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In Loving Memory: Susan Falco

Susan Falco Charlotte, North Carolina

Susan Falco
Charlotte, North Carolina

Editor’s Note: We are heartbroken to hear of Sue’s transition from this world on Jan. 3, 2016. She was a force larger than life and will be missed greatly. This story was originally posted as a Survivor Story. 

Diagnosed at age 39 with 2 small children, Susan promised herself in recovery that no matter the outcome, she would fight for other colorectal cancer patients.  Her personal mission is to raise awareness of young onset colorectal cancer. She knows it can happen to anyone at ages much younger than 50.  Misdiagnosed cases have often occurred, in her opinion, because most people and doctors rely heavily on the statistics.  Susan was no exception to the rule.

Colon cancer was something brand new to her having no known family history.  As she began to research any genetic links with her extended family, she learned of some cancer (distant cousins) and of her brother’s removal of a large non-cancerous polyp at age 25.  Susan also encountered the unwillingness of many to tell his or her story.

Prior to diagnosis, Susan had experienced (in general, laymen’s terms) bloating, flatulence, bleeding, very slight and intermittent.  Doctors assumed it was from hemorrhoids.  She had what was thought to be an internal hemorrhoid that would appear from time to time. It was actually a polyp. No one examined it, they just took her word.

In 2003 she underwent a colonoscopy.  They found one small precancerous polyp.  At the time, she was told to repeat the procedure in 5 years.  Struggles with bowel issues continued along with being gently placed in the Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) category.

After the birth of her daughters she went to a new GI who sent her home with a laxative and said she wasn’t ready for a colonoscopy.  The GI assured her the bleeding was from hemorrhoids and found no reason to perform an exam.

Eighteen months later, in March of 2008, she found a colon and rectal surgeon. Two days before her scheduled appointment, the bleeding was severe enough that she was able to see the doctor that same day. By the time she left the office, she was scheduled for a colonoscopy and transanal excision surgery to remove the polyp. The surgery was successful and two days later she was diagnosed with a T1 rectal tumor.  After second, third and fourth opinions doctors determined that her tumor was a T2 and the “waiting and watching” approach would be too risky.

On May 21 2008, 90% of Susan’s rectum and a portion of her colon were removed. They were able to directly reconnect the colon to the remaining rectum.  Not all surgeons were willing to spare her life without a colostomy bag.  After seeing many doctors, she found the one skilled and confident enough to offer better odds. There were no guarantees, but in the end she was spared the bag.

It was a scary time with two young children.  Family supported Susan, her kids and her husband.  The entire family focused on the clinical side of things and kept the emotional side at bay. This helped everyone focus on the goal and what needed to be done instead of worrying about the “what ifs.” She will never be able to truly thank her entire family.  Her husband became the hero in her recovery.  He worked tirelessly to take care of the kids, clean the house, pay the bills, attend school functions in her absence and he never once complained (…he slept a lot, but never complained). He even made sure both of the girl’s hair had bows.  He probably was terrified on the inside, but if Susan believed she would get well, then he believed too.

Susan Falco with her daughter

Susan Falco with her sister

In recovery, Susan has made some lifestyle changes including:

  • Juicing a few times a week.
  • Cutting out red meat.
  • Reviewing chemical content of foods.
  • Avoiding the center isles at the grocery store.
  • Making homemade chocolate chip cookies over boxed versions.
  • Adding vitamin D supplements.
  • Exercising to a point of running a 5k in December 2008, the Get Your Rear in Gear 5k in March and a 10k in April 2009.
  • Recognizing her system works differently so she needs to make accommodations.

Susan by nature is a positive person and kept her sense of humor throughout treatment.  She considered the experience an opportunity instead of a challenge.  Fun at every stage was part of the game; she even had a surprise party for her sister in the hospital after her radical resection.  Other words of wisdom she offers to those diagnosed:

1. Delegate:  Be willing to ask others to help.  Her Dad is always researching something. He was more than willing to find information on the disease, hospitals and doctors that specialized in the surgery needed. He even found her surgeon on a golf course.

2. Communicate:  Tell your story to any willing party. Learn from others who battle cancer. You hear the news and stories of tests while giving and receiving support.  Tell others what you know to help prevent cancer.

3.  Take Charge: “Do this for your health care, and your life. Think positive thoughts!!! This sounds like what every one else is going to tell you, but believe in the power of positive energy. Do whatever it takes.”  Susan wrote the diagnosis she hoped for on her bathroom walls. T1 N0 M0.  She even had her family write it out. She taught them what the diagnosis meant and they all were more than happy to help visualize the success. As her diagnosis progressed, she never stopped seeing the goal.  “Heck, I couldn’t, it was written on my walls.”  The walls have since been painted over, but the vision is the same.

Join the discussion 15 Comments

  • Jessica M says:

    Wow Susan you have an awesome perspective, thanks so much for share your story, I’m vowing to follow each one of your lifestyle changes ..even the running one (I am the least athletic person you can imagine) but I can start small steps, thanks for the positive energy and God bless x

  • Marian Horton says:

    Newly diagnosed, and terrified (but Leaning on the Lord). I have a “large tumor” in my left colon and the attempted colonoscopy could not proceed, so a sigmoidoscopy was performed instead with biopsies taken. Tomorrow I meet the surgeon, the next day, I have a CT scan and then I’m off. Did I mention that I’m 77 years old? Trying to put on a reasonably Happy Face for my 3 daughters who are becoming more frightened for me.

    The other interesting thing is that this might be “Lynch Syndrome”, I had endometrial cancer and a hysterectomy 3 years ago. In women of Mediterranean descent there is sometimes a genetic link to the two cancers due to an inherited defective gene. My girls and I are all going for genetic testing and I’m hopeful that with a proactive colonoscopy each, they can dodge this “bullet”.

