Cancer survivor tells story, advocates for awareness

Sue Eber speaks out about lung cancer on National Cancer Survivors Day

Each year, more than a million people are diagnosed with cancer, and one day a year is dedicated to celebrating the survivors. Sue Eber says although cancer isn’t a pleasant conversation to have, it’s an important one.

“That was an interesting happening, the day I was diagnosed with lung cancer,” Eber said. “Shock, pure shock.”

Eleven years ago Sue Eber got called back to the doctor’s office after a routine checkup.

“I’m a nurse, and ‘something on the lung we need to check out’ wasn’t good boding,” she said.

She wanted to wait to share the news, but her doctor said she wasn’t leaving until she called her family. Her husband Dave called, and all four of her children, along with her grandchildren came over that night.

“We cried; we laughed; we decorated the ugliest Christmas tree we ever had, but it’s the most beautiful one we’ve ever had, and we’ve been so open,” Eber said.

Since then she’s been speaking out for lung cancer awareness, a type of cancer she says lacks research funding and has a stigma attached.

“It’s ‘Did you smoke?’ That’s probably one of the first questions people will ask me,” she said.

Eber did smoke, but she stopped 28 years before her diagnosis.

“People that smoke certainly don’t ask for lung cancer,” she said. “But I would say, if you smoke, quit.”

She said lung cancer has a low survival rate and only 15 percent make it five years post diagnosis, but she’s working with others to change that.  On National Cancer Survivors Day, she hopes advocates like herself can raise more awareness and make a difference.

“Anybody who’s alive with cancer is a survivor,” Eber said. “Maybe someone who has symptoms of some disease will go on and check on it earlier, so they can be a survivor.”

Eber said supportive family and friends, spirituality, and exercise have all made a big difference over the years.

“We did a triathlon after three years of treatment, my daughter granddaughter and I,” she said.

Her message to survivors is one of hope.

“I’m a stage 4, which is the highest stage,” she said. “I’m here to say you can survive. You’re going to have to go through some tough times. Look at it as a chronic disease you’re going to have to deal with, but you can deal with it, so hang in there and don’t give up hope.”

Eber said her advice to those living with cancer is to find a support group or mentor to talk to, exercise and stay involved with hobbies and always keep a sense of humor. To others, she advises keeping up with doctors appointments and seeking care if anything feels off.

She’s not letting cancer defeat her, and she hopes others won’t as well.

“I don’t live my life through cancer. I have cancer, but I live my life.”

The annual Drive for Hope takes place Monday at the La Crosse Country Club to raise money for local lung cancer research, and a celebration for cancer survivors will be held at the La Crosse Civic Center Tuesday.