Posted by Judy Engibous
She was witty, warm, and lit up a room. Coworkers and clients alike loved her, and many of us were privileged to call her a friend. She was Sue Green, the program coordinator of JF&CS Healthy Families. She was generous with her friendship, her sense of humor, her skills – and sometimes with facing unpleasant realities. In 2009, when she was awarded the Stephen M. Cahn Award for Excellence in Human Services from the Massachusetts Children’s Trust Fund, she stood up in front of a distinguished audience and calmly announced that she had been battling ovarian cancer since 2000, and by giving her this award, had people heard something from her oncologist that he hadn’t told her?
For those who believe in the metaphor of cancer as something to be battled, Sue was a warrior. One of her favorite compliments was when her son Jeff told her, “Mom, you do cancer like a Viking.” When Jeff and his sisters Annie and Elizabeth followed up by tracking down a Viking hat, complete with blonde braids, Sue loved it and wore it proudly. She worked through multiple relapses of cancer, mentoring those she supervised and helping her clients - young parents - become better parents. She helped us all become better people for having known her.
I would have known Sue mostly over budgets and contract paperwork except that more than four years ago I ran into my own unpleasant reality: breast cancer. Coming from a similar faith background, I found in Sue someone who could help me through not just the physical aspects of cancer but the spiritual. Cancer stretched and increased her faith. She reminded me of a favorite quote from another friend, her version of a line from a book by physicist Robert Jastrow, that when the scientists get to the top of the mountain of knowledge, they will find that the theologians have been sitting there for centuries. Her faith and her determination helped her survive much longer than might have been predicted. With my treatments over, Sue’s relapses continued, and I tried to support her as she had supported me. I found out that the best ways to do that were to pray for her and to make her laugh. I never gave her gifts and cards about cancer; instead I looked for things like the fake nose and glasses combination I gave her before a surgery, for when she might want to hide from her doctors. She roared when she saw it, a memory I treasure. It was called “Mr. Boss,” and Sue decided to keep it in her cubicle to remind her coworkers to respect her.
We held a celebration of Sue’s life and work last fall at the agency. It was a special event for a special person, in effect eulogizing her while she was still around to enjoy it. Former coworkers and others who had known her personally and professionally attended as well. We shared memories and stories of Sue, food, and many laughs. Her first grandchild had been born a few days earlier, a milestone Sue had been determined to see. She told us that her next goal was to be there for the marriage of her daughter Elizabeth on January 15. Many of us did not expect her to make it. She did and died two days later, surrounded by her family. She left behind three grown children and their spouses, a grandson, and many more people who love her, remember her, and thank her. Susan Lance Green, we miss you.
Judy Engibous is JF&CS Contracts and Grants Manager and a cancer survivor who would usually rather talk about spreadsheets or just about anything else.