Linda Sutherland: message ON a bottle
When Linda Sutherland was diagnosed with breast cancer in her late 50s, her younger daughter made her a sticker for her water bottle that said: “I never knew what bravery was until I saw it in my mom.”
Bravery is seemly a fitting word for a woman who has had her share of difficulties in life, and somehow finds a way to meet challenges with a measure of calmness, practicality and courage. Her special power is rolling with the punches, and cancer was not the first mountainous blow Linda had a tangle with.
“My grandmother died suddenly at the age of 57. My mom, the eldest daughter, was 32 at the time, and I was nine years old, I was the eldest granddaughter.
Twenty-three years later, my mom died suddenly at the age of 57. At that time, I was 32, the eldest daughter, and the eldest granddaughter in our family was nine years old.
So, when I was 57, and, if you can believe it, my eldest daughter was 32 … of course this whole life death thing was on my mind. At that time there was no granddaughter in the picture, but still, when I made it through my 57th year, I was definitely relieved – I felt very fortunate to be here,” Linda shares.
It wasn’t until she was 59, and had recently retired from her career as a respiratory therapist, that Linda was diagnosed with cancer.
“I found a lump in my breast and found out it was cancer. Because I had very fibrous breasts, I had experienced many biopsies, but when this one was cancer, I decided to have both breasts removed and have reconstructive surgery at the same time,” she said. “The hardest part about having cancer was telling people – especially my two daughters. I had no idea I was so private until cancer; I really didn’t want to tell people. I hated having my daughters worried about me – or themselves – I made sure to reassure them this type of breast cancer is not genetic.”
At the time of diagnosis, Linda had just one grandson, Matteo, and her daughter was pregnant with a second grandson who was due around the same time Linda was booked for surgery in November. She also had a third grandchild who was due shortly before Christmas.
“The timing of it all was very concerning since I really didn’t want cancer to interfere with my bonding with these new grandbabies,” said Linda. With limited strength and range of motion, she knew she would be advised not to pick up and hold little ones. “Knowing how much this meant to me, my daughter spoke to her physician and was able to bump up her C-section so I got some days to bond with little Leo before my surgery,” she said.
Soon after Linda had her double mastectomy, her first granddaughter, Fraya arrived; now Linda had three precious incentives for healing as quickly as possible.
“Recovery didn’t seem so terrible at the time – my husband was very helpful,” she said. “Looking back now, I see that it was a pretty tough healing time, but I was in the mindset – it is what it is, just get through it. What mattered was being well so I could spend time with my family.”
Now, coming up to her five-year anniversary since cancer, Linda has had many bonding hours with her precious grandchildren, and she has her sights set on many more.
“I’m here, I’m well and I’m 64 now. All things considered, I feel very fortunate … truly, this whole journey, cancer included, has had so many crazy amazing moments. I really have been so fortunate,” she said.
The Wellspring Factor
Just before surgery, Linda found her way to Wellspring and toured Carma House. “It was so warm and welcoming, right away I thought, ‘this is the place to be; we are all in the same boat’,” she said.
After surgery she signed up for yoga, and many more programs, such as numerous art programs, including Creative Journaling, Watercolour, Art Sampling, Open Art Studio, and even Adventures in Art, which she recently attended online with her oldest grandson, Matteo.
“Wellspring opened up my passion for art and creativity, but I actually loved all the programs, it didn’t matter what it was. Wellspring programs gave me purpose, and I just loved being with all the people and learning,” she said.
In Creative Journaling, Linda made a page showing the dramatic pattern of ages and early deaths in her family history. This brought her a sense of peace and reconciliation.
“I just can’t say enough about Wellspring – it’s amazing. People’s needs are different when it comes to cancer, but I think Wellspring has something for everyone,” she said.
In the coming months, Linda says she hopes to volunteer at Wellspring – her way of giving back and helping others with a journey she understands … a challenge she learned to roll with.