In Their Own Words: Suzanne Pride Bryan
The V Foundation for Cancer Research is successful thanks to the contributions of many – donors, corporate partners, our incredible Board and Scientific Advisory Committee and the amazing researchers to whom we award grants. With “In Their Own Words,” we sit down with key members of our team to learn more about their commitment to the V Foundation and their personal desire to put an end to cancer. In this edition, we chat with the co-owner of Pride Mountain Vineyards, Suzanne Pride Bryan.
The V Foundation: How has cancer personally affected you?
Suzanne Pride Bryan: I am a two-time cancer survivor – two entirely different types of cancers nine years apart. Having cancer puts you in a “club” you never asked to join. My father, Jim Pride, and I had cancer at the same time, and we were both treated at Stanford University Medical Center. We even had side-by-side chemo infusions together. Those were tough days. My mother, Carolyn Pride, would look at us with tears in her eyes wondering how we ended up there. I made it, but unfortunately my father didn’t. I had to delay my last several rounds of radiation to travel home to help my mother with his funeral. Cancer isn’t fair. Cancer doesn’t care who you are. It doesn’t care if you’re rich, poor, young, old or famous. It doesn’t care if you’re making other plans, are mid-career, raising your children or on the brink of a miraculous discovery or getting ready to retire. It will come. It doesn’t give any warning. One day you’re healthy, and the next day you find you have a life-threatening disease. And when you find out that you have cancer, the first thing that runs through your mind is, “How much time do I have?” You don’t know if you will make it or not. You wonder if you have nine weeks – which is all my brother-in-law had from his diagnosis to his demise – or nine months or a normal life-time. So, you start the journey, and you shelve your fears and work to throw everything you’ve got at getting the cancer out of your body. You learn that surgery, chemo, radiation or whatever combination of those things that you will endure will take about a year out of your life if you’re lucky enough to be given that whole year. But you also learn that those treatments, no matter how difficult, are life-giving. You have to travel that road because if you want to beat the cancer back there really is no other choice. It’s ironic. And cancer is full of ironies. People with cancer can ironically look very fit and trim and healthy. Ironically, the scourge that is cancer can be what causes a person to slow down and “smell the roses” and reprioritize their lives to what really matters. Knowing someone who is enduring the horror that is cancer can cause people to correct past wrongs and say, “I love you.” Cancer can make a person look deep into their own spirituality, whatever that may be for them, and open interior doors of inner-wisdom and belief. For all the dark sides of cancer, there are silver-linings. It can be a very “yin/yang” phenomenon. And I think it is important to try and find those opportunities. Because, as the saying goes, “When you’re going through Hell, keep on going.”
TVF: Why do you choose to support the V Foundation?
SPB: When you have to hear your doctor say, “It’s cancer,” in that instant all you have is hope. Hope there is cutting-edge research going on somewhere and in time to help you. Hope people are making donations, whether large or small, to help fund this research. The V Foundation provides an important stage for all of this to occur. The Scientific Board of the V Foundation is populated with doctors and cancer researchers from places like M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, the Mayo Clinic, Stanford University Medical Center, UCSF and Duke University School of Medicine, among many others, who donate significant amounts of time reading the grant requests that come in from across the country asking for funding to advance research. These medical volunteers know who is close to attaining a milestone towards a cure and can understand where best to allocate these important fiscal resources. Unlike other fund-raising groups, the V Foundation does not send out “free” address labels or other such “enticements.” It is important to know 100% of every dollar donated goes directly into the hands of the investigators trying to find cures in their labs and pushing these results into clinical trials that save lives. The V Foundation has been ranked by Charity Navigator, a leading national charity evaluator, with four out of a possible four stars for sound fiscal management and their commitment to accountability and transparency. This has placed the V Foundation in the top 10% of U.S. charities for nearly 20 years. The V Foundation is working hard to create cures for the hundreds of types of cancers that exist today. And that’s why I choose to support the V Foundation, because it feels good to be part of the solution.
TVF: What words of strength or encouragement would you offer to someone currently dealing with cancer?
