While this post is about me, it really is meant to be about Susan Niebur, who passed away today from inflammatory breast cancer. She was a fighter and an inspiration for many. My biggest regret is that I never had the chance to meet her.
I’ve been thinking so much about writing this post. I wanted to write it. I wanted Susan to read it and know how I felt. But I didn’t want it to feel so contrived. I didn’t want to be part of “the bandwagon.”
There are so many causes that are near and dear to my heart but I’m cautious about how I approach them because I want people to know it’s something that speaks to me and not just something that everyone else is talking about.
And instead, I wait for today, of all days, the day we say goodbye to Susan to really write about how I feel. It’s bad form. It’s bad taste. I don’t want to make her tragedy about me. But I can’t not write about it.
I’ve known of Susan for a few years. When I was new to blogging, I met one of her oldest and dearest friends, Marty Long, right here in Raleigh. I learned of their friendship but never really knew how deep it went. I knew Susan was a brilliant scientist – an astrophysicist – what some might call a real, live rocket scientist.
I love meeting women in science. I went off to college in 1988 with ambitions of becoming an astronomer with hopes of one day becoming part of NASA’s space program. That career was derailed very early on when I realized how much calculus and physics were involved (neither were my favorite or best subject). I switched to Biology with a minor in Chemistry.
After graduating, I spent time as a research assistant at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Finally, science came out of the textbooks and came alive in my hands. It was then that I knew I wanted to teach science to kids. I wanted to teach them how to bring science to life and apply it to the world around them.
I went on to become a middle school science teacher. After a year, I moved out of state and embarked on one of several other careers. I never lost my love of science and when I meet someone in my world these days that shares the same passion, it reminds me why I fell in love with it so many years ago.
So Susan was one of those people. She was someone I looked up to. She was a smart woman, a scientist, a wife and mother. She was a writer, a blogger, an activist.
Where’s the regret?
I attended Type-A Parent Conference last year. I was surprised to see Susan in attendance. I knew she was ill but never really knew the severity on any given day. She was surrounded by people who clearly knew her and loved her. We had talked on Twitter and I wanted a chance to say hello.
It was the night of the Bloganthropy awards. Katherine Stone (the previous year’s recipient) had gotten up to present the Blogger of the Year award to the new recipient. It was Susan. I thought I would quickly dash to the bathroom. The conference bathrooms were small and it was hard to grab a moment and why I took that moment still baffles me. As I returned to the table, my friend Melissa was wiping away tears. In fact, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.
I felt like such a heel. Why did I do that? Then I felt utterly foolish. I didn’t want to go up to Susan, say hello, and not know anything about the speech she had just given. So instead, I did nothing.
A few days later, Susan tweeted to me “I wish we had gotten a chance to say hello!”
I do too.
Susan is now gone. She is free from suffering and heartache. She is free from worrying about how to tell her little boys goodbye. While I didn’t have a chance to say hello, I did have a chance to say goodbye.
As part of the @whymommy love fest, I sent my picture to be included in what her friends and colleagues were calling the “the best, most awesome eCard that has ever been made–for our sweet friend…”
You have inspired me as a scientist, a writer, a mother, and most importantly, a human being.