Cattle Barons, Cancer, and my friend Susan

Mother’s Day Wishes

One of the most rewarding activities I’ve participated in recently (this past March) was the Cattle Baron’s Ball of Martin County, Florida.  Now, growing up as a suburbanite in Fort Lauderdale for most of my life, the concept of something called a Cattle Baron’s Ball was a bit alien to me.  Let me explain.  The Cattle Baron’s Ball is a signature gala event for the American Cancer Society.  It’s a hoity-toity fundraising event without the hoity-toity part.  It’s a country-western, boot-stomping, barn-dancing affair where everyone dons their fanciest western-wear and parties to raise money for cancer research, advocacy, and patient services.

I was new in town and a friend of mine invited me to join the planning committee.  I thought, what better way to meet people and participate in a good cause?  I hadn’t owned a pair of cowboy boots since I left Omaha in 1980, and this sounded like fun.  Being the only designer on our committee, I was put in charge of the decorations, and so it began.

Back up to September 2010.

This is my friend, Susan.

Susan and I were high school friends.  I snapped this picture during our 10-year reunion in 1997, which was the last time I saw Susan in person.  When I finally jumped on the Facebook bandwagon, Susan and I found each other again, much to my delight.  I remembered Susan for her easy-going manner, her sardonic wit and humor, and her incredible intelligence.  She was determined to become an archeologist when we were teenagers, and as it happened, she ended up getting a PhD in Sports History, marrying a great guy named Rob, and having three beautiful kids.  We reconnected in August 2010, and in September 2010 she gave us devastating news: she was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer.

Fast-forward a year to 2011. My family and I had moved to a new town, we were busy with work, school, and new house issues, and I began planning decorations for the Cattle Baron’s Ball.  Susan and I kept in touch on Facebook, and I followed the chronicles of her illness as she posted about it on her Caring Bridge webpage.  All throughout the previous year, she spoke positively, optimistically, and with her characteristic humor about chemotherapy, surgery, dying her hair purple before it fell out, and the Future.  Her Future- a certainty, a sure thing.

I met lots of people, wonderful people, working on the planning committee.  People who had survived cancer or lost family members to cancer, children and teenagers still battling it, and cancer doctors that are certain- CERTAIN- we will cure cancer and have a cancer vaccine in the next 15 to 20 years; definitely, they believe, within our lifetimes.  But Triple Negative Breast Cancer is a particularly nasty beast, and by September 2011 Susan’s posts had changed.  Things weren’t going well and her prognosis wasn’t good.  Her Future was now certain, but in a totally different way, and even though I understood on an intellectual level what was happening, I really didn’t believe that cancer would take her…until it did, a few short months later.

Susan passed away two weeks before the Cattle Baron’s Ball, and my participation in that event took on a whole new meaning for me.  Our ball went off without a hitch, and we raised over $93,000.  I am really proud to have been a part of it, but I’m heartbroken about my friend.

So, it’s Mother’s Day.  My husband keeps asking me what I want for Mother’s Day, and really, I don’t want anything.

At Susan’s memorial service in April I met her husband and her three children, the youngest only 4.  She lives on in their bright, shining faces, so much so it took my breath away.  During her eulogy I learned one of her last statements was to encourage people to have more memories, not things.

I want for nothing.  All I have are wishes and gratitude.

I wish for Susan’s children health and happiness, but especially clear, vibrant memories of their mother that will last their lifetimes and never fade.  I am so grateful to have known her.  I am grateful for my health, my healthy children and husband, and having 42 years (and counting) of memories of and with my mother (and my father and step-parents too, for that matter).

So for this Mother’s Day, I count my blessings, and encourage all of us to collect and savor all the beautiful memories our lives are truly made of.

For more information about the important work being done by the American Cancer Society, visit their website at

4 comments on “Cattle Barons, Cancer, and my friend Susan

  1. beautifully written Tammy!
    Im enjoying reading your blogs.
    So glad that We reconnected at Susan’s memorial service. <3

  2. Such a beautiful article Tammy, thank you for all your efforts for the cause. I am so sorry for your loss. I love your family too, and am grateful to have them in my life!

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