  • Jen says:

    I am 38 year old woman that was just newly diagnosed with stage 2 colon cancer. I had a colposcopy on Christmas eve morning, the doctor removed a polub when I woke up the doctor told me everything should be fine. That my symptoms should go away, I should mention I have had dieria since july. So then I got the call Monday morning that it tested adnormal to go the next day to have a ct scan. I couldn’t get back into the doctors till Thursday that’s when he told me. And refereed me to another surgion by Thursday night I had meet with two doctors all tests done and surgery set for next week. the doctor is going to remove 6 to 8 in of my colon. I am so scared.

    • Erin Peterson says:

      Jen, our thoughts are with you during this very scary and tenuous time. Know you are not alone. ~Erin

    • Kerry says:

      Hi Jen,
      Of course you’re sacred, who in their right mind wouldn’t be terrified to be experiencing what you are currently facing? Do you have loved ones that you can talk to about what you are going through? Or not talk (if you’re not feeling it), just be good company? Distract yourself with little things (TV, light conversation, reading… whatever works for you) so you don’t get too lost in the “what ifs” that run through your head (because that’s all they are, “what ifs”). All you have to go on right now is what you know, and at the very least, now you DO know. As much as it SUCKS to hear the words, “you have cancer”, now you know, and something can be done about it! When I finally got my butt (no pun intended) to the ER and was diagnosed, I was actually a tiny bit relieved to finally know what was wrong (I was 42 at the time, and a single mom). Sure, it would have been great if it had been anything but cancer, but I guess we don’t get to call the shots. I was once where you are now, and it’s a tough, emotional, & frightening whirlwind of a place to be. I will say, I find it odd that you were given a cancer stage BEFORE your surgery… could that be speculation on the doc’s part? Wierd. Regardless, you will know more definitively after surgery. Hang in there. Surgery is never fun, and this one takes a little while to recover from, but eventually you WILL feel better. Please reach out if there is anything I can share with you about my experience that may help you with yours. My only advice to you right now is to focus on the little things that make you feel happy and grateful, and to take everything moment by moment. I am very sorry you have to deal with this.

      -Me: Diagnosed with stage 2 colon cancer in 2011. Surgery – 18″ of large intestine removed. Ouch.
      -Me today: Feeling pretty darn good, and constantly reminding myself to take the time to appreciate the small (but wonderful) stuff in life!

    • Todd Margolin says:

      God Bless!

  • DJ Wallace says:

    I am truly privileged to have know this amazing person. Like any of the hundreds of her friends I am destroyed by this news, but not surprised that even in her death she is inspiring ! To her family I wish you peace and my deepest condolences. It has been a tremendous honor to know such a strong and giving spirit! I expect this is truly not the end. Your Friend. DJ

  • Mia says:

    i am her daughter Mia. My mom was an amazing woman not just for being my mom but for looking at things in a way no one else would look at thing.s She would bring the positive out of people. I was so blessed to have a mother/ A best friend like that it kills me to see her go. At the funeral everyone would hug me and say Your mom was and amazing person and i would think to myself isn’t she still an amazing person. I have amazing friends to help me through this hard ship. I thank them will all if my heart. Me and all my friends got superman socks and wear them everyday. I see cardinals everyday out my window. I love having my window open for that reason.

    Love, Mia B.

    • Erin Peterson says:

      Mia, your mom is amazing. And she lives on in you, your sister, and all the people she touched. Much love to you and your family.

    • olivia says:

      this is olivia i will always be here for you

    • John Falco says:

      Beautiful Mia B! So nice to hear your thoughts and feelings. I’m very very proud of you for soooo many reasons. I know you lost your best friend and nothing can replace that. All I can do is be there for you when you need it. I miss her everyday…..every single day and always will. I still gain strength and optimism from something you said to me the morning I told you she had passed. I said, “Girls, I can never replace mom, she was one of kind, but I’ll do the best I can for us” and you pulled away from the hug and said, “Dad! You’re the same as mom. As long as we have the three of us and we love each other, then we’ll be just fine!”. Such strength and perspective from my 11 yr old daughter. I love the way you think! I love you! Dad xoxox

    • Ty Wooten says:

      Hi, You might remember me I invited you to my party and I just want you to know that I am proud of you and you made it so far and you are tougher than me and I am young God bless you and maybe this year I will know just a little bit more about you than I did last year Your mom is still a great person even as she goes with her father God to meet her other brother and sister . I love you so much Mia and your family is al sways in my prayers even till this day . ?❤️️??❤️️? God lives all his children ? but especially his ones who go up with him.

  • Ty Wooten says:

    I’m sad to hear about Susan, my father is currently undergoing testing as he believes he may have colon cancer and is scared. I was sharing Susan’s story and how I met her wonderful mother Ms. Zobel when I was helping her find her an apartment when she relocated to Charlotte to assist the family. The Falco family is truly in my prayers and I’m thankful for meeting this beautiful angel and having the opportunity to have her girls meet my daughter Taylor and celebrate Taylor’s birthday to give them a break from everything serious and enjoy festivities with other kids. Susan was a fighter, a small little woman but a fighter with super hero strength… I’m praying for the entire family and praying for comfort when memories of sadness come in waves.
    Love Ty and Taylor

  • BeeBee says:

    As one who recently lost a close family member, appreciate these encouraging and comforting comments. Life can be distressing. God calls himself “the Father of tender mercies and the God of all comfort” (2 Cor. 1:3,4) Helpful to see this reflected through the caring from others.

  • Kristin says:

    Yes, she is still amazing ! Anyone who knew her thinks of her everyday. I know she loves us right now from Heaven!

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