-year survival rate of only 8%.

After a very therapeutic trip to the IndyCar race at Road America that weekend, Susan started chemo the following week. Twelve grueling rounds at forty-six hours per round, every two weeks took its toll. To make matters worse; just after Round One was complete, my mother died unexpectedly. July was hitting me like a ton of bricks.

Susan’s hair began to fall out after Round Two in early August. By September, neuropathy in her hands and feet set in – leaving her with no feeling in her extremities. By October, her hair was mostly gone – except for a few desperate wisps that were still hanging on.

As much as I like to disparage Facebook, her pancreatic cancer Facebook group has been very beneficial. Not only did she receive a great deal of support from many going through the same thing – it offered up a ton of useful information. It was there that we learned of the surgery being performed at the Mayo Clinic, by a surgeon that specialized in operating on tumors deemed inoperable, offered the best hope.

We spent a week there in late October, where we were greeted by about seven inches of Minnesota snow. We got the good news that the cancer had not spread and was still localized to the pancreas. We also learned that the chemo was working and the tumor was shrinking. The bad news was that the chemo had damaged her liver to the extent that they said she would not survive the fourteen-hour surgery. She was no longer a candidate, so it was on to Plan B.

Susan has a cousin that is a surgeon. He had learned of a friend of a friend that had a colleague at the University of Louisville Medical Center, who specialized in NanoKnife (IRE – Irreversible Electroporation) technology for pancreatic cancer. He was one of the pioneers for this procedure that obliterates inoperable pancreatic tumors with pulses of high-voltage electricity (around 2,000 volts). We submitted her records to him, hoping she met his criteria for surgery. She did. We had a Zoom meeting with the surgeon just before Christmas when he explained what to expect for the next six months – surgery, followed by oral chemo and six weeks of daily radiation.

He congratulated Susan for making it to Round Eleven with only one more to go. It was then that he told us that she was on the very harshest of all chemo regimens out there. Only 10% of those that start it, ever complete it. 90% lose hope and would rather die from the disease, than endure what the chemo dishes out. There were some nights she would come home from the infusion center wearing the pump, that I was unsure if she would make it through the night – but she never once considered quitting.

Susan was scheduled for her last round to finish on Jan 8, so he scheduled her surgery for Feb 4 in Louisville. Two days before the surgery, she had a PET Scan that showed her tumor had shrunk to 2.0 cm – or about the size of a dime. To go from bigger than a silver dollar to the size of a dime was dramatic. Although it was torture, she had responded exceptionally well to the chemo. The best news was that the tumor was showing no cancer activity at all. The poison that had ravaged her body for six months, had managed to kill the tumor without killing her. Not wanting to take any chances, they performed the surgery anyway – even though the insurance company balked, saying that with the tumor being effectively dead, there was no need for the surgery. At the eleventh hour, the surgeon won the battle with the insurance company and got the surgery approved.

The surgery was a complete success and we went home to Nashville about a week later. About a month into her recovery, Susan and her son (who lives with us) got COVID. Again, we feared the worst for her since her immune system was still weakened by all the chemo. But I underestimated her toughness and it was mostly a non-event – just a few nights with fever. She started the oral chemo in late March and the daily radiation treatments in Mid-April.

On June 4, which happens to be her birthday, Susan took her last dose of oral chemo and had her final radiation treatment. All treatments were officially finished at that point. Her hair has come back, she has gained almost twenty pounds since her surgery and she is feeling better and better every day. She attended two of the three weekends at IMS in May with me, and we had a full weekend together at Road America. She is also planning to attend all three days of the Music City Grand Prix in August along with the road course race at IMS the next weekend and Gateway the following weekend.

To be honest and very blunt – I thought that Susan would be dead by now. Having watched my father wither away quickly in 1994, along with everything we read and heard – a good outcome did not seem likely. She’s still not out of the woods. She is to get scanned every three months for the next two years. Her first post-treatment scan is Aug 3, just days before the Music City Grand Prix.

