Now it begins.

Thanksgiving. Giving Thanks. Food, Family, Friends, Fun. Turkey, Traditions, Touchdowns, Travel. Tension?!

I remember a little of what I think I learned about the “First Thanksgiving” as a child. The Pilgrims came from England on a ship. “If April showers bring May flowers, what do May flowers bring? PILGRIMS ! – Bazooka Joe”.  The women pilgrims wore long, black dresses with white aprons and white bonnets. The Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts. They built wood houses and farmed and hunted for food. They left England to have religious freedom. They met the “Indians” who lived in the same area and the Pilgrims invited them over for a big feast of their first harvest. The first “potluck supper”, maybe? They served turkey and dressing, sliced red circles from canned cranberry jelly, green bean casserole and sweet potato pie. The Indians brought corn and showed them how to make popcorn. (I’m sure every teacher I’ve ever had is grimacing, shaking their heads, now).

Today is four days prior to Thanksgiving 2019. President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving, the final Thursday each November, a national holiday in 1863 – right in the middle of our Civil War. The real, first “thanksgiving” harvest feast was in 1621. This year, 2019, marks the 398th year since the original feast was held between peoples who could not have had more different lives and histories. They came together to give thanks in a time and situation that was more difficult than we can imagine ourselves to be a part of.

The “thanksgiving feast” participants in 1621 could not have had more different lives and backgrounds, yet they came together where we have segregated ourselves today. Indigenous and Immigrant; light-skinned and dark-skinned; clothed in cloth and clothed in animal hide and fur; two completely different languages and methods of communications; different understandings, rituals and faith expressions of God.

These founders of our celebrated feast did not come together to argue. They did not come to prove their superiority over the other. They did not come together to convert, judge or condemn the other’s faith or religion. And politics and governments were not the stuffing or main dish served.

They wanted to help each other. They listened so they could learn from each other. They shared the best from their harvests and hunts. They gave their best. They gave thanks.  They worked hard to live in a time and place where disease, not ease ruled the day. They lived their best. They lived thanks.

True ThanksGiving leads to ThanksLiving.

399 years ago, the pilgrims purchased a one-way ticket on the Mayflower. Their final destination was Freedom. The price was horrific.  Difficult doesn’t even begin to describe their challenges. Start in a time period when the average life expectancy was forty years. Add to that a rough sea voyage, scurvy, dehydration and starvation, and you’ll understand how 50 of the original 102 passengers died in their first year of their new world. Their difficulties didn’t diminish their giving thanks. I think it encouraged their thanksgiving.

Nearly five years ago, I was given a one-way ticket on a surprise voyage. My ship is named Cholangiocarcinoma. There have been and will continue to be rough seas before me that are difficult and challenging, to say the least. In the midst of this journey, on an uncharted course, I have learned like the “pilgrims” to give thanks in the most difficult situations. The water in front of my ship looks choppy, and big waves can come suddenly when storms arise, but I keep looking forward – giving and living Thanks; looking forward to Freedom’s shore. I’ve been told it is the Land where Milk and Honey flow, but I’m secretly hoping it’s full of dressing and gravy and green bean casserole, and where all the “wild turkeys” I’ve known and loved will meet me there at the Biggest feast.

But until then, Give thanks and Live thanks.  I am full of thanks for you.

Susan Randolph Braden, 11/24/2019

High Dive in the Deep End           by Susan Braden,   August 30, 2019

This is the last week of summer, Labor Day weekend, and I’m reminiscing about my younger days at the pool. Top 40 hits buzzing from the loudspeakers with “Marco…Polo…” shouted over noisy laughter.  All this noise would soften to a blur as I would hold my nose and try to sit on the bottom of the pool before I had to pop up to the surface to breathe. Not able to wear my contacts or glasses, my pool time was a visual blur, as well. The shallow end was comfortable for me, knowing if I stood up, I could breathe and have control. I was a terrible swimmer – still am.

