Greensboro, N.C. - Three little words can change a person's life forever. "I love you" carries a lot of positive power. But, when a doctor says "You have cancer," those three words can send you into a depression...unless, you refuse to let the disease win.
Susan Sassmann knew something was wrong when she had trouble swallowing. She got it checked out and doctors told her it was esophageal cancer. She had a twenty percent chance of beating the disease.
But, Sassmann survived. Her attitude may have been the best medicine.
"There's a lot more good in cancer than bad," she said.
When Sassmann got cancer, friends and loved ones filled her heart with love and support.
"I never felt so wrapped up in love by strangers, people in prayer circles in other parts of the country I'd never met," she said.
She said big problems facing the world became insignificant, "Can I get from here to there without throwing up becomes the big deal. Can I get this applesauce down without choking...big deal. Can I take a shower without passing out?"
Even after she lost forty pounds and all her hair, she kept smiling.
"I loved the bald head. I thought that was fabulous."
Sassmann sported more than 100 hats and wigs.
"I'm kind of the hat chick in Greensboro," she said, "Pink is the color for breast cancer. Periwinkle is the color for esophageal cancer. I really should have a periwinkle wig, but I haven't found one."
She turned her surgical scars into art with henna tattoos.
"I dressed up and went out and tried to have as much fun with cancer as one could possibly have," she said.
She also encouraged other cancer patients and continues to work with them today.
"We're all cancer vixens," she said. "We are the survivors. We are women who've been there, done that. We will lead the charge for the women who will come behind us to help them navigate that whole journey of having cancer."
Sassmann has been cancer free for about a year now and says she's never felt better.
Esophageal cancer begins in the inner layer of your esophagus. Esophageal cancer mostly affects men ages 65 and older, smokers and heavy drinkers.
Other risk factors include having a diet that's low in fruits and vegetables, obesity and acid reflux.
Esophageal cancer may cause food to get stuck in your esophagus or come back up. You may have pain when swallowing, pain in your chest or back, weight loss, heartburn, or a hoarse voice or cough that doesn't go away within two weeks.