That’s how long doctors predicted Suzanne Stone, 62, had to live after being diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain tumor.
But that diagnosis was made three years ago.
Her resilience isn’t surprising to those who know her well. Her upbeat personality and refusal to accept defeat have characterized how she’s dealt with her condition, said her family, friends and co-workers.
“She is living fully,” said Joretta Marshall, executive vice president and dean of the Brite Divinity School. “She doesn’t let the limitations become the end of the story.”
She was running in the TCU Recreation Center when her first symptoms appeared. She was running in the Cowtown Marathon when she completed her lifelong dream.
Her refusal to collapse with fatigue prompted medical students to help her cross the finish line.
“My faith, my friends and my family have kept me alive,” Stone said.
“I wasn’t breathing and couldn’t run straight,” she continued. “I knew that something wasn’t right.”
Doctors found a brain tumor that had caused a seizure.
“We didn’t know at the time, whether or not it would be malignant, but I knew they had suspected it,” Stone said. “December 2, 2014 is when they discovered I had glioblastoma.”
This highly aggressive grade four cancer has a median survival rate of about 14.6 months; the two-year survival rate is 30 percent, according to the American Brain Tumor Association. Glioblastomas are tumors that arise from astrocytes, the supportive tissues of the brain. These tumors are usually highly cancerous because the cells reproduce quickly and they are supported by a large network of blood vessels.
DAY OF THE RACE
Stone took off from running long distance for a short time, but decided to accomplish a life-long dream this February.
“I have done a few 5ks in the past years, but this time I decided to go crazy and do the Cowtown Challenge– a 5K on Saturday and a half marathon on Sunday,” she said.
After about 11 miles in, Stone began to become weak.
“My body wasn’t up to it. I was quite tired,” she said.
Stone began to lean to her side and on-site staff had to check her health.
She crossed the finish line after five hours and five minutes with the help of two UNT Health Science Center physical therapy students.
“I promised my husband to only do a short race next year, but I may change my mind,” Stone said.
DEALING WITH THE DIAGNOSIS
Stone’s closest college friend Lee Ann Ellington said that Stone gives 100 percent to every task in front of her.
“We met as freshmen in the NTSU marching band (now University of North Texas),” she said. “Along with another freshman, we were known as the ‘craziness afoot’ trio.”
Since college, Stone has always been known for her love of helping others.
“Suzanne is helpful, giving towards all, academically gifted, friendly and always has a smile on her face,” Ellington said.
Stone decided after her diagnosis to continue living a happy and joyful life.
“Suzanne is surviving and thriving,” Marshall said.
Stone has been working for the Brite Divinity School since 2001.
Linda Dabney, administrative assistant in the divinity school, admires Suzanne’s work ethic.
“She always continues to find the time and the strength to help others,” she said. “Perhaps that is the secret of her strength – she puts others before herself.”
Stone said she will continue to live with cancer and hopes to stick around to see a new treatment for glioblastoma. Until then, she will continue to enjoy the little things in life.
“I get to go plant seeds in my vegetable garden this weekend,” she said. “Tilling and weeding are now my husband’s thing, and planting is my thing. It feels good to add something back in my life that I haven’t been able to keep up with.”
Stone continues to host Thanksgiving dinner at her house every other year.
“The biggest disappointment is I can’t peel my own potatoes for dinner,” she said.
However, she will continue to make her homemade pumpkin pie.
Stone’s younger brother Kenny Bierschenk said that Suzanne was his closest childhood companion.
“We often had an interest that exactly matched each other,” he said. “We were definitely nerdy bookworms. Two peas in a pod!”
Bierschenk said his family is facing this challenge just like every challenge they have always faced.
“We try to let our faith in God and in each other give us comfort,” he said. “We turn our difficulties over to God, and try to spend all the time we can together, celebrating the life and many blessings we’ve all received and continue to enjoy.”