During that awkward summer between 5th and 6th grade, 1975, my friends convinced me to go to the Deep End and jump off the low diving board. I managed to complete a few successful hops off the low board and dog-paddled quickly to the steps out. I then run-walked back over to the warmer, shallow side of the pool.  It was scary, but do-able.

I remember a few times I found the courage to try the High Dive. I stood in the impatient, long line. When it was my turn, I walked the gang-plank to the end, toes gripping the end of the board. I couldn’t see the bottom of the pool. I knew if I jumped in I’d be deeply submerged in the cold, dark blue water. I turned around, climbed back down the stairs saying, “Sorry, my stomach hurts”, and walked quickly to the girls’ locker room to hide out for a while.

One day, that same summer when there wasn’t a long line at the High Dive, I gathered all the courage I could, climbed up the ladder, and walked to the end of the bouncy plank. I paused a second to clamp my nose with my right hand, extend my left arm toward heaven, and I took a big step off the High Dive!

SUCCESS – with a capital SUCK!

Thank goodness I was still holding my nose as I surfaced. My favorite swimsuit (a bright “Pepto Bismol” pink 2-piece suit) ended up in places it should have never been – the bottom as a thong and the top as a necklace!

Picture a flailing, drowning flamingo… frightened; no control; engulfed in a helpless, muffled, fuzzy new world. Even the safety of modesty was ripped away. 

Ahhh, The Summer of 1975. 

Fast-forward 40 years to the Spring of 2015.

“We’re going to do a biopsy now.  It IS Cancer.”    

You take a big breath, reach up to Heaven and step off the High Dive. The last clear word you hear is Cancer.    

“We’re admitting you to a room overnight for observation.”    

Pushed in a wheelchair, the fuzzy word on the wall ahead of you becomes larger and clearer as you see the name of your new world on a sign – “ONCOLOGY”    

After you return home, your Family Doctor calls. “How do you spell that?”, you ask. There’s a long pause at the end of the High Dive, as if he’s seeing and spelling this word for the first time in his life.

                “C – H – O – L – A – N – G – I – O – C – A – R – C – I – N – O – M – A”

At this point, we all realize we’re in the Deep End together. We’re going to dog-paddle our way over to the ladder, pull ourselves up and re-emerge.

Changed.        Clumsily victorious.      Ready to take the next plunge.

One big, bright spot in this new Deep End?

I look marginally better in a hospital gown than I did as a flailing, drowning flamingo! 

Enjoy not only this upcoming Labor Day weekend, but EVERY day you have!

(And be careful in those 2-piece swimsuits!)

Susan Braden                                            

The Cancerbet – or What Cancer Does and Does NOT do – from A to Z

By Susan Braden

A          Cancer AGES us but isn’t aging what we long for?!

B          It BLINDS us to far away, future concerns. It brings us to a “near- sighted” living where we don’t miss the present.

C          Cancer gives us CAUSE – a reason to try treatments and trials for new therapies; not only for our own survival, but for those who follow us along this path.

D          It DEVELOPS our strength. Each day is a victory, no matter the difficulties and pain.

E          It EDUCATES us about our physical selves. From our largest organs to our smallest mutated strand of DNA, our body is a wonderful, complex system that is a vast frontier for exploration and discovery.

F          While cancer may frighten us, it teaches us to FOCUS on our present day’s often overlooked opportunities.

G          It GIVES us the opportunity to grow; to learn, fight, communicate and meet new friends and fellow cancer warriors and survivors.

H          Cancer HURRIES us to reconnect with displaced friends and distant family; to do NOW what we’d dreamed of doing in the future. It hurries us to set things straight – to forgive.

I           It INTERRUPTS the boredom of life without a purpose.

J           It JUSTIFIES decisions made to put family and faith in higher esteem than the job of working, saving and planning for our “long-term”.

K          Cancer kicks us when we least expect it. It can knock us down, but it KEEPS us near to those who really care.

