When I first met Sister Susan McDonald she was friendly but in a controlled way. It was the reaction many reporters get at time. She didn't know quite who I was or what I was doing on her trip to Vietnam. But her children, her grown-up babies, she hugged and smiled with. She knew them. Some she knew as babies and was renewing that connection. Others she may not have met in person but she knew their heart.
So I was a bit of the odd man out on this trip to return to Vietnam. As the two weeks progressed I came to know Sister Susan a bit and she to know me, and to know I wasn't there to exploit but to experience and learn.
Sister Susan had a bond with the children of Vietnam. Unfortunately, we now have a bond, too, the bond of breast cancer.
I traveled to Vietnam about six weeks after my double mastectomy. I was a bit tired but that was the only downside to it. In fact, my fake boobs were a perfect place to hide my traveling money. I didn't talk about it much, unless asked. That's wasn't what I was there for.
Then about a year ago, a few months after we returned, I heard that Susan had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She had a mastectomy, chemo and radiation. It pooped her out, too, and was scary. But if there was one thing I learned about Sister Susan on that trip to Vietman was her steel-rod determination. She made sure every one of her children on that trip found what they needed in their return to their land of birth. She used the same determination to battle cancer and live her life.
She is done with chemo now and did very well, so she told me recently. She's healing, regaining energy. Her focus hasn't changed - it's still on the children of Vietnam.
Her next mission - to take another group of orphans and grown-up children to Vietnam this spring.
Cancer can't keep us down, right!