When I walked up the stairs after sending off my junior rowers, Susan Cameron was already outside my office and greeted me with a huge smile. Instantly I could feel her warmth, sincerity, and kind spirit as we sat down to talk. I would have never known that just a year ago she was diagnosed with Acoustic Neuroma, a tumor in her brain. Together we sat upstairs in the boathouse and she shared her inspiring story with me- her beginnings at SRA, her journey through the brain tumor, and everything that came after.
Susan has been a rower with Sammamish Rowing Association (SRA) for five years now. Starting at the age of 12, Cameron had been an avid runner. She focused largely on long distance running and often ran with a running group. At one point she was training for the Paris Marathon, but ended up injuring her Achilles that resulted in surgery. Always looking on the bright side, Cameron happily added that while it was unfortunate that she suffered from this injury it eventually led her to the sport of rowing.
Being a member of SRA for five years means that something has brought Susan back time and time again. When asked what keeps her coming back to the boathouse she cited off several reasons immediately. “Love for the sport, teamwork unlike any other sport, a strong community, the individuals, always something more to learn, supporting one another,” she said instantly. Cameron added, “The other thing that keeps me coming back is having a place to push myself to the maximum- my maximum physically, my maximum mentally, emotionally- just pushing myself and discovering what my limits are. I don’t think I’ve discovered what my limits are. I’ve touched them physically, but I want to keep pushing that and see how far I can go.”
Flash back to 2017 just before the Head of the Charles Regatta. Cameron was training for and competing intensely for this event. “It was 100% my focus and nothing was going to stand in my way,” she said. “The six months leading up to that I had felt some dizziness, experienced some hearing loss. After the Head of the Charles I just noticed more symptoms and the symptoms were more pronounced. So I decided to get checked out.” Her MRI was November 21st. Cameron had actually gone to the Internet for her own research and correctly self diagnosed herself before the MRI- one of the few times where looking up symptoms online has been accurate! Her radiologists confirmed that she had Acoustic Neuroma.
To recover, Cameron needed 24/7 care the first week home. Cameron had an inner circle of care that was comprised of her sons, former husband, and her sweet golden retriever Hobbes who recently passed away. Her outer circle was a small army of friends, a large amount who are rowers at Sammamish. “I felt that people were just there to catch me and carry me through. I had meals; I had people coming to take me for walks, because I had to re-learn how to walk. People signed up and would come take me for a walk.”
She then went on to describe all the people who helped her and the various ways they supported her during her recovery. There was Celine who made her a French meal and took her on a walk, Deborah gave her a courage necklace, Dennis, Lee, and Raina visited her before the ECM holiday party to bring a little holiday joy to her. There was also Marilyn and Jennie Proby who gave her fuzzy socks, a mug with the word “fierce” on it, and they provided delicious fudge. Jocelyn gave a coloring book and doughnuts, Lana provided dinners and a handicap parking pass, Mari was there to provide treats, dinners, and walks, and Sarah came by to visit and brought some meals as well. Yvonne, Niels, Chong, and Bronyn provided even more walks and meals. Finally, Debbie had someone pressure wash Susan’s driveway and also created the acronym FAN that stood for “F*#! Acoustic Neuroma”, a phrase that their boat rallied around. Cameron was amazed by the support she received from friends and the SRA community.
“My balance isn’t 100%, and the right side of my face is still numb. There are things I continue to feel and I do have a residual tumor, and I am going back to have an MRI and have it checked on November 26th. It will have either died, stopped growing, or continued to grow,” Cameron said when asked about how she is currently doing. “I think back to what we can control and what we can’t. There are so many things in life we can’t control, but what we can control is how we deal with it.”
“Pay attention to yourself. In retrospect there were things six months ago that I should have paid more attention to.” Cameron felt it was very important to add that we should take time to listen to our bodies and seek proper attention when things seem “off”. Some other advice she provided was to be open to receiving help. “For me it didn’t come naturally, but people want to help.” We circled back around to Sammamish right before Susan left for an ECM meeting. “The community is so incredible. I was just overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and support. People were there. People were on it. I am incredibly grateful for this amazing community. We’re people first, rowers second – and I love how we honor each other as individuals.”
That is what it comes down to at SRA. People first, rowing second. Our community is made up of incredibly strong people like Susan, and incredibly devoted friends like some of the people mentioned in this story. We are a community, a family, a team. We are Sammamish.
Written By: Elizabeth W. Wilson