L          It lets us LAUGH in the face of fear, if we allow ourselves to LIVE and LOVE more fully – in the moment, every moment we have been given to live.

M         Cancer METASTACIZES – it spreads. It appears in hidden places and reappears at times we don’t expect. Once it is with you, you know it. And, for those of us who believe and trust in God, in THIS way, that ‘metastasis’ MIRRORS the characteristics of God’s Spirit within us.

N          If we allow it, cancer can NURTURE our spirit, our love and our purpose for living and loving. It does not dehumanize us, categorize us or define us.

O         Cancer OPENS us up to others’ well-wishes, advice and, on many occasions, a sharing of cancer stories about their own friends and family. Sometimes, this can be good and helpful. Other times, it can be unwanted, and even hurtful. Nevertheless, a line of communication was opened. At that point, the door is opened for us to share our story, our opinions; and as we thank them for their concern and support, we educate them about our own cancer journey.  (Oh my! Sorry, that was quite an opus)!

P          It PUSHES and PULLS us constantly, simultaneously in many directions; not only past our physical parameters, but also within the emotion, mental, spiritual and relational realms of our psyche.

Q         Cancer QUIZZES us daily during our treatment about our “Quality versus Quantity” of life.  If every person, regardless of their cancer status could learn to question their daily decisions, choosing “Quality over Quantity”, think how all lives would improve – in work, school, talents, diet, relationships – the list goes on and on.

R          Cancer “RAINS on our parade” – sometimes in a burst of a thunderstorm, sometimes in a steady, soaking rain.  Were you “saving for a Rainy Day”? Today is that day! Put on your knee-high rain boots and make a splash in the puddles!

S          Cancer SOFTENS us, but a “softer” me appreciates and relies more on the strength of those who surround and support me.  In my life, that’s God, family, friends, prayer partners and my medical teams.

T          TREATMENT for your cancer can be tricky.  What works for someone with your same diagnosis may not work for you.  Or, it might work a while, then the tricky tumors transition and become resistant. Sometimes, your treatment works – even one type – and you’re done.  Now, that’s a terrific treat!

U          Cancer USES all our resources – not just financial resources, but mental, physical, emotional and spiritual, as well. After your own resources are all used up, you begin to understand the battle’s difficulties on all who are supporting you.

V          It VALIDATES our need for community and the value of teamwork. We do not take this voyage on our own. It takes volumes of people: medical teams, research teams, pharmaceutical teams, and communities of family and friends who support, pray, care and love us.

W         It WALKS with us every day. It waits in hiding until we are aware of it. We do what we can to whittle it away and we know, in the “long run” eternally, it cannot win.

X          Cancer may X-OUT your pre-planned, pre-conceived plans, but it does NOT have to X-OUT your goals and dreams.

Y          Cancer YANKS at our heart, yells in our head as it yearns to consume us. And while treatment, surgeries, procedures and trials attempt to stop it immediately, it must yield in time.

Z          It “ZESTS” us, like a lemon is zested with a grater – scraping the outer, physical layer of our being to reveal the zesty, bright flavor of our lives. When a little bit of our zest is added to someone else’s dish, it brightens and enhances their flavor.

There is SO MUCH from A to Z that we will experience on our journey with cancer, let us not ignore even one single letter as we “write” and share the story of our lives.

by Susan Randolph Braden, written and shared with YOU, July 29th, 2019.

Bruising Makes it Sweeter?

Yesterday for breakfast I ate two organically grown, fresh-from-a-local-Hanover-County-farm peaches. I know they were both from the same farm, even the same tree, yet one was much sweeter and juicier than the other.  Guess which one….

