[00:00:00] Adam Walker: Support for The Real Pink Podcast comes from Merck.
From Susan G Komen. This is Real Pink, a podcast exploring real stories, struggles, and triumphs related to breast cancer. We’re taking the conversation from the doctor’s office to your living room.
Finding and seeing joy in life can be a challenge when you’ve been diagnosed with cancer four times and lost numerous family members to the disease, it can be even more of a challenge. However, Sulie Spencer has found ways to be victorious and body, mind, and spirit, and shines her light on every path she crosses. He’s a great example of what faith in God, prayer and early detection can do as a 46 year survivor, she’s here today on our podcast alongside her daughter Julie Washington, to share their family’s story, how to find joy in life despite life’s ups and downs, and how Julie was able to capture her mother’s spirit and passion for cooking in a book titled Recipes For Joyous Living, A Story of Inspiration. Julie and Sulie, we are thrilled to have you here together. Welcome to the show!
[00:01:13] Sulie Spencer: Thank you.
[00:01:13] Julie Washington: Thank you, Adam.
[00:01:14] Adam Walker: Well, I can already tell, I mean, just based on the title of your book, I can tell this is going to be a great interview and there’s not another book on my reading list.
Because I, I need to get better at my cooking, so I’m hoping this can help with that, Sulie. So, so Sulie, let’s start with you. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and about your cancer journey?
[00:01:35] Sulie Spencer: My name is Sulie Gooden Spencer. I was born in Mississippi, came from a large family. I’m the 11th of 15 children. Came to Florida in 1957. Met and married my husband, James Spencer, and we were married for 53 years. I have two daughters, Jennifer and Julie. My journey with cancer began in 1976. I was, after self-exam, I wa had a biopsy and I was diagnosed with breast cancer and I had a radical mastectomy. So after that, I, everything was fine until 2002. 2002 in August on the left side, I had found another lump. This time I only had a lumpectomy, but that is a result of the lumpectomy. I was, I had to have radiation. I had 42 treatments of radiation. So that’s my Breast cancer part of the journey. Then in that, in 2016,
I had a, I had surgery, and after the surgery I was diagnosed with mesothelioma in the lining of my stomach, and along with the mesothelioma, I had lymphoma of the right lung, so that was some more chemo this time. So after four, four months of chemo, I was diagnosed that I was cancer free. So what I would tell anyone, be sure you do your self exam. Have a pray that you have a great doctor. Because the doctors are the key to follow up and to let you know what you should or shouldn’t do. So that’s cancer, my journey in cancer
[00:03:58] Adam Walker: And that and just to that’s a 46 year journey in cancer. I just want to make sure I’ve got that correct?
[00:04:04] Sulie Spencer: Yes.
[00:04:05] Adam Walker: Wow. That is absolutely remarkable.
[00:04:08] Sulie Spencer: November before, for 47 years.
[00:04:12] Adam Walker: Wow. That’s remarkable.
[00:04:13] Sulie Spencer: November 17th.
[00:04:15] Adam Walker: Well, so Julie, a, as a daughter, what’s it been like to watch her mother go through all of this?
[00:04:22] Julie Washington: You know, in 1976, I was only 10, so I didn’t know what was going on, and back then they didn’t say cancer. It was the big c I just knew a lot of family members came in, people were crying. So I don’t think I really understood what was going on. But in 2002, I was a mother and I had a very good understanding of what cancer was by then.
And so I had a different, I’ll call it second part journey, and then of course, a different seat altogether on cancers three and four, I was able to, I would say, lean and follow my mom. What I mean by that is if she wasn’t seeming to worry about it, I think I just didn’t worry about it. And if she was praying, we were praying and when she went to treatment, we went to treatment. And so a lot of how I, the daughter showed up was predicated upon how my mom showed up. And I’d say lastly, through all of this. I’ve become a strong medical advocate. I know her doctors, they always know me as the daughter that’s out of town, that’s on the phone, right? So I’m on the phone in the appointments, but because I’m not here to be able to go to the various doctor appointments or treatments, but you have to know how to advocate and support. For your family members and for those who are going through. And so at the core of this good communication both as the daughter to the mom, but also the daughter to the doctors. And so that’s sort of my seat at the table without being the patient at the table.
