BETHEL — Sue Cross was 25, in the hospital to have cysts removed, when she woke up from surgery to hear she’d had a complete hysterectomy.

“‘You have ovarian cancer and your prognosis is not good,'” Cross remembers staff telling her. “I rolled over in bed and said, ‘No, that’s not right,’ and went back to sleep. As I got better in the hospital, they kept telling me, ‘Yeah, it is true.””

A Boston doctor told her she’d likely be OK if she made it five years but didn’t think she had that long.

Sue had been dating Jack, her older brother’s best friend, for almost two years. They were engaged but hadn’t set a date. There wasn’t a rush.

They got married two months later.

On Saturday, Jack will hold her hand in the Dempsey Challenge Survivor Walk.

The couple who didn’t know whether she would live five years celebrated 37 last month.

Cross grew up in Bethel, graduated from Telstar Regional High School. She worked in a local bakery and IGA in her 20s. She’d had a few infections and some pain, the tip that something was wrong.

“When that doctor looked at me and said (his five-year prediction,) I thought to myself, ‘You don’t know me. You don’t know who I am and you don’t know what I’m capable of,'” said Cross, 63.

She was diagnosed in July 1978. She and Jack married that September, “before I started chemo because I wanted to have my hair for the wedding.”

After a year of treatment, the cancer was still there. That was followed by seven months of even more aggressive treatment that put her in the hospital overnight each time.

Two years out, she got good news.

“I was just waiting for that,” Cross said. “A lot of times it was hard to believe that I had this nasty, rotten cancer because I didn’t feel bad (outside of the days around treatment). I was sick because they made me sick with the chemo. I felt good. How can I be that sick when I feel this good?”

Life went on. Jack’s excavation company did well and grew. Twelve years ago, she started her own lawn care business, mowing and gardening.

“My nickname is the Lawn Queen,” she said.

Eight years ago, cancer came back, this time as a lump she discovered in her breast. It was breast cancer, caught early. She had a lumpectomy and six weeks of radiation.

“I knew as soon as I felt it,” Cross said. “Once again, I was really angry. It just makes you so mad. I thought I’d done my time and then here it is again.”

Both times she experienced cancer, it was isolating, she said. Outside of a buddy she made during radiation, a friend to this day, there weren’t people to relate to.

It’s why she’s back for the sixth time raising money during the Dempsey Challenge for The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing.

“It was so different then from now,” she said. “The Dempsey Center, it brings it out there and brings people together, which is part of the treatment, I feel. You need support. You need people there. You need to be able to talk to people about everything, or anything, or nothing.”

She’s raised $3,100 this year, a personal best. Cross will walk the 5K Saturday morning with her husband and Polly Jordan of Locke Mills, each wearing a purple shirt with bright pink letters reading: “The Musketeers, All for one and one for all, fighting to defeat cancer.”

Jordan was the maid of honor in their wedding and later also survived breast cancer.

“She went through hell,” Cross said. “She was so with me when I went through my ovarian cancer, she was my right-hand girl.”

Today, she gets regular checkups and says she listens to her body and what it needs. She’s used humor to get through a lot of the struggle. Thirty-seven years ago, it was pulling her wig askew and asking her manager if everything looked OK, just to see his reaction.

Now, it’s joking with Dempsey Center staff that she’s told Jack, “I just live to make his life miserable.”

“I’m so lucky to be alive, and I feel that,” Cross said. “I said to Mary Dempsey, ‘I’m old. Yeah!'”

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“The Dempsey Center, it brings it out there and brings people together, which is part of the treatment, I feel. You need support. You need people there. You need to be able to talk to people about everything, or anything, or nothing.” Sue Cross, Bethel, a two-time cancer survivor who is among the thousands raising money for the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing this weekend


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