October 20th, 2010 by admin

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Running Towards Her Future

Running Towards Her Future

Sabina Suggs

At A Glance

Saratoga Springs, Utah, October 2010

At the age of twenty-three, Sabina Suggs was diagnosed with Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML). Her cancer was in remission for over a decade when it unexpectedly returned in 2009. Sabina was also a member of the United States Air Force/Utah Air National Guard, served a mission in the Netherlands and Northern Belgium, and is the mother of one adopted daughter. In this interview Sabina compares running to life’s journey and lessons learned along the way.

How were you first diagnosed with leukemia?

My husband, Scott, and I married in July of 1997. Three months later, we were going to move to Moscow, Russia, to work at the embassy together. While preparing for that move we had to get our medical clearance. I remember the night the doctor called and said, “How are you feeling?”

I said, “Oh, I’m fine. A little tired, but I just got married. I’m going to school full-time and I’m working full-time.” But my white blood cell counts were really high, so he had me go to a specialist the next day.

I remember when they first told me that I had leukemia… the shock of it all and them asking if I had any questions and thinking, “I don’t even know what to ask!” I think it’s funny now, but the first thing that came to my mind was, “How am I going to tell my grandma?” I don’t know why. And right after that was, “How am I going to tell my mom?” My mom is also a cancer survivor. I think the hardest part of having cancer is that everyone around you feels so helpless, and you feel helpless. There’s really nothing you can do other than decide, “I’m going to get through this.”

I think the hardest part of having cancer is that everyone around you feels so helpless, and you feel helpless. There’s really nothing you can do other than decide, “I'm going to get through this.”

Scott was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis while we were in Russia a year later. I feel like we’ve had our share of medical problems. We’re made for each other. Everyone has a disability of some sort, whether it’s something that people can see, or whether it’s something that’s inside. Everyone has insecurities, or a disability. It is really up to you how you deal with it and how you face it. I think 95-98 percent of the time I can stay positive about it. But I still have moments where I do the “poor me” routine. For instance, I feel like I’ve missed out things, like not being able to go through a pregnancy.

After your husband, Scott, was diagnosed with MS, you returned to Utah. How did you make the decision to adopt?

The doctors told me that with my type of cancer, I had less than a two percent chance of being able to conceive. My first reaction was, “You’re telling me I have a chance?” For a while I thought I was going to be the miracle, part of the 2 percent. But in 2000 we prepared to adopt.

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Katie’s birth parents are Russian. She fits right into our family. I feel like I have my angel baby. I feel like she is for me. Had I not had cancer, she wouldn’t be my daughter. If all of my health challenges are so that I could be her mom, it is worth it.

I don’t think there has been a time when Katie hasn’t known that she was adopted, and that’s because everyone loves her and wants the best for her. We’ve talked to her about maybe one day trying to find her birth mom in Russia.

When did you decide to join the United States Air Force?

When I was a senior in high school I joined the Air National Guard. I enlisted when I was seventeen. When I left for basic training that fall I was eighteen. I was on active duty for about two and a half years. I was a Spanish linguist/cryptologist and flew as a crewmember in C130s. I was stationed in Panama for a while.

I went to basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio for six weeks; then to Monterey, California, to the Defense Language Institute; back to Texas, to San Angelo, for my technical training; then to survival school in Spokane, Washington; and then to Panama for on-the-job training. I spoke Spanish, but then learned Dutch when I served a mission to the Netherlands.

How did you decide to go on a mission after being in the Air Force? Is it something you always wanted to do?

I think, especially when I was young, ten or twelve, it seemed like the only reason girls would go on missions was because they didn’t have the chance to get married, so it was kind of a negative. If you said you wanted to go on a mission, people would look at you like, “You don’t plan on being married?” But it was something I wanted to do. You see and you hear so much about how a boy goes on a mission and comes home a man. I wanted that kind of growth for myself. I served a mission to the Netherlands and northern Belgium.