[00:06:08] Adam Walker: Okay. So you’re the daughter on the speakerphone in the in the I love that. I love the dedication. I love that. Okay. That’s important. That’s really important. So, I understand that you have an extensive family history of breast cancer. I wonder if you can tell us about that and if it’s changed the course of your family’s screenings and how you think about that.
[00:06:29] Julie Washington: Yeah, actually our family has an extensive cancer story.
[00:06:33] Adam Walker: Okay.
[00:06:34] Julie Washington: So it’s not just breast cancer, unfortunately, we ha I have uncles and then aunts relative to prostate cancer and colon cancer. But when we think specifically about sort of the breast cancer portion of it, my sister my older sister, she actually is a 10 year survivor this year of her own breast cancer journey. Right. So I’ve seen it here, but I’ve also seen it with the sibling and then I’ve seen it with the relatives. And so, at 33 I start at my mammograms. So that’s well before 50 40 pick a number, but I was the 33 year old, have a mammogram journey. And now in addition to the monthly exams, because I know the importance of early detection and that my mom found her two breast cancer lumps on her own. I also in the fall, have a 3d breast imaging mammogram. And in the spring I do an MRI. So I’m always, I’ll call it on a machine, making sure all is well. But that’s a small thing to do, to invest in my health and wellness. And so what we’ve tried to ensure is that our family, knows our history. And when you know your history, you should then act accordingly about what changes or considerations you need to make along the journey. So maybe it doesn’t have as much of a strong haul as it has in our family tree.
[00:08:04] Adam Walker: That’s right. Yeah. Knowing your history is so, so important. I love that you’re doing that, that you’re sharing, I mean, even here that you’re sharing. So, so then I’m curious with all the testing you’re doing, have you also undergone genetic testing?
[00:08:17] Julie Washington: Yeah, actually after my mom’s second breast cancer, my sister and I had a long discussion of what would we do, what should we do? So of course I’m doing the early mammograms, but my sister decided to do the BRCA testing. To see: did she have the gene? Is it somewhere in our DNA? But actually there was nothing in her testing that would’ve indicated she was at high risk. Even though it would be years later that she would be diagnosed with breast cancer. Full stop. I have a daughter, and so since I have a daughter, I felt it was then all the more important for me to double down on genetics.
So I actually did about a year, two years ago, the 67 genetic panel testing. So I went as wide as we could to have a better appreciation and understanding of what might be in the family tree, all as well according to the gene panel. But that doesn’t give me the full confidence to just say I can live free. I’m trying to be responsible around health and wellness for me, for my daughter, what we eat, how we exercise, how we live to ensure the things that my mom has overcome are things that we can celebrate with her, but we also don’t have to walk that same journey.
[00:09:36] Adam Walker: You can learn from her and be guided by her experience. Right?
[00:09:40] Julie Washington: Most definitely.
[00:09:41] Adam Walker: Yeah. That’s that’s the most important thing. Absolutely. So, so Sulie how have you found and kept joy through a life that’s dealt you some tough, some difficulties along the way?
[00:09:54] Sulie Spencer: I’ve kind of labeled it under three: faith, my faith in God that has kept me. So the faith. And then my love for food. I love to cook. And then sports, so you could take it in that order sometimes.
[00:10:22] Adam Walker: Okay. Okay.
[00:10:24] Sulie Spencer: But sports sports is one of my favorite, and I play just as hard as the team on the field, and I’m, if I’m not coaching I’m the referee and I’m telling him how to do his or her job. So if it was basketball, football, baseball tennis and then I got a love of NASCAR and I never at first liked nascar. All this running around round and round, you know, you’re not getting anywhere. So, so, but then I, after Jimmy Johnson and his sixth rule of win, and I think he won seven times, and I was out there with 48. I was helping Jimmy Drive those cars. You know. So when the race is over, when the game is over, I think I’m more tired than the players. And yesterday I kept going to sleep, because I was tired.
