Paying it forward on the front lines

“Everything that comes our way in terms of illness, dis-ease or setbacks are, to me, invitations to enter into them wholeheartedly in our own unique ways. There is no exact right or wrong way.” — Sister Sue Tracy

There’s no road map for doing unto others, but we have a guide in the  memory of how others did unto us: Think Sister Sue.

Larry Kozal looks nothing like Sister Sue Tracy, but he sounds a lot like her.

Larry Kozal edited Erika
Larry Kozal

He acts a lot like her, too, when it comes to what he does at Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids — and why.

They met about 15 years ago at a large group meeting at Gilda’s. He was  concluding six months of chemo and radiation therapy for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and Sister Sue was in between cancer diagnoses.

“In the 10 years of checkups following my therapy, I cannot recall not having seen her when I was in the waiting area at Lemmen-Holton Cancer Pavilion.” An oncology chaplain at Spectrum Health and a cancer veteran herself, “She was always buzzing around.”

Sharing hope by sharing life in the trenches

“I looked at her then as a survivor — it was always good. When you’re still wondering what you can hope for, you’re listening to who people have been around the block a few times.”

She would make no fewer than six trips around that block by the time she died a year ago — June 29, 2016.

Larry jointed Gilda’s the year after it got started in Grand Rapids. Although he’s far enough out of treatment to believe the cancer is permanently in the rearview mirror, he is still in the Leukemia Lymphoma group. Sue attended, too.

Why still go?

“I go there to be nourished…

A unique sanctuary

“When I go there, it’s like walking into a sanctuary, you get to talk to people about things you won’t talk with anyone else about; they get to talk to you without burdening anyone … they’ll understand what you’re talking about … nobody else could understand what you’re going through.

“I love the people I’ve met and gotten to know there – we all are very thankful for our on-going survival …I’ve had to do some advocacy … you still run into people with antiquated areas of chemo because of Uncle So-and-So, radiation burned up Aunt So-and-So … it’s not like that any more.

“There are always 2 or 3 people who are in the process of being treated — I think they get a lot out of the get-togethers.”

Ultimately, Larry said, “You do the best you can.”

One thought on “Paying it forward on the front lines”

  1. Your stories continue to spread the inspiration that my sister Sue spent so many years of her life sharing with others. Thank you so much for your work on this project, Sue.
    Carol Tracy Carr


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