I felt like one of the gifts I’ve been blessed with is that I’ve always known the gospel is true. Yes, there are things I don’t understand. But the basis, I know it’s true. For some people, being away from home or from Utah can be the hardest time of their life. But for me, being as young as I was, leaving home to go into the Air Force was amazing. One of my very good friends who is not LDS told me, “You know what? Even if you wanted to start drinking, I wouldn’t let you.” She knows that I had made that commitment. I was able to be out on my own and still feel strong and still know it was true.

You see and you hear so much about how a boy goes on a mission and comes home a man. I wanted that kind of growth for myself.

Seeing the difference the gospel made in my life and seeing people in the world who didn’t have that focus the gospel gives, I wanted to be able to give back in some form. There’s no doubt I partly wanted to go for selfish reasons – to grow as a person – but I also wanted to go because I wanted to help. I wanted to give back; I wanted to be able to somehow dedicate a portion of my life back to my Heavenly Father. We feel like we can pay Him back, but we just can’t. We get so many blessings. It’s just part of my life. If Scott or my brother, Karl, hadn’t served a mission they wouldn’t have met – and it was my brother who introduced me to Scott. So I feel like in my life, in our lives, serving a mission has helped us find the happiness that we have now. But the actual decision to go on a mission? I had just always felt the desire to go. It wasn’t really a decision of do I go or do I not go.

You are now an avid runner. How did you get started running?

In the Air Force I had to run a mile and a half, and I would get timed quarterly. I had to pass it in a certain time, and it was usually more than enough time. After having leukemia, I wanted to be healthy; I wanted to do something more active with my life. I had done 5Ks. My mom is a breast cancer survivor, so I did Race for the Cure. One year I finally had my brother, Alex, do that run with me. It was the first race he did and then he took off with running. That same year, he did a 10K and then a half marathon and then a full marathon. I was in awe. I thought, “We’re in the same family, we have the same genes, if he can do it, I can do it.” So in 2008, I ran my first half marathon. The next spring I decided I wanted to train more seriously. I ran a couple more half marathons and then last year, October 2009, I ran my first marathon.

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What is Team in Training and why did you decide to join it?

Team in Training, or TNT, is a branch of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society that helps people train for long distance events and raises money for cancer research. At the time, being a leukemia survivor I thought, “You know, I feel like I have a personal investment in it.” It had been ten years since my bone marrow transplant. So I signed up for TNT in the fall of 2009. Ten days later, I was told that my leukemia was possibly back. There was such irony in that: I joined as a survivor and then ten days later I was told I was having a relapse.

I had been going annually for a blood draw; now, since the relapse, I go every three months. Medicine has changed since I was first diagnosed in 1997. They don’t even do bone marrow transplants for this type of leukemia anymore. They have an oral chemo drug that I will take daily and it will keep it in remission, but it’s not a cure. I will still have to stay on it. But it apparently won’t affect my quality of life. I haven’t started the oral chemo yet; the docs want to just monitor my blood counts and will decide when the timing is right for when I should start. Since I had already signed up with TNT, I decided I was going to still do it. I felt like I had even more of a reason to do it – finding a cure. I was doing a little research and found out that TNT funded the man who discovered the oral medication I take. I thought that was pretty neat.

We just keep going. Mentally I feel like, yes, I have cancer again; but, because I don’t feel any physical symptoms, I feel like I can keep going.

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After my first season with TNT, I signed up to participate again, not only as an alumnus but as a Team Captain. The purpose of a Team Captain is, in addition to my own training and fundraising, I assist new participants with their questions or concerns, help them with their fundraising goals, and offer any support to help them succeed.

Do you think it inspires the team to know that you are a survivor?

I would assume it does, just having a close connection to the reason. Some people, when they join TNT, it’s usually because they know someone with, or have been affected themselves, by either leukemia or blood cancer or cancer in general. But some people just hear how it is training and support that will help them run an endurance event. TNT provides the coaches and training – and the inspiration – we have an honored teammate who is usually a child, because leukemia is commonly a childhood cancer.  It brings it home. It makes it personal. That’s why I enjoy participating in Team in Training. I actually don’t love running. I want to love it, but I don’t. Some people talk about how they are just so addicted to it and they’ve just got to keep going because they love it. I like how I feel after, and so I think maybe that’s what they’re talking about. You can feel accomplished when you run.

