While she did not win her battle, never once did Susan Livingston surrender.
And while she passed away on March 11, 2015, her positive attitude and zest for life carry on not only in the memories of her family and friends and family, but in the pages of a book entitled “Susan and Me.”
Now patients at the Riverside Chemotherapy Unit can share in Livingston’s journey thanks to a donation of a hardcover edition of the book by her mother, Carol.
She hopes the book can help inspire patients to not lose hope and keep living life to the fullest.
“Susan, right up to the end, she handled this with grace and dignity,” Carol Livingston recalled.
“She kept a positive attitude, she was gonna lick it.
“They say attitude is so much but it just kind of overcame her,” she added.
But Livingston noted her daughter, a mere one month and two days before she passed away, was guest speaker at a dragon boat fundraiser at the Pan Am pool in Winnipeg.
“She was not shy at all. She had these wigs–pink and fuschia–all the colours of the rainbow,” noted Livingston, adding Susan delivered her speech with a sense of humour as always.
Then the very next day, she was off with her friend, Brad Lowes, to Puerto Vallarta, where she enjoyed sun and sand for a month.
“In one of her e-mails, one of the very last, she entitled it, ‘Almost made it to Gilligan’s Island,'” Livingston recalled.
“She used to be lifeguard–I did, too–and she was a strong, healthy girl,” her mom noted. “She must have thought in her mind that she was still this strong because she went to the water’s edge.
“Those waves came smashing in. Well, she had to be rescued,” she added.
“She was only sitting there but the waves knocked her in.”
Livingston said she was compelled to undertake the project shortly after her daughter’s funeral, and it took at least a year-and-a-half to complete.
As her son, Ted, and his wife, Cathy, took care of Susan’s affairs, sold her home, and so on, Carol and her husband, Dan, returned to Arizona where they winter.
But Carol had so many thoughts about her daughter racing through her mind, she couldn’t sleep and she decided to put them down on paper.
“It was very therapeutic for me,” she admitted.
Others got involved, too. A call for stories and anecdotes about Susan resulted in about 130 stories contributed by family and friends, all of which are included in the lengthy book.
The book also includes photos of Susan Livingston during her final few years of life, many of them humorous and heartfelt as she worked through her “bucket list,” as well as about 50 e-mails sent from Susan to her mom.
“She entitled most of them [the e-mails] and the very first one is entitled, ‘The doctor’s office called,'” noted Livingston.
Livingston and Lowes worked together to get all of the material formatted into a book. A PDF version of the publication was ready by Oct. 13, 2016–Susan’s birthday on the year following her passing.
A limited edition print run of softcover and hardcover versions were sold to friends and family earlier this year.
A copy also was donated to Cancer Care Manitoba, which Livingston said was “phenomenal for Susan and other patients.”
Patients now can read the book while at the chemo unit here although they cannot remove it from the premises (there’s only one copy).
Glenna Morand, Riverside’s director of outpatient services, said the book is appreciated.
“We’re very grateful for any donations that we get to the department,” she remarked, adding it’s extra-special to have a personal book about somebody from the area and that many patients probably are going to know both Carol and Susan.
“Just to know what’s involved in the journey–I think it’s great for our patients to be able to read that and be thankful for her [Carol] writing the book in memory of her daughter and sharing that experience.”
Morand, who knew Susan Livingston personally, told Carol she feels Susan would have loved the book but the chemo unit staff will, too.
She added the local chemo unit has been fortunate to receive numerous donations and grants over the years.
These have ranged from wigs to pictures on the walls to a telemedicine area, as well as the comfortable seating area with the love seats and table for those waiting for their loved ones while they undergo their chemo treatments.
“Some of our patients even said, ‘We want to be able to sit on the couch and watch TV while we have our treatment,'” noted Morand.
Even the reclining chairs most patients sit in when they receive chemo have been donated.
“I just [received] approval–again through a grant–for a massage chair, a heat chair,” noted Morand.
“As well, several years ago we received a donation from ‘Relay for Life’ for the purchase of an ultrasound machine to insert PICC lines locally,” she added, referring to peripherally-inserted central catheters (PICC) needed to administer medications during prolonged therapies.
A PICC can stay in a patient up to a year.
“Since then, we’ve done about 70 PICC line insertions so people–not only oncology patients but other patients who require that kind of a lifeline–don’t have to go Thunder Bay and have them inserted,” Morand said.
“We can do it locally.”
The chemo unit also received a donation of 88 Thirty-One “chemo comfort bags” earlier this year from Jessica Ogden and Donna Kowalski.