[00:11:39] Adam Walker: That’s amazing. Okay, so I have to ask then, do you have a favorite sports team in particular?
[00:11:45] Sulie Spencer: Well, right now I’m into basketball.
[00:11:47] Adam Walker: Okay.
[00:11:48] Sulie Spencer: And you know, last night I even watched hockey. Because a friend called me and say, Sulie watch hockey and pray for the panthers. And so she called, she text me this morning, “Sulie, you did it!”
[00:12:09] Julie Washington: But Adam, I think part to round out the story as a spectator, she really does love sports. And so I think when you can put your heart and mind into something else, whether it’s the food that’s on the table and the fellowship that comes with people eating and enjoying what she’s cooked with her hands. But to watch her watch sports is its own therapeutic for me. Right. But she does, she coaches hard you would think she’s playing or that somebody related to us is playing. I mean, she’s yelling and that’s in person as well as to the tv. And so, I think there’s joy by watching her have joy in something that has nothing to do with what might actually be going on in life.
[00:12:58] Adam Walker: Wow. I love that. That’s so amazing. That’s so amazing. And you’re like an equal opportunity. All sports, you just love ’em all?
[00:13:05] Sulie Spencer: So I love em all and I love cooking. So my first, first, At the time I baked something, my mother didn’t let us do it unless she was there because she wasn’t going to ruin her flour, her butter, or whatever.
So she had gone to town and while she was gone, I had a third grade reader math book and it, and they were introducing you to fractions, and that’s when, and we really didn’t have a measuring cup in the house, we just had regular teacups. And so I had to measure with the teacups, you know, and when she got back, I had made this cake and she was so surprised that I made a cake.
That was the first, first thing that I made on my own, and she wasn’t over my shoulder, “do this, do that,” and we didn’t have mixers then you had to do it by hand. Everything.
[00:14:02] Adam Walker: And did you eat the cake afterwards?
[00:14:06] Sulie Spencer: Oh, now I’m they call me the pound cake maker.
[00:14:12] Adam Walker: All right. Yeah, I love that. That’s so amazing. That’s, well, well, let’s talk more about cooking then. So, so Julie let’s talk about the book Recipes for Joyous Living. Tell our listeners what they can expect from the book. What inspired you to write it and what you hope people can take away from it.
[00:14:29] Julie Washington: Yeah. Well that’s a lot. So let’s see if we can break it apart.
[00:14:32] Adam Walker: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:14:34] Julie Washington: The book is really about inspiration. Right. So life will catch you in ways and places where you just don’t know if you can make it through. And so most people that have gone to school with me, those who have worked with me, they all know my mother. And so whenever, even now when they get into a jam, they’ll say, well, make sure you ask your mom to pray for me. Or if they do want a pound cake, do you think your mom could bake a cake? And my mom used to send our cakes in the mail to college. And so everyone knew that little box from the post office that there would be a cake and a little bit of love inside. And how do you share? That kind of love and that kind of goodness and relationship with others, and I just thought the book would be a great way to do it.
It gets into the why. What’s your purpose? What drives you outside of sports? My mom is determined. I mean, she has a heart and a mind that when she sets it, she does it. I mean, I’ve laughed at the doctors, like when she was doing the chemo, she had lived to see my daughter graduate from high school and to go to debutante cotillion and to go to prom.
So she had then to change her whole chemo schedule so that she could make sure she was there for all three things. But that’s when you know, you know what you want, you’re going to fight to make sure that you see it. And so I thought it would be a great way to tell her story. In nine parts. But then to leave you with a life recipe.
So if you go through something, there’s the first chapter of something to look forward to. There’s a chapter about having and being a good neighbor. There’s a chapter about the love of sisterhood. How can I summarize who and what might show up in your life that might inspire you to do life with others differently?
And then, of course, because she cooks. I put recipes at the end of every chapter, and all of the recipes are actually my, my favorite ones. So I took a little author liberty and only put the things that I enjoy the most, from matza balls to collard greens to fried chicken, you know, so they were things that bring me joy, and I would hope that in life we all can walk forward toward a joyous life.