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You say you don’t love running. Why do you run?

I think part of it is that I don’t know how to work out. And what’s running? You put on shoes, you don’t need equipment, and you just run. You just go. You’re at your own pace; it’s you against you.

All along my goal in running has been to improve; it’s me against myself. When I did my first half marathon I was running a 12:30-minute mile. The last one I did in a 9:30-minute mile.  I’m improving. My goal eventually is to get under two hours, which means a nine-minute mile. But it’s not about the time. It sounds so cliché, but it’s about the journey.

One of the main reasons I wanted to join Team in Training was because I heard about the Nike Women’s Marathon. I want to be there. I want to see the sea of purple TNT jerseys, people all supporting the organization that is trying to find a cure for my disease.

There are so many unknowns in life. Running is symbolic of my life. I get out there and it’s hard. Life is hard. Running is hard. I thought life would get easier, but just like running has been for me, it hasn’t gotten easier. It’s hard to find the motivation to get up and to run. I think, “I can do this.” The point is I’m going to get there. I’m going to enjoy the journey, the training, the run itself.

Running is symbolic of my life. I get out there and it's hard. Life is hard. Running is hard. I thought life would get easier, but just like running has been for me, it hasn't gotten easier.

When I was going to run the St. George marathon for the first time, I wasn’t ready. Scott said, “What’s the worst thing that’s going to happen? You’re going to walk? What does the finish line symbolize?” It’s not about the race, it’s not about finishing. Really it’s about your training. It’s not like you cross the finish line and then you’re done. You feel like you’ve made another milestone, but you’re not done. If you think you’re done, that’s when you need to reevaluate.

When I first got married, we started talking about when we should we start having kids, thinking that it was really up to us, and then within the moment of my diagnosis, it wasn’t up to me and then I realized it never really was. What you think is up to you, isn’t. The choices that you make, you think are only about you, but they’re not. We can affect other people in good ways. After all is said and done, you never know what difference you make.

You’ve faced many challenges in life. What has been the most difficult?

There are different kinds of hard. Some things are more physically hard. In the military, basic training was mostly physical, but it was also a mental game. On the mission you have the spiritual challenges–strengthening your testimony, wanting to share that with other people. The military was physically hard, and then the mission was emotionally and spiritually hard. Then the big cancer diagnosis… Well, that was hard in every way because you feel like you’re given a death sentence.

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Do you feel like you have peace about the future? Or does that come and go?

I feel like I’ve always had peace about the future. And I think it’s because I learned early on that even with the choices I make, so much of my life is not in my control. That’s true as a parent as well: we have to find that balance of wanting to give, give, give our children everything, but finding that they need to work for things and learn things on their own.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. There is hope. If we do what we’re taught in the gospel and in our homes, we will see the blessings sooner or later. Sometimes it’s later. Sometimes I’m still waiting. But other times I feel like I’m blessed more than I deserve.

Sabina finished the Nike Women’s Half- Marathon on October 16th. She plans on running her fourth full marathon in Paris in April of next year. She still has her blood drawn quarterly.

At A Glance

Sabina Suggs


LDS_woman_photo_SuggsCOLORLocation:
Saratoga Springs, UT

Age:
37

Marital status:
Married Scott Suggs on July 19, 1997… and still married

Occupation:
one adopted child (Katie) – age 8

Occupation:
Resident Coordinator at a Group Home

Schools Attended:
Utah Valley University

Languages Spoken at Home:
English

Favorite Hymn:
“How Great Thou Art”

On The Web:
http://pages.teamintraining.org/dm/paris11/ssuggs

Interview by Marintha Miles. Photos used with permission. Portraits by Jenica McKenzie.

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15 Comments

  1. Sara Muir
    4:06 pm on October 20th, 2010

    I love you Bina!!!! YOu are awesome!

  2. Megan Hoeppner
    4:46 pm on October 20th, 2010

    Sabina is one of the most inspiring people I know, and I’m not just saying that because we’re related. I love her positive outlook on life, her strength, her beauty, and her wisdom. And I think this interview has captured her spirit beautifully. Thanks for putting it together!

