Physical therapist Teri Caputo helps Joanne Susi onto the shuttle.
By Linda Thomas
Hometown Weekly Correspondent
She knew it was cancer even before the doctor told her. She wasn’t surprised. She wasn’t scared.
She just knew.
“I knew that I wasn’t going to die,” she said. “I simply asked God what I was being shown.”
For Joanne Susi, a 69-year-old Walpole mother of three, she knew everything happens for a reason — and her faith and belief are what inspire her to get out of bed every morning.
From breast cancer to two divorces and a stroke that nearly killed her, she has simply trusted her gut instincts.
She calls it her “trusting place.”
“Because of her amazing attitude and loving nature, Joanne has been able to live a life that spreads joy to others,” said Michael Kane, owner and physical therapist of Norwood Physical Therapy, where Susi has been getting treatment for the past seven years.
“Furthermore,” Kane said, “she has been the keynote speaker at brain injury symposiums around New England, where she is able to further spread her story of how spiritual strength can overcome physical disabilities.”
Susi was in her early 40s when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. She persevered through chemotherapy and radiation. The cancer was gone — or so she thought. Three years later, it came back, and she needed both breasts removed.
Her focus is not “why is this happening to me,” but rather, “What is this about?”
And her answer:
“It’s another school you’re going to in order to help more people.”
Kane remembers that first day and days that followed, when Susi was wheelchair-bound and needed her family to drive her. Now, she drives herself in her adapted car and walks independently into the clinic.
“Pretty amazing to see how she has improved,” he said. “Clearly, Joanne is struggling with a great deal of physical disabilities. However, each time she walks through the doors of Norwood PT, she enters with a huge smile and friendly greeting for everyone.
“I have never, ever, observed her feeling sorry for herself,” Kane added. “Her positive attitude is contagious throughout the clinic and truly helps to spread some perspective to other patients.” Kane said he and his staff have helped Susi improve her walking and increase her strength and functional mobility. But, he said, “she has helped us more.
“Joanne spends time with everyone in the clinic and finds out how they are doing and wants to know if she can help them in any way.”
Susi often follows her instincts.
“I believe my intuition has saved me,” she said, “plus a few winks from God.”
It was Saturday, March 22, 2008, the day before Easter.
For Susi, Saturdays were typically reserved for grocery shopping.
But that particular Saturday, she didn’t feel herself. She felt lightheaded … as though she was going to pass out.
Logic told her to stay home, lie on the couch and don’t take a chance driving.
But then she heard an inner voice tell her to put her coat on, drive to the store and abandon logic.
She prayed all the way to the store, grateful she had arrived safe.
“I was happy as a lark and said to myself, ‘I’m here. I’m okay.’”
But she was far from okay.
Her carriage was full of groceries and before heading to the register to check out, she stopped by the bakery for a muffin or two.
“I went blind,” she recalls. “I kept blinking, thinking there was something wrong with my contact lens. But then my sight came back, and I forgot about the muffins and headed to the register. My phone was ringing,” she recalled. “I had a hard time getting it out of my pocketbook. My legs were shaking so badly, I could barely stand up.
“All of a sudden, the bagger came around and put her arms around my waist and said, ‘I’m not going to let you fall.’ And before I knew it an ambulance arrived, put me on a stretcher and we headed to the hospital.”
It was a stroke.
“Had I listened to logic, I believe I wouldn’t be alive today.”
The next thing she remembers was waking up in the intensive care unit, and later moved to the neurology floor when she was diagnosed with having a hemorrhagic stroke. She needed surgery to help stop the bleeding in her brain.
While she survived the surgery, doctors told her children she “probably” would never walk again.
“My daughter quickly told the doctors, ‘You don’t know my mother.’
“I’m going to be better than before,” Susi remembers telling her children, “better spiritually, physically, emotionally and mentally.”
How did she know that?
“It was,” she said, “my conversation with God that assured me of what I believed.”
Soon after the surgery Susi was moved to a rehabilitation hospital for physical, occupational and speech therapy.
She had to learn how to walk again.
But one of the most important steps she learned was the power of focus.
“I had to focus when walking to avoid falling,” she said. “To this day, I still must focus when doing anything.”
While working with her physical therapist at the rehab, she noticed her heart beating a bit faster than normal. She attributed it to exercising. But she soon learned she was suffering from atrial fibrillation. She needed a pacemaker and medication.
Following three years of rehabilitation, in March 2011 Susi moved into an accessible apartment in Walpole, where she has been living ever since.
One day that summer, Susi was going to the hair salon with a friend. She took one large step, lost her balance and fell.
An orthopedist recommended physical therapy. And that’s how she found Michael Kane and Norwood Physical Therapy.
Susi grew up in Norwood, the second oldest of four.
As the only daughter, she took pride in caring for her two brothers. And her early maternal instinct emerged at the age of 8 when she prayed for her mother to become pregnant. Two years later, her sister was born, and she threw herself into the caring of her little sister as well as helping to run the household.
Even as a little girl, Susi had an inner strength and a sense of prescience.
She was five when she knew three things would happen in her life.
She knew she wanted to play the piano. She knew she wanted to be a teacher. And she knew she would find God.
She took piano lessons for nine years, playing for pleasure. She became a life coach as a way to help others find inspiration and improve their own lives. And she found God, who, she says, has guided her throughout her physical, mental and emotional challenges.
“I’ve been blessed with a positive attitude,” she said. “I’m an overflowing, glass-half-full kind of person. I’m in love with life.
“I don’t know why or how,” she said. “I don’t question. I just trust in my faith and maintain a very strong will.
“It’s just who I am.”
Editor’s Note: Linda Thomas writes for Hometown Weekly Publications, Inc. For comments and suggestions, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org