Even in naturally grown produce, we try to pick the picture-perfect peach.  We simply want the best.  When we pick and choose from the bushel basket, we pick up a fruit, hold it up to look at it with our own informed scrutiny and check for ripeness as it yields to gently pressure.  Based on what we see on the outside, we make a choice. A choice to keep it or leave it for a less-informed consumer. Somehow, I ended up with a fruit drawer of pretty peaches, but at least one was bruised and scarred by the trip home. (If I’ve ever driven you somewhere, you might understand how that could happen). Based on my breakfast choice yesterday, I discovered the blemished, bruised peach was much sweeter than the one that looked like it had just rolled off a still-life masterpiece oil painting.

What causes the blemishes and bruises? Hurt. Hits. Pressure. External and maybe even internal “pests”.

I have many acquaintances, good friends, even family who I know are “bruised fruit”. Some are recognizable as misshapen and blemished, visibly bruised, while many of the hurt, bruised ones don’t outwardly appear to be that way.  I have to think that the way I have tried to hold some up to my (mis)informed scrutiny and forced them to yield to my gentle, or sometimes not-so-gentle pressure, I have caused some bruising of those I am close to.  I think if we all look inside, we’ll find we’ve all been bruised. To those I have bruised, I am sorry.

Lately, I find I’m decorated in bruises and blood blemishes.  Chemo and steroids have thinned my blood, and my medical teams regularly monitor my platelets, red and white blood cells, plasma, all the parts of my blood that provide healing, nourishment and protection.  These days, a little bump into a wall or chair, or even carrying a bag of peaches over my arm causes these bruises and spots.  The largest bruise I’m wearing right now was from doing laundry, so I’m seriously thinking laundry may be hazardous to my health!

I realize my outward, bruised appearance isn’t worth one second of my time.  I tend to see these bruises and procedure scars as battle scars and badges of honor. And as difficult as it may be for some to believe this, my bruising has made me sweeter, more empathetic to those around me and strangers I interact with every day.

One of my favorite Bible passages is 2nd Corinthians 4:8-18. Let me share one of the “juiciest parts” of this letter to the Corinthian church: (NLT) “We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.  We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.”

Imagine wine like this – grapes never squeezed, floating around in a glass of water. Or banana bread baked with a whole, unripe perfect banana – unpeeled.

My hope and prayer for all of us is this – the hurts, hits, pressure and external and internal “pests” that cause us to bruise will make us sweeter on the ‘inside’ and sweeter on the outside to all those around us.  And in our daily lives, as we meet and choose friends, groups to be a part of, health providers, life partners, even farmers who provide produce for us to pick through and purchase; may we ALL not pick over and leave behind the better, the sweeter ones, the “bruised fruit”.

And remember to choose to laugh, love and LIVE today – Because You Can, Sir!

Sinking Sand
To live in the “uncertain”
       Is certainly unkind.
The “what-ifs” and the “why nows”
       Are the cancer of your mind.
Don’t dwell in shadows of the past
       When life was sure and grand.
The ground beneath, once stable
So, lift your heads, your heart and hands
       To God above and pray –
Life is not about tomorrow,
       It’s how you love and live – TODAY            

                   by Susan R Braden on 4/20/19  (which was NOT today...)

March 2019 has come roaring in like a lion, and like a Mama lioness, I have been aggressively battling my cancer predator this month.  My last blog post [Flying High -February 2019] was written pre-surgery, so I’m going to catch you all up with where we are in the Cancer Jungle.

