Vanity license plates allow Susan Hansen to connect with the people who saved her life.
Susan Hansen is proud to be the 7th and final daughter of the daughter of the daughter of the daughter......(you get it) to have lived in Virginia City, Montana. She loves creating art in many mediums especially watercolors and stained glass. When she is not doing those things, she is likely listening to a story or telling a story at Toastmasters or in the private home of an elderly person.
This episode of Tell Us Something was recorded in front of a live audience on March 29th, 2016, at The Wilma in Missoula, MT. 9 storytellers shared their story based on the theme “Why Didn’t Anyone Tell Me?”.
Today’s podcast comes to us from Susan Hansen and is titled "Paradox Pairdox (or) Serendipity in a Construction Zone". Thank you for listening.
Some of the best times of my life have been when I spent time as a non-traditional student at Montana Tech. I had no idea that I was a nerd. I loved learning. And this school open up just a whole new world for me. I loved meeting the professors who are so passionate about their work.
There were actually two professors married to each other who stood out to me. They did a lot of civic work. They were active with Big Brothers and Sisters. On a few days of the year they would put on a chemistry show for middle schoolers to entice them to become scientists in chemistry like they were.
And you know, I love a clever license plate. Whenever I drove over by the chemistry department I would see their two little twin cars and the license plates each said PAIRADOX.
Well as much as I loved Montana Tech, I did not want to continue to have to drive by the house where my former fiancee's truck was parked at his new fiancee's house. I told everybody that I was going to Missoula because I wanted to study psychology, and I did want to study psychology, but I needed a change of scenery really bad.
So Missoula here I come. And it was a town of peace and love. I knew that because there was a peace sign up on the hill. Well, those professors at Montana Tech that I liked so well with the clever license plates, I did know a little bit about their research.
Their research involved a drug called Taxol®. They were having a lot of problems getting their drug accepted by the medical community as a treatment for breast cancer.
Pretty soon I found myself with some lumps on the side here and I didn’t think about it too often except in the bathtub and then the rest of the day I’d forget about it. But one day it was October which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I was driving past my doctor's office, and on the radio it said, Breast Cancer Awareness Month get yourself checked, and I did.
Well, I just knew that eventually, after appointment, after appointment, after appointment, that one of those doctors was going to say oh no it's nothing. I was prepared for that. I was not prepared for the day when they said, yes you've got it. And I had to have surgery.
Surgery. It's kind of a nice word for saying mastectomy, and mastectomy is a nice word for saying they're going to cut me.
Three weeks after that, I got to start chemotherapy. One of the chemotherapy drugs with called Taxol®. So I thought about those two professors. Don and Andrea Stierle,every once in awhile in kind of a passing way.
Well, I thought about them a lot when I looked in the mirror and I didn't have any hair. I did eight rounds of chemotherapy, then I did radiation, and I did reconstruction. This is plastic. The miracles of modern medicine -- they're amazing. And so many of us who are afflicted with cancer go on to live long, long, long lives.
I'm one such lucky person. That's been 11 and a half years since I had that surgery.
I went back to work. I went to work for Corporations Fuck You. I got to work on the phones.
Thank you for calling Corporation Fuck You. My name is Susan. How are you today?
That job was killing me. I. I survived cancer, to work this job?
Everyday I complained to my brother. I said, they did this and they did that and it's awful I just can't stand it any longer. He said, Well why don't you go to work on road construction? You can work in the same environment where I work.
Me? Really? Road Construction?
Yes. You can be a flagger. You go downtown to the Union Hall, sign up, they’ll train you.
They did. They trained me. Very well.
They called me a Traffic Control Technician. Very powerful. And they told me that my job was safet,y and the first person that I had to keep safe was myself. it's the same as the old story about being on the airplane with oxygen mask and you need to put your own oxygen on first. And so I had to keep myself safe first too. I had to keep the people who are driving through road construction safe and I needed to be aware of the safety of others working on there.
It was a different world. I loved it. It was awful. It was hot.
I stood on my feet, sometimes 13 hours a day, and you're not allowed to sit because it psychologically takes your attention away from your job of keeping everyone safe. So I stood with my sign, and my hard hat, and my boots.
You know on the first day, I arrived on the construction site, and I tried to -- act like I knew what I was doing? I thought I had shiny boots and a shiny new road construction hat. And on my radio there was a little button that said MON? Over the radio I said, Now, tomorrow is Tuesday. Will I get a new radio or new button? And they loved that. They know I was a rookie right away.
I made friends with every car that I stopped, well with every person, who was driving the car. And. And I told them that they needed to drive 25 miles per hour. They needed to follow closely.
And -- then I would get to talk to ‘em. And I got to hear so many stories. If you think you get to hear stories here, well I got to hear stories all day long. It was it was the best job for me.
Well, one day, I got to see lots of clever license plates, by the way, one day, there was a license plate that drove up and it said: DNA. Hmmm. I wonder what that stands for? Well I told the occupants of the car the whole spiel about how fast they could drive, and they seemed like they're having fun. And, pretty soon, I look really close at their faces and I said, Are you two professors, at Montana Tech?
They said, Well, yes we are. Did you use to take some of our classes? Have been our student?
No I've never been your student, but I certainly did use your drug Taxol®. I know that you're having a lot of trouble having that accepted by the medical community, and you must have been successful because here I am to prove that that's a great drug.
It was the most wonderful reunion that I have ever had in my life. Pretty soon it was time for them to drive off with a pilot car -- and I was so sad to see them go.
Don stuck his head out the window and he said, Thank you.
And I said, No! Thank you!
Nobody ever told me that I would be able to say thank you to the scientist who developed the drug that saved my life.