In 2007 Susan Niebur, a 34-year-old mother, was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer. Five years later, on Monday, she died.
In that time, the Silver Spring planetary scientist and mother of two young boys turned her experience into a source of solace and guidance to people all over the world. She also likely saved many lives as she rang out warnings about IBC on her blog, Toddler Planet, and through her whirlwind of real and virtual activities.
She made it a mission to give the cancer battle an honest, funny, human soul. And, to make people understand how aggressive IBC can be and how breast cancer can destroy a body without revealing itself through what we’ve come to believe are the tell-tale signs.
Monday, her husband informed fans and followers of her death with a short note that spoke to her reach and the grace with which she faced her cancer:
“She is survived by her family, friends, achievements, and the indelible marks she made on people around the world. In lieu of flowers, please consider furthering Susan’s legacy through a contribution to the Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Or please choose to make a difference somewhere, anywhere, to anyone.
I can’t begin to describe how her friends, those physically nearby and those she knew only on the Internet, enabled her to carry on through five years of treatment and recurrence. Many of you have commented on Susan’s strength and grace, but these were traits that she pulled from all of you.”
In recent days, as her health fled, the community she built rallied around her. The videos her friends and fans compiled to comfort her and her family this past week can be seen on her friend Amy Mascott’s Web site at Teachmama. Here is one of them:
Susan made a plea to friends and readers back in 2007:
“Inflammatory breast cancer is detected by women and their doctors who notice a change in one of their breasts. If you notice a change, call your doctor today. Tell her about it. Tell her that you have a friend with this disease, and it’s trying to kill her. Now you know what I wish I had known before six weeks ago.
You don’t have to have a lump to have breast cancer.”
She went on to repeat this through the years online, on Twitter (where she used the name @whymommy and drew more than 7,000 followers), in speeches and even in letters to certain newspapers.
Her story has been shared thousands of times over. Susan has died, but that story remains. As does, on her Web site, what she called her mantra:
“All that survives after our death are publications and people. So look carefully after the words you write, the thoughts and publications you create, and how you love others. For these are the only things that will remain.”
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