  3. Allie Arnett
    5:06 pm on October 20th, 2010

    Sabina,
    May I admire you?? You are such an inspiration and my HERO! Keep that beautiful smile on your face, and keep runnin’ girl!!!

    Love you!
    Allie

  4. Petrina Steele
    5:28 pm on October 20th, 2010

    Okay, between you and Allie I think I need to invest in Kleenex! I love you my sweet, amazing, caring, beautiful, athletic sister! Love, Trina

  5. Susan Hancock
    7:01 pm on October 20th, 2010

    Sabina, you were linked in my facebook page today with mormonwomen.com. Thanks for sharing your story. My grandson (8 years old) just finished 3.5 years of treatment with ALL- T cell. (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia) I have seen lots of great kids with unbelievable resolve to get better- you appear to have that resolve and much more. Best of luck, and keep running!! You will RWH!!

  6. Robin
    6:57 am on October 21st, 2010

    impressive and insightful.

  7. Judy Mansell
    8:45 am on October 21st, 2010

    Your story is an inspiration to everyone. You don’t know me but I know and admire your sister Patrina too. My husband had a transplant in Dallas in 1998 and I remember your sister’s testimony in church like it was given yesterday. She expressed so much love for you and all of her family. May God keep blessing you in all your races. Judy

  8. Susanna Wagner
    1:49 am on October 25th, 2010

    Sabina,
    thanks to your parents, who gave me the possibility to read this! I admire you! I wish you all the best and I am sure, you’ll manage it! Keep also running!
    Susanna from Vienna
    (pen pal to your father for more than 5o years … )

  9. Terri Wagner
    6:31 am on October 25th, 2010

    Awesome attitude Sabrina.

  10. Kimberly Gingras
    7:44 am on October 30th, 2010

    I have been healed from ovarian cancer. I have had symptoms come back in the last few months, and I relate to Sabina’s story. I’m 33. I found a clinic in N.C. that has a 100% cure rate for breast cancer. They have also been able to cure other cancers. I’m saving up funds to go there. Please see my website: http://www.kimberlygingras.com it tells of my journey.

  11. Darlene
    8:15 pm on November 3rd, 2010

    Wow!!! I’ve been feeling a little sorry for myself lately because this has been a challenging year. My husband had a stroke in January – but he recovered. We nearly lost our house – but we got the loan modified. My husband lost his job – but we’re getting the bills paid – I’ve been wining that life is hard… BUT I read this and I KNOW that my trials are bearable and I NEED to be grateful for all that is good in my life. I’m a convert of 12 years and it never ceases to amaze me the women of this Church!!! You are beautiful Sabina – inside and out and I will always remember your courage and smile!!! One of the missionaries that introduced me to the Church said to me once that God answers your prayers through other people and I believe you just answered mine.

  12. Marintha Miles
    4:24 pm on February 2nd, 2011

    I didn’t know Sabina, but through mutual friends knew of her. I can only say I felt inspired to interview Sabina. I immediately felt her energy when we met at the group home where she works. She has a beautiful smile and wonderful laugh. Sabina is so down-to-earth, she could make anyone feel comfortable!
    Sabina is one of the most inspiring people I’ve met, not because of the hurdles she’s had to jump through in life, but because of her ability to find peace in times of tumult-and because she is so grounded in deep faith and a sure hope that no matter what happens, all will be well. Thanks Sabina for letting me interview you.

  13. Claudia McDonald
    2:08 pm on February 28th, 2011

    Sabina…you’re an amazing woman and example. ! Our ward is lucky to have you!

  14. Sabina Suggs
    8:57 am on April 23rd, 2011

    Hi everyone! It’s me, Sabina. I have a new Team in Training website. It is http://pages.teamintraining.org/dm/dublin11/ssuggs

    Thank you so much for your words of encouragement and support!

  15. Kirsten Beitler
    8:52 am on March 2nd, 2012

    Thanks so much for this. In the last 2 months both my mom and now my father-in-law have been diagnosed with cancer. They are both strong, amazing people, just like you! I am also a mom of adopted children and totally agree with you that it was worth going through the physical problems that led me to adoption so I could be their mom. Love you to and your family.

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