On June 12, 2011, Madison resident Susan McDevitt stopped by the hospital to have some stomach pain checked out. The family had a party planned later that day for her son Joshua's 20th birthday. Thinking it would be nothing serious and she'd be back home in no time, Susan went solo and left her husband home to prepare for the party with their seven children.
After a CT scan, Susan couldn't process the diagnosis at first.
She recalls, "The doctor came in and said, 'You need emergency surgery now. You have appendicitis and it is caused by a very large tumor in your colon-and from the size of it, I'm sure you have cancer.'
"I must have looked silly because I said, 'Oh, no, no. I didn't come here for that. I don't have time for this. I have gardening to do. I have my son's birthday today. I have to go home.' Just tell me what it is and I'll come back and deal with it tomorrow, was my attitude. The doctor said, 'Your appendix is about to rupture because of where the tumor is sitting. You're going into surgery right now, otherwise this is a death sentence.'"
That "quick" trip to the hospital was 10 days long.
Another Diagnosis: Lynch Syndrome
While there, Susan found out she has Lynch Syndrome (LS), and that she inherited it from her father, who died of pancreatic cancer when she was 4.
"Then, it was only known that he had cancer. Now, I know much more of the story," Susan says.
Susan recently became the East Coast director of Lynch Syndrome International (LSI), through which she helps to create public awareness, educate health care professionals, and help provide support for research endeavors. The organization is committed to helping those affected by LS and hereditary cancers, as well as getting the word out about the importance of genetic testing. Children of a parent with LS have a 50 percent risk of acquiring the mutation.
It is projected that 600,000 to 1 million people in the U.S. alone have LS, but only five percent have been diagnosed.
"LS is a genetic mutation of the mismatch repair gene," Susan explains. "When cells divide, on occasion little mistakes happen. People with LS are missing the gene that corrects those mistakes, so those cells become cancer cells. This vastly predisposes the person, often at a young age, to many types of aggressive cancers, including colon, endometrial, stomach, kidney, pancreas, prostate, gall bladder, skin, breast, and brain. There is no cure, but despite the odds there is hope. Lives can be saved through awareness and testing."
As a director with LSI, Susan is working on a proclamation for the governor of Connecticut to sign declaring March 22, 2014, and that date each year, Lynch Syndrome Hereditary Cancer Public Awareness Day.
Comedy for Cancer Fundraiser April 12
Susan ran with the idea that laughter is the best medicine by creating a benefit for hereditary cancer and Lynch Syndrome called Comedy for Cancer. It will be held April 12 from 7 to 11 p.m. at Bill Miller's Castle, 834 East Main Street in Branford.
Radio personality John "Cadillac" Saville of Country 92.5 will serve as the event's emcee. The night will also feature comedians Rocky LaPorte and Vincent McElhone. McElhone is a Connecticut resident and comedian who performs at corporate events and comedy clubs nationwide. LaPorte has his own special on Comedy Central; has appeared on The Tonight Show, VH1, and Cheers; and is starring in his own NBC pilot.
Saville says of his new friend Susan, "She simply is an amazing woman. I didn't even know Susan; I knew her by reputation because I know her husband, Michael. I only met her three or four months ago, but it's like we've known each other forever. She just has that effect on people.
"It's amazing-you think about her [and] all the challenges she goes through and you see people on Facebook complaining about a hangnail and it's like, 'Walk a mile in her shoes for a day.' She never lets it get her down-she puts on her makeup; she always looks pretty and dresses to the nines whenever she goes anywhere. She has so much compassion for other people, even with all the pain she's going through. That's the kind of person she is. She thinks beyond herself."
Helping the Homeless
In his accolades of Susan, Saville referenced a trip Susan and her family made recently, helping the homeless in New Haven.
Susan says, "I choose not to focus on all of [my medical issues]. My attitude is: Do it, get it over with, and keep going. I focus instead on helping others, and I am passionate about that. My family and I spent last Christmas Eve engaged with the homeless on the New Haven Green. It was the best Christmas Eve ever, and we will continue to do this every year on that day. We have hot pizza, bagged cookies, coffee, hot chocolate, and tons of much-needed items when we go."
The family's goal for next Christmas is to bring a small gift for every homeless person they meet, "something they can actually open," Susan says.
Helping the homeless isn't limited to one day a year, however. Susan, her family, and other Madison families who have since joined in went again in January and plan to make another trip with donated pizza, gloves, hats, scarves, and blankets to the Green on or around Valentine's Day.
A 60-Mile Walk
Since that first surgery in 2011, Susan has had seven more surgeries and dealt with more tumors, chemotherapy, and, among other things, permanent loss of feeling in her feet from chemo-related nerve damage.
Despite that nerve damage in her feet, Susan trained with Pursuit Athletic Performance in Old Saybrook and finished the Susan G. Komen 3-Day 60-Mile walk in Boston for Breast Cancer last July. She raised $5,000 for the cause.
"I do not have breast cancer, but I have many friends who are recent survivors and some still battling it," she says.
Susan will soon undergo her eighth surgery at The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
Another welcome distraction for Susan is raising and showing great Danes. She has three at home: Mowgli, Kimber, and Tesla. She serves on the board of directors for the Great Dane Club of Oxford, which is Connecticut's AKC Great Dane Specialty Club.
Although she faces an unbelievable amount of adversity, Susan remains upbeat-and gorgeously made-up every day.
"I want to change the face of what cancer should look like," she says. "Attitude is everything. I've been through a lot. I'm missing how many organs?-I don't even know anymore-and about to miss more. I'm making light of it, but you gotta do what you gotta do."
The 47 year-old mother of seven children aged 4 to 28 describes herself as "probably one of the most positive people you could meet, despite all I've gone through. Life is not just good; it's great! I love life."
For more information on Comedy for Cancer, visit www.facebook.com/comedy.for.cancer.lsi. To purchase tickets, email Susan at email@example.com.
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