Even in the midst of some of the dark days that we have in the Diagnosises, we would prefer not to have, but I just thought this was about not just surviving, but could I capture the spirit of how to be an overcomer? And I thought my mom was just a great example of what overcoming actually looks like.
[00:17:17] Adam Walker: I haven’t known you for long, but I would agree she is a great example of overcoming and my main question is in the recipes at the end of the chapters, is there a recipe for poundcake? Like that’s-
[00:17:29] Julie Washington: Yeah, so that’s the other thing. Okay. Some people said, you mean you’re giving the actual recipe? My mom shares everything when you read the book.
[00:17:37] Adam Walker: Yeah,
[00:17:38] Julie Washington: She does. I mean, she usually doesn’t even charge for a cake. She, I was like, do you know the price of eggs, mother? You can’t just keep giving cake away.
[00:17:44] Adam Walker: Yeah. Eggs are real expensive now. Yeah.
[00:17:47] Julie Washington: Yes. So everything is in there. Okay. I’ve even been fortunate enough to include my Aunt Mildred Bryant’s, her sweet potato pie recipe. That’s the only-
[00:17:58] Adam Walker: okay.
[00:17:59] Julie Washington: Mom recipe that’s in there. But it’s just a joy to share with others and for people to make it their own. Yeah. Right.
[00:18:06] Adam Walker: Yeah.
[00:18:06] Julie Washington: You don’t have to do it exactly the way my mom does it, but I think it’s a good starting point and I think those that’ll be around your table will be blessed to enjoy some of the food that resembles what my mom would place on our table.
[00:18:19] Adam Walker: I love, so before I ask you the next question I’m just a little advice because you said that people are asking soly for cakes all the time. You can just tell ’em, listen, go buy the book because the recipe’s in there. Just buy the book and you can make a cake. You can make as many as you want with the book. You just, you have to buy the book,
[00:18:34] Julie Washington: Adam, that sounds so good. But the people who have actually had the cake, we just had this conversation on Saturday.
[00:18:40] Adam Walker: Yeah.
[00:18:40] Julie Washington: And they say, “but it just doesn’t, it’s just better. It always tastes the same.”
[00:18:43] Adam Walker: Yeah. There, there’s no doubt. I have no doubt that’s, there’s some magic coming out of your kitchen that can’t be duplicated. I do understand that. So, exactly. Well, so, all right. So, so then Julie, what what was it like the process of writing the book together and did you learn anything new about your mom while you were writing it?
[00:19:03] Julie Washington: Yeah. Well first I tried to make it into an interview. The marketer in me wants to, you know, cover all the bases. So I have my list of questions, and we went through those and I got to find out about my own family history. It’s just not things you normally talk about. You don’t ask those questions, or why would you get to know about the horse Dempsey, or the dog Spot or the mule, emma? I mean, it doesn’t come up in family conversation, but you find out about what life on the farm was really like. Yeah. My mom had a coworker at the first family that she worked for in Florida, and her name is Evelyn Lake. Well, I didn’t know anything about this woman named Evelyn, but she was a woman before a time. She is a white woman, and in the fifties you would not have done some of the things that Evelyn did. And so life has a way of bringing people in it that you could not have seen anticipated. And it was a joy getting to know people. But then also I found out about other people here in Dinga Beach, Florida. That were so critical to my life, but to our communities progress in life. So just asking questions and doing the discovery work and hearing names and knowing the sacrifice, and knowing the courage and the bravery that people had. So it wasn’t just about my mom. I’m glad that I was able to bring other names and characters and leaders forward that it’s a story about all of us, although she’s the central character in the story.
I’ve learned that my mom has a strong heart as well as a strong mind, right? She just doesn’t accept whatever is laid before. She’s going to evaluate it, bring it out, maybe arm wrestle it, just like she would the referees in a game. But she’s not going to take just what you give her lying down and that she has. The fortitude and the strength that I admire. And I really hope that’s something in the DNA that’s passed down that I have that same grit and determination. But the process of book writing is not for the weak at heart. So I’ll say that as a self-published person, maybe it’s different if you go through a publishing house, but I was determined to honor her life and hopefully encourage someone else.
