Sister Sue Tracy: Hope on Steroids

Sister Sue Tracy and jumpy friend
Sister Sue Tracy, with Kermit-esque pal, received the first Spirit of Gilda’s Award presented by Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids on Nov. 12, 2015.

“If you can find humor in anything, you can survive it.” — Sister Sue

Sister Sue Tracy faced life with cancer as she faced death with it: armed with naked honesty, faith and a fully functioning funny bone.

She carried her favorite secret weapons and she wasn’t afraid to use them until her earthly end — June 29, 2016 — a year ago this week.

An unexpected blast from her ever-present magic squirt gun of humor could blow holes of relief in the tensest situation and make even the most frightened of us relax and even laugh.

I was among the hundreds, maybe thousands, who learned from Sister Sue how to live with cancer — joyously and fully through the bad times and good.

A  perpetual-motion machine with a laugh that hit the ceiling, she was one of us.

Having dealt with cancer no fewer than six times in her life, she “got” what having cancer means.  On one side: the uncertainty, the fear, the masks we and those we love wear to protect each other, the weakness, the physical and mental toll.

On the flip side: the healing power of those who show us how to cope with hope, as she used to say, who share the angst-relieving gift of a laugh.

She used it all to help us get through — in her work at Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids, as a chaplain at Spectrum Health, with anyone who asked.

Cancer Schmantzer Queens

Like the late comedian Gilda Radner, who  founded what would become a national network of Gilda’s Clubs support centers for cancer patients and families, Sister Sue, a Dominican Sister Grand Rapids, was a Cancer Schmantzer Queen: Life, laughter and hope trumped cancer to the end.

As the recipient of the Spirit of Gilda Award from Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids  in 2015,  Sister Sue personified support and advocacy for the organization and its members and by “doing so with the light-heartedness and laughter that embodied our namesake Gilda Radner.”

Sister Sue Graduation

I can still picture Sister Sue in her white mortar board and gown, sailing grandly down hospital halls, doing the royal wave, leaving after finishing what she called her “Sweet Sixteen” — her 16th and final in-patient chemo … me following behind playing “Pomp and Circumstance” on a kazoo. Really.

Paying forward her legacy of hope

Her legacy of hope  lives on in those of us she strengthened and inspired.

This is the first of a week of posts in which fellow Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids members and I will share that legacy along with some of her insight, angst-relieving one-liners, comfort and grace to help others. Paying it forward, if you will.

Bonus points for laughs along the way.