Susan Horst Runs Lincoln Half For Her Mom

Susan Horst’s mother, Patti Swoboda, defies the odds every single day of her life. She has survived pancreatic cancer for nearly four years now. In 2012, right before Christmas, Patti was diagnosed with stage IIB pancreatic cancer. Patti was only 54-years-old and had always been healthy. She had been experiencing some stomach discomfort, but it was not until she became jaundiced that her doctor discovered what was actually going on. Her doctors believed that she might be having a problem with gallstones, but Susan remembers having a premonition that something more serious was going on with her mother. “I had a dreaded feeling in my stomach as they checked her out. They found out that she had pancreatic cancer. It hit us out of the blue. I thought it was going to be a death sentence.”

Susan Horst with her mom, Patti Swoboda
Susan Horst with her mom, Patti Swoboda

Doctors had planned to do the Whipple Surgery on Patti, but as they operated, they discovered the cancer had affected more of her pancreas than originally thought and they ended up removing the entire organ. Following her surgery, Patti immediately developed insulin-dependent diabetes. She also began taking pancreatic enzymes so that her body could digest the food she ate. Her doctors recommended several rounds of chemotherapy following her surgery to eliminate any cancer cells that might still be in her body.

During her treatment, Patti did not want to know about statistics. Susan recalls, “I am a financial analyst and a huge researcher. I immediately went to the internet trying to find out information on the disease. Mom just wanted to be at peace with it all.” Patti’s husband, Jim, never left her side throughout her treatment. Susan calls her dad a ‘hero’ who watched over his wife every step of the way. A couple of days after she returned home after her initial surgery, Patti was dealt a blow when she had to return to the hospital. Her colon had been nicked in the first surgery and she had become quite ill. Doctors had to go back into her abdomen to remove part of her colon. “It was worse than her first surgery, because she had to be in the ICU for a few days. It was a big setback,” Susan remembers. Eventually, Patti returned home again where she was cared for by her husband, children and extended family.

Patti & Jim Swoboda
Patti & Jim Swoboda

Susan says her mother is doing very well since her radical surgeries. However, she has been unable to return to work at her very physically-demanding job on the line at the 3M manufacturing company. Even though she has been prescribed insulin and pancreatic enzymes, Patti still struggles with getting the dosage right. The diabetes that results from a total pancreatectomy can be unpredictable. Susan explains, “Her blood sugar is what she struggles with the most because she has not been able to get a good handle on it. It doesn’t seem to matter what she eats. There is no rhyme or reason to it all. She often gets really tired.” Still, despite the difficulties, Patti makes the most of her life. She is very creative and has been working on her first novel.

susan and family

Susan works part-time as an investment officer in a bank. When she is not working, her three kids keep her very busy. She remembers a childhood where her mother was very involved in her and her siblings’ day-to-day lives. Now Patti has nine grandchildren with another on the way, and Susan describes her as ‘The World’s Best Grandma’. Patti and Susan live about twenty minutes apart, and Patti is very involved with her grandkids’ lives. Susan says, “She relates really well to the kids. One of the hardest things for me when she was diagnosed was thinking that she might not be around for her grandkids.”

Patti with her grandchildren, Susan's children.
Patti with her grandchildren, Susan’s children.
Susan with her husband and children.
Susan with her husband and children.

Susan has signed up to run the Lincoln half-marathon with the Project Purple team as a way to honor her mom. Susan has run off and on since she was in high school. She has finished several 5ks, one 10k and she ran 9 miles as part of the Market-to-Market relay. Her cousin decided to sign up to run the half and she convinced Susan to sign up, too. “I always swore I would never do it, but this year it sounded like a good idea,” Susan explains. She had not planned to fundraise, but when she saw that Project Purple was the official charity for the race, that clinched the deal. “My mom being diagnosed was an eye-opener,” Susan says. “I did not know much about pancreatic cancer before. Until it affects your family, you don’t realize how horrible it is. The statistics are horrible and there is no early detection.”

Susan mom and kids

Still, despite how bleak a pancreatic cancer diagnosis can be, Susan thinks it is important to share stories of survival, like her mom’s. “I think it is so important for survivors to get their stories out there. I remember scouring the internet for information when my mom was diagnosed. The people who are surviving and living a normal life are rare, but they are out there.”  Susan is grateful for every extra moment that she has been given with her mom. She knows that most families have not been as fortunate as hers. “I think that no matter what, at this point it comes back to the fact that we are so grateful for extra time we have had. We are so thankful for the time we have had on this earth together.”

Please make a tax-deductible donation to Susan’s Project Purple fundraiser at the following link:

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