To meet this woman that they hadn’t yet, but be inspired to want to just live a little different, to love a little deeper. And so I’m glad that I got to know more about me along the way.
[00:21:37] Adam Walker: Wow. I mean, that is, that’s a great answer. And we could end there, but we’re not going to because I have more questions and this is so great.
So, so, Sulie let’s talk a little more about your cooking. What does your cooking mean to you? You’ve talked a little bit about that, but maybe talk about that a little more. And do you have a favorite recipe that’s not necessarily pound cake? Some other recipe. Yeah.
[00:22:03] Sulie Spencer: Well, my favorite go-to recipe that everybody seemed to love is Sulie’s fried chicken. So when I and it’s a easy one, you know, once you get it clean and ready it is a easy one. So that’s one of my favorite.
[00:22:24] Adam Walker: Okay.
[00:22:24] Sulie Spencer: And fixing large dinners. I didn’t, Julie didn’t put that one in, but a brisket. They love for Sulie’s brisket. You’re going to make bri and I’m making brisket and fried chicken on the same, you know, and-
[00:22:45] Adam Walker: I need to come to dinner in your house. That sounds fantastic.
[00:22:49] Sulie Spencer: Yeah. So I, and I love doing it. And so what I would usually do on Fridays, I would say, are you ready for dinner? And I’d say, no, you don’t look hungry. So, hungry people, everything tastes good.
[00:23:04] Adam Walker: Yeah. Yeah.
[00:23:05] Sulie Spencer: So, so as they said, I’m ready, Sulie. And so they would to see your face, the joy it brings, and I, and when you love doing what you do and that’s the big job of the big pleasure, the joy that I get from it. And so, we, yesterday I was making a meatloaf.
And Julie say, “you going to make meatloaf? And we have all that food in there.” Yep. I’m making the meatloaf. And so we had meatloaf yesterday.
[00:23:42] Julie Washington: It’s in the book. It’s one of my favorites.
[00:23:46] Adam Walker: I was hoping you were going to say that. That was a question that was forthcoming. So
[00:23:50] Julie Washington: The meatloaf is in there. I guess the other piece that would I add to the cooking piece, Adam, is, so my mom has been working for the same Jewish family for about 58 years.
So although that you have a lot of soul food restaurant recipes, you actually will find out she probably cooks as well, if not better than many Jewish women that love to cook for their families. So we’ve attended our fair share of Passovers and understand every bit of cultural differences, and I think that’s what food and cooking has the power of it brings you together, whether you’re in Europe, if you’re in another country to taste what home and what love looks like from their table. Yeah, it unites before it divides.
[00:24:35] Adam Walker: Yeah, that’s right.
[00:24:35] Julie Washington: I haven’t seen anybody have a problem when they’re going to name a restaurant that you love people from all walks of life ages and demographics, and I think that’s what love does and that my mom would. Unite people through her food and through the tables that she served on. So at least that’s the observing view of what cooking and food has meant to me while watching her.
[00:24:58] Adam Walker: I love that. Uniting people through food. I love that. And just the joy that exudes from you even as you talk about it, is fantastic. So, so, so then what is your greatest piece of advice that you would want toshare with our listeners Sulie about, about joy or about overcoming or about cooking?
[00:25:19] Sulie Spencer: Joy is what brings pleasure to you, whether it is your faith, you, if you go to church and you come back, The same way you did, you missed out on joy and watching a game, I don’t get joy out of losing. I’m a sore loser and so I, that’s why I play so hard because I don’t like to lose. And then what I can say, if it’s hard to hold on and you know who you’re holding onto, then you, it makes it easier. You get a joy. And when you look back and you say, look what I did, look where he brought me from. So that’s it when it comes to cooking when; when Curry scored those 50 points yesterday.
[00:26:26] Adam Walker: Oh. So we’re now we know you’re a Steph Curry fan now. Okay. Okay.
