Susan Coltharp is going through something. It’s neither tragic nor trivial, but it also isn’t over. A routine mammogram spotted something, a biopsy was performed. They had hoped for DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) tissue, which is precancerous, but found something more. That led to a lumpectomy.
“When we did that it was larger than we had suspected,” Coltharp said. “Did a second mammogram, had another biopsy because they found some calcifications. The second one showed cancer. This past Friday had another lumpectomy, and they took more out.
“We’re hoping that this one comes back clear margins and I can go ahead and start the chemo, I’ll do that for six rounds every three weeks, and once that is finished I’ll go to radiation every day for three weeks. And now, they have a pill, I’ll take that for 5 to 10 years.”
Coltharp knows they caught it early and feels fortunate. She was always good about getting yearly mammograms and has been telling her friends and anyone who will listen to do the same.
“They told me if you’re going to get breast cancer, I was the poster child of what you would want. Mine came back, ER/PR positive, and HER2-Negative,” Coltharp said. That means the cancer grows in response to the hormone estrogen. A much smaller percentage of breast cancer is HER2-Positive, meaning that the cancer grows in response to the HER2 protein. HER2-Positive is a more aggressive form of the cancer.
“It feeds on estrogen, so if you take the estrogen away it doesn’t have anything to feed on,” she said. “We caught these super early. I highly recommend getting your mammos done early, and not putting it off. I go every month in June and from one June to this June, it was that little tiny thing.
Here at the Women First (a branch of Stillwater Medical Center) they do the 3D mammograms now, which is amazing, they can see way more with that.”
Coltharp’s positive outlook is strengthened by her faith and her support system of friends and family. But that doesn’t make the conversations any easier.
“That one was hard. We’re a pretty strong family. I talked to my husband first, and we just went in together and talked to (the children). There was more there, my parents were there, there were other people. Just like, ‘this is what’s happening and we’re going to get through this.’ We have strong faith, so that helps. This is a journey I’m on right now and somehow I’ll get through this,” Coltharp said. “Sometimes, like I told my husband the other day, maybe I got this instead of someone else who couldn’t handle it. Or somehow there’s going to be something good out of this.”
She said after her diagnosis, she was told three of her friends went in for mammograms and to her, that meant something good had already come from it.
A teacher at Sangre Ridge Elementary, she’s always been an educator, but she’s also receiving incredible lessons in compassion and earnestness. How would her students react?
“I was very worried about them, but they’re so resilient,” Coltharp said. “They’ve been leaving little notes, and these teddy bears that, ‘you need to take with you to chemo’ and things like that. The parents are unbelievable. I was very upfront with them and emailed them every time something happens. I emailed them, ‘I want to talk with the kids about this.’ … They’re all right there behind me. They’re all good. It’s all good.”
There’s even been a kickball tournament organized on her behalf. The tournament is for all ages, set for Nov. 9 at Gameday Sports Complex. The deadline to sign up is Nov. 2. The sign up sheet can be found at the Sangre Ridge Elementary, PTO Facebook page. Coltharp has also been made an honorary captain for the Pioneers football game Friday in conjunction with Pink Out Week.
The publicity raises awareness and rallies others to her cause, but shouldn’t it also be difficult to be public about something so personal?
“To me it’s better to talk about it. I’d rather be open and honest,” Coltharp said. “I just feel like, I think it’s better to talk about it than just be sad. People are curious, they want to know how you’re doing, just ask.”
Coltharp is still in the middle of it, still awaiting results that could indicate she can start rounds of treatment, or results that indicate she’ll need a double mastectomy.
“We talked about this. Knowing it could be a possibility. We decided it’s just skin,” she said of her and husband Terry. She’s had that kind of support since the very beginning, gaining strength from Terry, daughter Caitlin and son Curtis. It’s a support system that has surpassed her expectations.
“My family. My Life Group girls are really good and my bunko friends. So many people are reaching out,” she said. “A student I had when he was in kindergarten, he’s a senior now, he got my number and he’s been texting me. They’re coming out of everywhere. As a teacher you know how the kids are in your life and their parents are in your life and you think of them as ‘your kids’ even when they’re long gone but you don’t realize how much until something like this. It’s been amazing.”