How a family learns to live with metastatic cancer

Suzanne Lindley has spent the last 12 years becoming an expert on living with cancer, not something she had planned for her life. In early 1998 at age 31, she and her husband Ronnie, an aerospace engineer, were living what she calls the good life of the upwardly mobile. They had a beautiful suburban home outside Fort Worth, two beautiful daughters, and were planning for a future that would provide for their eventual move to a country home. Suzanne, who describes herself as someone who never wanted center stage, had a goal shared by many -- to be a great wife and mother, to live the American dream. Cancer, as it does, changed those plans for the Lindleys. The future became immediate with a move to the country to a rented house for what they thought would be the last six months of her life. But as one treatment after the other extended her life, the months became years. They traded in the rented house for a sprawling ranch house with a corral for the horses, multiple dogs, and the various vehicles needed for country life, boyfriends, or overnight travel to rodeos and NASCAR events. But far from isolating herself, Suzanne reached out via the Internet to other colon cancer patients and their families from around the country, becoming over the years a voice of reassurance and hope. Her job of being a great wife and mother expanded around 2004 to include being an advocate extraordinaire for the hundreds of people who have joined her family through the phone calls, emails, and insurance appeals she has written, not to mention YES, the nonprofit she formed to help educate those coping with liver tumors about possible treatments. She laughs about her new public life, recalling her first advocacy training on Capitol Hill where she hid in the bathroom when it was her time to talk before the group. She never thought of herself as any kind of powerhouse, she says in her soft, quiet voice. She is just someone who has found a mission that demands that she speak for others, whether it be talking Jim Belushi into performing at one of the liver symposiums, or "suggesting " to NASCAR Team Texas owner Mike Starr that maybe NASCAR might like to help, resulting in this year's auctions of VIP seats to a number of NASCAR events to benefit YES.Suzanne and I spent one afternoon hanging on the corral behind her house while daughter Karlie fed the horses. As she reflected on the past 12 years, she said that she never thought she would be here this long. She said that she and Ronnie were talking the other night about their lives, and she came to an interesting realization. Despite the constant chemo and all the other challenges of living with metastatic cancer, they are living the American Dream that they had always talked about.