[00:26:30] Sulie Spencer: Well, but see, I don’t know what I’m going to do now. Because see if Curry win and the Heat win, what I’m going to do, you know, if-
[00:26:41] Julie Washington: and it will be a dilemma, Adam, but I’m sure she’ll work her way-
[00:26:44] Adam Walker: It’s a good dilemma. It’s a good dilemma. Yeah, absolutely.
[00:26:46] Julie Washington: That’s ex, that’s exactly right. So, What I would think about is so, so being who I am, how I’m wired, education is important. You must study to know information and facts on your own. Right. We’ve had great medical teams, but I was a student.
I know the higher risk that black women have for breast cancer death. Right. And so when you know those things, you have to make a conscious decision to do something different. When the odds are against you at a higher rate, then I’ll call it the average rate, right?
[00:27:21] Adam Walker: Yeah.
[00:27:21] Julie Washington: And so I think of Paula and her leadership of Susan Komen and just, you can go online; I don’t even have to know the people in the organization, data is there. And so I’m grateful for people to provide us the wherewithal to learn and to know what can help us as we try to work our way in health and wellness. So I’d say education would be an important piece of advice. Know for yourself. Not just what other people tell you. So ask good questions. But the second piece is be focused on your future. You know, I ran track, I also danced with the ballet company. But the point is, wherever you are when we would do pirouettes, the teacher would always tell us to stay focused on a dot really, on the wall.
[00:28:04] Adam Walker: Yeah.
[00:28:04] Julie Washington: And whenever I was running, my coach used to tell me, not run to the line, but run past the line. You have to focus on the thing further than where you’re trying to go. And I think even in a fight like cancer, you have to decide what’s the future. Whether it’s your granddaughter’s debutante cotillion, or a college graduation. If you can put your future focus in the line of sight, you’ll be amazed what you’re willing to faithfully fight through and fight for. And so those would be just a few other components that I would add from watching the story from my mom and my sister’s cancer journey.
[00:28:44] Adam Walker: Wow. The, I mean, my, it’s just inspiring talking with both of you. All right. So, so let’s say for a second. That other people are as inspired as I am by both of you and are motivated to buy your book, where would they find your book?
[00:29:05] Julie Washington: Well, thank you so much, Adam, for asking that question. They can find the story as well as the recipes. The book is online with all retailers. So just google it.
[00:29:18] Adam Walker: Okay.
[00:29:18] Julie Washington: You’ll find Recipes for Joyous living online. I also try to make sure that if someone wants to buy in larger quantities, anyone that’s buying say 20 or more books. I have a email account through the book called firstname.lastname@example.org. So if you email me, I’ll be sure to get the bigger order, and it would probably be signed books by my mom and myself. So that’s an extra something special versus-
[00:29:44] Adam Walker: nice.
[00:29:44] Julie Washington: You get through, you know, the online retailers, I can’t sign all of those that go through their warehouse, but yeah, so either way they can find it online, find it through the Gmail account, and we’d be more than happy to share the stories. And I, and oh, by the way, there are 20 pictures, so for all the people who may not get a chance to see us they can see a lot of the big family.
[00:30:06] Adam Walker: Yeah.
[00:30:06] Julie Washington: In all parts of my mom’s story and journey through 20 pictures.
[00:30:10] Adam Walker: Well, and I’ll tell you too, I, I went really quickly on Amazon just to make sure I could find it.
[00:30:14] Julie Washington: Yes.
[00:30:14] Adam Walker: It immediately pops up: Recipes for Joyce Living and beautiful cover in all five star ratings. So I’m just saying, it looks pretty great. And I’m thank, incredibly inspired Sulie, Julie, thank you for what you do. Thank you for what you’ve shared with the world, and thank you for sharing your story with us today.
[00:30:31] Julie Washington: Thank you for the opportunity.
[00:30:39] Adam Walker: Thanks to Merck for supporting the Real Pink podcast.
Thanks for listening to Real Pink, a weekly podcast by Susan G Komen. For more episodes, visit realpink.komen.org. And for more on breast cancer, visit komen.org. Make sure to check out @SusanGKomen on social media. I’m your host, Adam. You can find me on Twitter @AJWalker or on my blog adamjwalker.com.