Susan's Story

Susan Zetty

Susan Zetty considers the notion of choosing Seattle for her cancer treatment, then dismisses it out of hand.

It’s not that she believes she wouldn’t have received treatment equal to the care she praises at Harrison Medical Center and from other local providers.

But here, the super active Central Kitsap mother of three was able to enjoy the clear advantage of being within minutes of her husband Mike and children, her close community of supportive friends, her providers, her hospital—and her treatments when it came time for chemotherapy.

“I felt everybody was working together to make me better and that gave me more time to have with my kids,” says Zetty, a lean, vivacious woman with billowing shoulder-length hair. “All within 10 or 15 minutes from home was a huge, huge thing for me.”

Her Hodgkin's lymphoma first announced itself at Thanksgiving time five years ago as a slightly troubling pain in her chest. She thought she’d pulled a muscle moving a piece of furniture, and was off to her physician assistant as soon as the school day was over, expecting reassurance.

“I am the opposite of a hypochondriac,” says Zetty, then 36 years old and an enthusiastic triathlete. “Until I heard the word ‘tumor,’ I thought it was going to be nothing.”

But she didn’t hear the dreadful word right away. An EKG showed nothing, and her PA got her into a pulmonologist within hours.

Two needle biopsies and a CAT scan later, she learned from George Berni, MD, that it would take major surgery to reveal the full extent of the tumor, and many weeks of chemotherapy to kill it.

In that 12-day period, her world had caved in. “It was so scary," says Zetty, leaning forward for emphasis. "It was so unexpected and random.”

Medical oncologist Ronald Reimer, MD, assured her that she’d be sent to Seattle if her treatment required it for any reason, but it never proved necessary.

And she was not a passive patient. “I’m a list-writer, so I’d call with all these questions,” says Zetty, a former teacher at Green Mountain Elementary School and now a school administrator at Sakai Intermediate on Bainbridge Island. “Nobody was condescending to me.”

Zetty is an outgoing, networking sort of person, and her personal relationships included three close friends, co-workers, fellow Kitsap Tri Babes (a local women’s triathlete group), and members of her long-time book group. They organized themselves, she says, and doubts she would have been able to have such close and immediate contact if she had been tied up traveling for treatment.

One group made the covered cushions they knew she wanted for her bedroom window seat. Co-workers donated sick leave so she wouldn’t take such a big hit financially during her down time.

“I had people doing dream dinners and they even arranged housekeeping,” she says, her voice trailing off in renewed wonder.

“I needed to laugh. Sometimes, when you’re sick, if you only have one person to depend on, it’s kind of hard on that person,” she says.

Zetty’s Hodgkin's is considered gone, although she must continue to get periodic CAT scans or X-rays.

“What I have to worry about down the road is other secondary cancers because of the chemo,” she says. It’s nice to still run into people on casual outings who she met during treatment, Zetty says. It turned out Harrison’s oncology nurse manager’s son had been a student of Zetty’s.

“That kind of thing was important to me, to have that connection with people,” she says. “My trust was higher because of that.”