Talk with Suzanne Kossow, and a quote from the film Shawshank Redemption comes to mind: “Get busy living or get busy dying.”
Unfortunately, we all face the same conclusion at the end of our days. The difference is how we spend our time between now and then.
Despite Kossow’s decade-long battle against breast cancer, despite twice losing all her hair, despite being told, “You really don’t have a lot of time left here,” she is busy living—and traveling.
She’s been to 50 or so countries, and she is continuing to cross new destinations off her bucket list.
“When I travel, it’s just a wonderful escape,” Kossow says. “We’re on a routine: up at 8 in the morning and getting on a tour. I don’t have time to think about anything but, ‘What are we going to do that day?’”
She’s had plenty on her mind since 2010 when she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. She went through treatment and fought it off. She saw it as “a bump in the road.”
She and her husband, Bob, retired and started “making up for lost time” by traveling. One of the first excursions for the wine-loving couple was a 2012 trip to Southern Italy. Then to Peru and the Amazon.
She kept cancer at bay. Her tumor markers and regular scans kept coming back clean. The Kossows visited Scotland, Argentina, Zimbabwe, Russia, and elsewhere.
In 2016, though, her numbers rose. Cancer spread beyond her breasts to lymph nodes. The diagnosis shifted to stage 4, or metastatic breast cancer. There’s no cure—only medicines to slow its growth.
“It just devastated me,” Kossow says. “I thought I was done with it.”
The news came as she was preparing for a trip to Iceland. Her physician—“a very positive doctor,” Kossow says—told her not to cancel the trip.
“So we kept traveling,” she says. To the Bahamas, Ecuador, the Galápagos Islands, and throughout Eastern Europe.
A new medicine helped for more than a year. The Kossows saw Cuba, Belgium, Madagascar, and more.
Bad news came again at the end of 2017 when doctors discovered cancer had spread to her liver. She switched to another chemo med and, Kossow says, “Within 12 days, I was bald.”
“Mentally, it’s very hard,” she says. “Numbers are going up and you’re going, ‘How much time do I have?’” Still, she traveled. To New Zealand, Israel, Ireland, Morocco.
In July 2018, she began taking another new medication, the last oral chemo drug she can take, her physician said. The side effects were few. After about a month, her numbers “started going down dramatically.”
“My numbers are good,” she says after returning home to Council Bluffs from Hawaii.
When home, Kossow attends a weekly support group for women with metastatic breast cancer. She takes part in yoga classes for cancer patients. She regularly attends a wine club and is grateful she can taste again.
Travel, of course, remains on the horizon. Greece in May, then Portugal and Canada. In October, a three-week around-the-world tour with stops to see the pyramids in Egypt, the Taj Mahal in India, the Great Wall in China, and to Cambodia, Myanmar, Oman…
She is busy traveling—and living.
This article first appeared in the May 2019 edition of 60PLUS in Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.