SPB: I am sometimes asked by friends and colleagues to reach out to newly diagnosed loved ones of theirs to offer words of encouragement. It’s not always an easy conversation to have because these people are scared. Cancer is scary stuff. I listen carefully to where they are with their diagnosis. Then I gently get them to focus on the fact that modern medicine is amazing. We talk about the powerful visual of them imagining the cancer leaving their body. We talk about that it’s OK to put themselves and their healing first. That it’s OK to accept help offered to them. And that, more importantly, it’s OK to ask for help, because people want to help a friend or family member in need. It’s not a burden or imposition . . . it’s a mutual gift when help is asked for and when help is given. We talk about the hope that comes from telling others about their cancer journey, so they can be bathed in the love and support that will come their way when worthy friends and family can stand in unity with them. We talk about how outcomes are better than ever. But mostly we talk about the lessons on the journey and the gifts that they will find along the way as the path unfolds. And, because I think visuals are important, we talk about how with each treatment, whether surgery, chemotherapy, raditation or a combination thereof, they have another step on the journey in their rearview mirror. That it’s important to always be looking forward while acknowledging and rewarding themselves for attaining that last treatment milestone. We talk about how as soon as the very last chemo occurs – the very next day – hair starts to grow back. It’s important to gently guide them to seeing that the glass is half-full, not half-empty. If they cry, it’s OK. If they laugh, it’s OK. If they think about how they can beat their diagnosis . . . well, that’s a good day’s work, right there. Jim Valvano, founder of the V Foundation, shared this very wisdom when he used his television time at the ESPYS in 1993 to launch the V Foundation for Cancer Research. Finally, I let them know that I am here for them if they need someone to listen, as someone who’s been there before. And I let them know that if I reach out to them but they don’t feel like responding back that day, that’s OK too. It’s just all about them feeling the love. There’s power in that.
TVF: What would you say to someone who is considering supporting the V Foundation?
SPB: I always tell people to search for “Jimmy V’s speech” on the internet. When Jim Valvano announced the creation of the V Foundation during his acceptance of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 1993 ESPYS, he was battling cancer himself. If you want to see total leadership in action in just a few short minutes, watch that speech. Then reflect on the fact that he passed away just six weeks later. What a coach. What a man. To think he was looking into the future while he was in his own hour of need is remarkably moving. He had a vision. What would he say if he could know that since he founded the V Foundation that night almost 30 years ago that his dream has funded millions of dollars towards cures and clinical trials and ongoing research. But we need more. We aren’t there yet. Because of budget hold-ups in Congress for years, the National Institutes of Health does not have the funding it needs to shoulder this kind of research alone. It has to come from the private sector, and that’s all of us. So let’s do this. Whether you can give $5 a year via a check in the mail, $50 a month or whatever amount on an auto-pay on your credit card, a significant legacy gift in your will or anything in between – just act today, and go ahead and do it! As stated above, 100% of every dollar donated goes directly into cancer research. You don’t have to worry that it’s going to “keeping the lights on” at the V Foundation. (No, there is an endowment for that.) You can rest assured your donation will make an immediate and impactful difference because it goes directly, in significant grants, into the hands of doctors doing this important research. I also tell potential donors to check out the V Foundation’s 4-star ranking as one of the top charitable organizations in the U.S. And then decide if they want to be involved. Because there is not one of us who has not been impacted by cancer in some way . . . whether it’s a family member, a friend or ourselves.
TVF: What would Victory Over Cancer® mean to you?
SPB: Have you ever wondered how your body can fight off something like a cold or the flu, but can’t fight off cancer? Cancer cells are sneaky. They fool our bodies’ disease-fighting defense mechanisms – our white blood cells – into thinking that the cancer is a friend not a foe. And, once the white cells figure it out and start to attack the cancer, the cancer can don a suit of armor, or a disguise, and start the fight and masquerade all over again. This is why cancers can come back. And that’s just not fair. I would like to have cancer become another disease that we can fight off, or at least live with in relative comfort, like cold-sores or psoriasis or something relatively innocuous. Inconvenient, yes, but not a constant presence and most certainly not a death sentance. If it were to flare up, an immunotherapy pill one could take, or some such miracle, would beat it quickly back into submission, and the patient wouldn’t even miss a moment of their life. Wouldn’t that be amazing? And, the good news is inroads are being made to outcomes like this. Let’s all continue to look to the future for those cures. Like Coach Valvano said, “It may not save my life, it may save my children’s lives, it may save someone you love.” If we all pull together, if we all make regular donations to the V Foundation in whatever amounts we can . . . well, in fact, it just might save someone we love. We have to have hope. And to get there, all of us have to be part of the solution.