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'Cancer as my companion'

Susan GibsonBy Keiana Hadjireza
October might be known for celebrating all things Halloween and fall (pumpkin spice), but it’s also a very important month for bringing awareness to breast cancer. This is something that affects many lives all over the world and more personally the University of Washington Bothell community.

Susan Gibson, the University’s director of the Business and Organization Leadership Development (BOLD) program, bravely shares her journey to recovery.

“Never did I think I would get breast cancer,” says Gibson about finding she had developed a lump.

She had been the “poster-child for self-care,” she says, always getting her annual physical and mammogram exam. Breast cancer was also not in her family’s history. But busy with the stresses of life and caring for her elderly mother, Gibson admits she neglected to continue her exams in 2011.

After she was diagnosed in 2014, she took immediate action, receiving 15 months of treatment from the Swedish Cancer Institute – advanced chemotherapy, radiation and a radical mastectomy. Gibson never lost hope and remained resilient throughout the entire process.

Dedicated to the University of Washington Bothell and her students, Gibson tried to continue teaching while undergoing treatment. “My students were most important to me,” she says. But she had to take a medical leave.  In that time, she received support from colleagues, students and even Fortune 500 CEOs she had previously worked with.  The Chinese Student Association gave her a large signed canvas. A UW nurse and mother of one of her BOLD students organized her meals and rides. Members of the security team walked her to her car after classes.

Susan GibsonNow cancer-free, Gibson is back at the University doing what she loves most –“developing global leaders, one student at a time.”

As many as 1 in 6 women are affected by the disease in Washington state alone. Early detection is one of the most crucial steps a woman can take. Routine annual mammograms, adequate sleep, safe sun-exposure, a high-vegetable diet and self-examination are a few of the preventative measures Gibson recommends.  

In retrospect, Gibson says she was never a “cancer victim” but rather she “walked in transformation with cancer as my companion.”