Suz Montgomery on breast cancer

Suz Montgomery demonstrates strength and determination in a Wonder Woman T-shirt given by her grandchildren.

by Lori Harasta, Community Relations Associate for Livingston Memorial Visiting Nurse Association

“I’m grateful for the experience of having cancer.   It has given me a better quality of life by defining me and what I’m here on this earth to do.”

For the past two years, Suz Montgomery has been fighting her third recurrence of breast cancer.   Treatment included a double mastectomy, extensive chemotherapy and radiation.

She had a mammogram about six months prior to finding that a lump that was growing.  She insisted on having another mammogram, even though it meant paying for it out-of-pocket.  The results showed a mass. She requested an ultra sound and went into high gear to assemble her cancer team.  Within two weeks, she underwent surgery.

The radiation burned her skin and made her hair fall out.  Rather than hide her baldness with a wig or hat, she sported it proudly (I would say beautifully!) and used it as a teaching tool for the curious.  One was a young boy with his mother at the grocery store.  The Pre-K kid stared at her hairless crown as they wandered the aisles.  Finally, Suz crouched down and spoke softly to the boy, “This is what happens when you don’t eat your carrots.”  His mother chimed in, “Or your peas!”

Her hair has since grown back, but she’s had other complications.  It was the chemo that weakened her vertebrae, causing two of them to fracture.  She has neuropathy and severe back pain for which she continues to receive treatment.

“Chemo was the most rigorous challenge of my life.  It’s hard to get my energy back, even though I work out daily.”  She says going to the gym helps mitigate some of the pain.

Suz rises at 4 am to start her day.  “I’m determined to leave this earth better than I found it.  I need to pack as much as I can into every day.”  Her fitness and feistiness belie the fatigue and pain she feels constantly.  She looks about 20 years younger than her chronological age.  She’s got a strong and stubborn outlook on life and squeezes more into a day than most can imagine.

A passionate lover of life who seeks justice for the downtrodden and underserved, one of Suz’ current causes is to ensure the growing elderly population of Ventura has adequate services and resources to live their final chapters comfortably.

She is the Resource Coordinator of ENCORE at Ventura Continuing Adult Education, Chair of the Ventura Council for Seniors, Vice-Chair of the Ventura County Area Agency on Aging, Ventura County District Liaison for AARP, Ventura County representative of State Senator Hannah Beth Jackson’s Senior Legislative Board and many more commissions and committees.

Even though she’s in pain 24/7, Suz says she and cancer are friends.  “Because of cancer, I’m grateful for every day I’m alive, and for the love and support of wonderful friends, family and the Ventura community (which I consider my family). Because of cancer, I’m even more determined and fearless. I know I have a mission and that God is not done with me yet.”

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