When my January 27th scans continued to show some rapid growth of my right prevascular thoracic and internal mammary and anterior pericardial nodes, my oncologist, Dr. Kemeny, who all the other doctors and nurses refer to as a “Rock Star”, immediately sent us to MSKCC’s Chief Thoracic surgeon, Dr. Bernard Park ( He’s a pioneer in robotic surgery and VATS procedures, and definitely the right surgeon for what I needed. I had surgery on Feb. 11th, and he was able to remove the smaller, but metastasized right mammary nodes and a pericardial “fat pad”. (Who knew I was padded with ‘fat pads’?! I told the staff I’d like to be a ‘fat pad donor’ if the need ever arose! 😉) Well, it turned out the largest thoracic node was too risky to surgically remove. It had ‘invaded’ or attached to a main artery, and getting to it would involve removing a part of the artery, rebuilding it, possibly destroying a nerve to the larynx and diaphragm and cracking open my breast bone to get to it.  Dr. Park said if this were my ‘last chance’ to get rid of it, we’d do it, but right now wasn’t the right time.  The very next day in the hospital, Dr. Kemeny comes to tell us we will do radiation therapy on it ASAP. That very afternoon, another visitor came by my room. Enter Dr. Christopher Crane – Chief Radiation Oncologist. Guess what? Dr. Crane was raised and educated in Virginia.  I am SO BLESSED to be able to be in, what is for ME, the best place with the best hands, hearts and minds for this rare cancer.  Also, on March 8th, I officially made it 4 YEARS past my Stage 4 “get your affairs in order”, terminal diagnosis.  By the way, I’ve never had an ‘affair’, so I can’t put them “in order”.  HA!

We returned to NYC 11 days post-surgery to begin 15 Intensity Modulated Radiation Treatments, which meant 3 weeks for me in NYC. Not necessarily a bad thing as far as I’m concerned!  IMRT uses multiple arc-ed angles and mini CT scans with each treatment. The arc outlines the actual entire tumor. My time on the ‘table’ was very quick each day. So cool! (Really, it never felt ‘hot’)

Bill says the radiation was the LEAST expensive part of the 3 ½ weeks in the City. 😊

This Thursday will be 2 weeks post final treatment, and we head back Sunday for full CT and MRI scans. We’ll see Dr. Kemeny on Monday for results – and may possibly add Keytruda (immunotherapy) and/or more chemo.  I’ll keep you all posted. Remember to Choose to Laugh, Choose to Love and Choose to Live TODAY, “Because You Can, Sir!”

We are so grateful to Kathy Conry, and Isabella, Mary Lou, the Michaels, Bryan, and Metro Baptist for praying, visiting and eating with us, and keeping us entertained, and safe and warm in the 3 weeks of nasty NY cold weather and some snow. I know we are ALL looking forward to a little seasonal warmth.

I hope to have a post-radiation GLOWING report to share soon, but today, I want to share a little “BURNING” exercise for you all to do at home.  I think we could ALL use a little healing ‘burn’ of the bad feelings, doubt and fear in our lives, so let’s do this exercise together right now. Consider it an emotional/spiritual radiation burn of the “bad’ that sneaks up and grows inside of us.  You’ll need a sheet of paper, pen or pencil, a bowl and a lighter or match.  HERE WE GO….

ETBT – Emotion Targeted Burn Treatment 

This is an affirming exercise that will help you ‘burn’ your fear and see the light in the challenge(s) you are currently facing.

1. On your sheet of paper, write the word(s) of the challenge you are facing – ONE LETTER PER LINE, VERTICALLY, in the MIDDLE of the page.

2. On the LEFT of the letters, make a column labeled GOOD.

3. On the RIGHT of the letters, make a column labeled BAD.

4. In BOTH columns write a word or phrase about your challenge word that BEGINS with that LETTER. Write a positive word or phrase on the GOOD side, and a negative word or phrase on the BAD side..

5. When you have finished BOTH sides and you have read your “results”, tear away (or cut) the right-hand side (BAD), tear in pieces, place in a bowl and light those remains on fire. [you should only do this in a safe place – away from smoke detectors and small children.]

As you watch the bad/negative become consumed in the fire, give the negative away to God. Watch and feel it disappear in the smoke and charred remains.  Wash the bowl clean so no negative thoughts remain. Now, go back to the page and read what is left on the GOOD side of the list.

Here is my example (one of 3 I wrote today).  Remember, yours doesn’t have to be ‘cancer-related’.




Trials and new Treatment


Making memories

Opportunities to Open up and help/encourage Others

Realizing Rest and Relaxation is Required.