While driving back from Road America, we were reminded how quickly things can suddenly go south with this disease. Susan has bonded with a woman through her Facebook group, mainly because they were both diagnosed the same day – one year ago today. They both opted for totally different treatments and surgeries. She is much younger than Susan, with young kids. In order for her to be able to stay on her feet, her oncologist put her on a milder form of chemo. She had her surgery in March and had some issues afterwards. The friend texted Susan as we were driving through Chicago, telling her that a recent scan showed she was now officially Stage 4. All it takes is one bad scan to erase all of the good that has come our way in the last six months; so we have learned to appreciate every day.

Today is a much brighter day for us, than it was one year ago. We have learned to adjust expectations and lifestyles. Susan still does not have her stamina back. She tires out easily and cannot eat some of her favorite foods. There are also other issues that I’ll skip over, but they affect day-to-day living. Drinking alcohol is completely out for her, even if she lives another twenty years. But if those are the worst things we have to deal with, so be it. We spent Monday relaxing in our pool and discussing travel plans for our August races. A year ago, I never thought any of this would be possible today.

I wouldn’t say that we are celebrating today, because we wish a year ago had never happened. It has been a long, trying and emotional year that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. But we are certainly taking note of the date today, and are very grateful that her outcome has been so positive to this point.

Thanks to all of you that have sent thoughts, prayers, messages and gifts over the past year. Many of you that we have never met, except through this site, have sent her very thoughtful gifts that have helped in her recovery – both mentally and physically. You have no idea what that has meant to her (and me). Thanks for reading this far. I try not to post too much about cancer, but many of you have said how much you appreciate the updates. It’s been easy to update lately, as they have all been mostly positive. Hopefully, there won’t be any bad updates in the near future – but if there are, I’ll share those as well.

Come back Friday for a more IndyCar-centric post, but today was a day to take note of, if not celebrate.

George Phillips

16 Responses to “A Day to Take Note Of”

  1. Brandon Wright Says:

    Congratulations Susan, so happy you’ve made it this far and hope you two have many happy years to come! Keep on racing!

  2. Leslie Bissell Says:

    Thank you for sharing this George and congratulations to to you both! Have a wonderful time at the races!

  3. Great news and best wishes to the both of you….

  4. George and Susan, thank you so much for sharing with us this past year. Praising God that Susan is doing so well and that she has been so strong while on this journey. Can’t wait to see you both at Gateway. Prayers that this next year is the best ever.

  5. Thanks for sharing this George. I admire Susan for sticking with the chemo and fighting so hard to conquer this horrible disease.

  6. billytheskink Says:

    A day to take note of indeed. Your resilience is remarkable, Susan, and I think we are all glad that we have gotten to continually hear about it.

    Both of you are continually in my prayers.

  7. Thanks for sharing. Susan’s fight and journey has been so inspiring. Very happy for you both.

  8. Frank McLaughlin Says:

    Thank God Susan has survived this ordeal and both of you are so very tough! I am Lynn Weinberg’s father and I met you in suburban St. Louis for breakfast one time at The Original Pancake House. I wish the very best for continued good news concerning Susan’s cancer treatment.

  9. What a challenging year – it’s good to reflect and see how you’ve made it through. Thanks for sharing such a personal journey with your loyal readers. You both continue to be in my prayers.

  10. Im am a man going through a divorce that I did not want. Your post helps put things into perspective for me

    • If it helps, in 1996 I went through a divorce I thought I did not want. It turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. People told me at the time that could happen and I didn’t believe them. They were right. Susan and I would have never gotten together, otherwise. Hang in there. Whatever you’re feeling right now will pass in time, then the doors will open. It happened to me and can happen to you. – GP

  11. My life has been touched many times by ACTIONS from others

  12. Susan is one tough cookie. I guess her determined, positive attitude has much to do with her recovery to this point.

  13. Without reflection, it’s too easy to forget these things, and focus instead on our failures.

  14. Michele Porten Says:

    Thank you for sharing this George. It’s mind blowing what you and Susan have been through the past year. Susan is a beautiful warrior goddess. I’d pick her for my team any day! Going forward, we should all ask ourselves “what would Susan do?”! Thank you for being her anchor. Cheers to better days.

  15. Keep posting George. We all need to celebrate this anniversary with you two. I so admire Susan and her positivity and toughness. And you are one of the good guys. I hope to see you at a track next year. Bless you both.

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