During my time as a neurosurgeon in Albany, I have taken care of countless patients, all of whom have touched my heart in different ways. None, however, have left as lasting an impression on me as Susan Britain. When asked to choose a patient to serve as an inspiration for our “Race for Hope”, my decision was easy.
The choice that Susan faced on a February night in 2005 was not at all easy. Our initial meeting was chance—I happened to be on call for the emergency room when I was asked to see a young woman who’d been suffering headaches and nausea for a few weeks. A CT scan had revealed a brain tumor in a critical area, which, left untreated, could be rapidly fatal. Susan listened calmly as I explained her options and how risky the surgery would be. I told her that she might not be the same after the surgery, or worse, that she might not wake up. Susan took a few minutes to be alone with her parents, and they made the courageous decision to proceed with surgery. Not thinking only of herself, she was very concerned that she might miss her sister’s wedding a few weeks later. I promised I would do everything in my power to get her through the surgery. We operated that night.
Susan came through the surgery remarkably well. She willed herself to make a speedy recovery, and only a few weeks after surgery, she stood with her sister on her wedding day.
I got to know Susan better during her recovery. We had a great deal in common. We were close in age and her family reminded me of my own. She had spent time working in Pittsburgh, my hometown. We both shared a passion for the Steelers. It was this familiarity that made her strength of spirit all the more remarkable to me.
Susan’s surgery had gone well and we had completely removed the tumor, but studies eventually revealed that it had spread and she was forced to undergo radiation and chemotherapy. I was devastated. She was a woman entering what was supposed to be her prime…much too young to have to face the transience of life. I met with Susan in my office shortly after receiving the news, and once I had spoken with her, I knew that she would put up a fight. For years, she bravely did.
My last meeting with Susan, like my first, was also fate. I hadn’t seen her in many months and then, while walking through the hospital, I saw her father. Susan was in for treatment. She and I talked, but I didn’t know at the time that we wouldn’t see each other again.
I am so incredibly thankful for that last meeting. Even then, only a few months before she passed, she remained positive and strong. Susan was a courageous young woman who loved life and fought for it. It was a privilege having the opportunity to care for her, and a gift to have known her.
Edward H. Scheid, Jr., MD July 2009