Time shortened

Unsure, feeling Useless

Metastatic growths (fear of )

Old goals and dreams may not be reachable

Reacting to every twinge or

                                                     Cut off the BAD side, burn, and let it go!

 Think and be thankful for the GOOD side. Keep and let it GLOW!

Love you ALL,



I’ve done a lot of flying this past year – quick travels to and from shows (“Because I Can, Sir!”), family visits, NY trips, family reunions, a wedding, and Christmas in Louisiana.  I just returned last week from a solo trip to Salt Lake City for nearly a week with the Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation. This is not a blog post about the incredible research and upcoming trials, or the amazing power that comes from the interactive convergence of CC patients, their caregivers, AND Doctors and Researchers, but that was a true blessing to be a part of that whole.

I’m writing today about FLIGHT.  Flying.  Above the ground.  Above the clouds and stormy weather.

I remember my first flight as a child.  Meeting the pilot, getting my own set of wings (a metal pin), but most of all, looking out of the small window as we were flying through the clouds, and wanting to open the window, collect a part of the cloud in a Mason jar and bring it home to show my friends.  I’ve flown many, many times since then, and the wonderment is still there.  I enjoy flying above the clouds.  It’s a good thing that I don’t have to understand everything with physics and engineering that makes air travel possible.  I have faith in the airline – the plane, the pilot, that they will transport me where promised.  I have tried and tested this faith each time I step from the jet bridge to the plane.

Whenever I’m seated on the plane, I always look out of the window to see the ground get farther away.  I think of my Mammaw (grandmother) and my Granny (Great Grandmother), who I’m sure never flew on a plane. What would they feel, say or do if they were around today?  Would they be comfortable ‘jet-setters’? I think of my Granny, being one of the first in her Arkansas county to ride in an automobile.  I know that must have been as exhilarating for her as flying is for me.

Like flying, I’m sure I’m uneducated and naïve about the process of dying, but lately, and with my own cancer diagnosis, I’m aware of it every day.  I tend to see flying as a soul-transport.  There are many I’ve known and loved whose flights have already departed and arrived at their “final destination”.  There some friends and family who are now boarding the “next flight” and I find myself lost in that airport, looking at the arrival/departure list.  I can’t find my flight number today, but I’ve made it past “security” holding a ticket to ride! I look around and see all my friends and family in that same airport, hopefully ready to go when their flight is called.  Trust.  Don’t fear.  Get on board and buckle up.

Where is your Final Destination? “Pre-boarding those who need extra assistance… Loading priority zone now.  We’re going to have to ‘pink tag’ your carry-on baggage, [your worn-out body of a soul-holder] at the jet bridge.  Now find your seat and buckle up. Welcome aboard”!

How many souls aboard this flight? Are YOU ready for Take-off?

Somewhat related to this… here’s my latest medical update. (Don’t let this scare you!)

Bill and I are FLYING to NYC today for a pre-surgical consult with MSKCC’s Dr. Park.  I have a lymph node that is growing quickly, and we hope Dr. Park can surgically take it out on Monday.  I have a fantastic team at Sloan Kettering, and if the surgery is unsuccessful, I know they have plans B, C, etc. (other “connecting flights”) on “Standby” for me.  I’m flying high and ready for this; but please pray for us this week. Pray AND sing 70’s songs loudly (with the top down if you drive a convertible).  Hug a friend. Talk to a stranger. Vice versa those two. Try to capture a cloud in a jar. Choose to Laugh.  Choose to Love.  Choose to Live TODAY, Because you Can, Sir!

Don’t worry for me.  Although I’m already in the “Terminal”, I’m going to find the Sky Club and hang out for a LONG lay-over! (BTW, they have great snacks in the Sky Club!)

Have you ever imagined that the ancient Prophet Isaiah had some inkling of future air travel? Read the Bible passage below -one of my favorites – and let me know…..

Isaiah 40:26, 28-31

Lift your eyes and look to the heavens.  Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls them each by name.  Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.  Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the Everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

Fly high, my friends.