Phenomenal woman

Hays CISD educator motivates self in drive against cancer

Among the plethora of songs Hays CISD educator Yvette Sutten has heard in her lifetime, few hold as much significance as a musical rendition of Maya Angelou’s poem “Phenomenal Woman.”

That poem, as iconic as it is, pops into Sutten’s head whenever she needs a reminder of her own strength.

After all, that tune was the primary song Sutten used to motivate herself during her successful fight against breast cancer.   

Sutten was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago during a routine mammogram that she’d been getting every summer for years. A 50-year-old single mother at the time, to her then 10-year-old son Zane, Sutten only had a moment to take in the news of her diagnosis before she had to develop an action plan.

“I had a fast-growing breast cancer,” Sutten said. “I cried for I think, a minute, and then I had to be a planner for myself and for my son.”

Sutten graduated from Texas State University before becoming a respiratory therapist, which eventually led her on a path to become a teacher at Lehman High, where she prepares students interested in the medical field.

Sutten was the first in her family to be diagnosed with breast cancer and was more than surprised by her diagnosis. She scheduled surgery to have her cancer removed, expecting that was going to be the course of action. Sutten’s doctor later realized she would need radiation treatments for weeks.

“My doctors were 99.9 percent sure I didn’t have cancer, 99.9 percent sure I would only need surgery and 99.9 percent sure I wouldn’t have complications,” Sutten said. “But I had it all. I really needed help to get through it all, and I got it.”

Sutten’s family all live in California, but her chosen-family, a mixture of friends, coworkers and students, made sure she still worked when she could, got to and from treatment and always had childcare.

“The students even made t-shirts that said “Team Sutten” that I still see around, even at HEB sometimes, I’ll see a student still wearing theirs,” Sutten said.

After a year of surgery, chemo treatments and indescribable pain, Sutten’s health improved.

She got her hair back, went back to work, and now, five years later, she and her son barely remember the time she spent fighting for survival.

Sutten said the Breast Cancer Resource Center in Austin offers support to survivors, especially to those who have complications. She also recommends patients keep a strong support system around them, an asset Sutten had plenty of.

“Breast cancer can be pretty expensive,” Sutten said. “I’ll be in debt forever because of it, but I have my life and I have so many people around me that I’ve gotten closer to … and I did find resources that made it easier.”

Another major support Sutten had was the help from Wonders and Worries, an organization focused on survivors and their families. The people at Wonders and Worries aided Sutten with child care. She and her son later held a fundraiser selling pink shoe laces that made $700 for the organization, in return for their free help during her time of need.

Sutten said getting her annual mammogram saved her life, and recommends all women seek annual check-ups and ask for help when they need it.

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