The Voodoo Envy

I was talking to a couple friends this week about my new Voodoo Envy, and they hadn’t seen my interview.  Well, folks, here it is. Please forgive the self-promotion of it all; the Envy folks asked me to post it too, so here it is.  The laptop is really great.  It’s so great, as a matter of fact, that I gave my Dell to WhyDaddy.  He’s tickled, and I’m happy to be rid of it.  (Shh, don’t tell him I said that.)  Here’s the interview that ran on the Voodoo Envy website, The Next Bench, last week.

People of Envy: Susan Niebur

 A few weeks ago we posted an interview with Kris Holm, an extreme unicyclist who has turned his passion into his career (while doing some geoscience on the side).
Today, we want to introduce The Next Bench community to someone else who fits the profile of defying definition. Her name is Susan Niebur, and she is truly an amazing person. Talking to her, I was blown away—not only by her success as a NASA scientist, and her courageous fight against breast cancer, but by her strength and passion and her commitment to staying positive. When she was dealt the terrible blow of a cancer diagnosis with two small children, Susan turned online for support. She is one incredible person, and someone that inspires me. Oh yeah—she also loves her Envy.

Check out our interview.


Rahul Sood: What were some of the biggest challenges for you how did you overcome them?
Susan Niebur: On June 16, 2007, I was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer.  This cancer, a Stage IIIB cancer, is difficult to diagnose because it does not form a lump and is therefore not detected until the cancer spreads to the skin, showing up in the form of a rash, swelling, or a texture change that is not immediately obvious.  I entered treatment immediately, but still had the challenge of raising my baby boys (ages 2.5 and just 5 months), returning to work, and creating a life with my family.  It was very difficult, and I was in bed for most of the 6 months that I was in treatment (after 7 months of bed rest while pregnant with my second child).  I would not have seen anything outside my bedroom were it not for my laptop and the internet.  I began to blog every day, seeking to tell the truth about fighting cancer and raising kids at the same time, and my readers responded, coming out to support me — in a big way.  Last year, I had half a million hits — and thousands of supportive comments.  Being active online helped me stay in touch with family, make new friends, and reconnect with people I hadn’t seen in years — all while I was bedridden and weak.   This constant contact helped me to stay positive and remember the things that were important to help me though the difficult days.

RS: What drives (motivates) you to do what you do?
SN: My children.  I want them to see that they can do anything they set their minds to — and that I always put them first.

RS: What are your thoughts on social media tools (blogs, Twitter, etc.)? How> do you see social media evolving in the next few years?
SN: I think the phrasing of that question is right on.  Social media IS a tool.  It may be a phenomenon now, but I see it evolving to more of an everyday method of communication for more people over the next few years.  Why wouldn’t families write blogs to keep in touch with family members at college or in the military?  Why wouldn’t friends twitter each other to see who’s up for a park day or a playdate?  Widespread adoption of these tools is coming faster than anyone expects.

RS: What compels you to be so active within the blogosphere?
SN: For me, it was a lifeline when I was sick in bed.  Because my immune system was compromised, the only people I saw daily were my husband and children, and any family members visiting to care for us.  It was a very lonely time, and so I reached out to others in the blogosphere, both as a lifeline for myself and a way to keep them company too.
RS: What is your proudest accomplishment?
SN: I have a Ph.D. in Physics, a successful business, a research contract with NASA, and a wonderful life, but my proudest accomplishment is simply that I am able to be present every day with my baby boys.  I am healthy again and able to run, to play, and to laugh with them, and some days I just step back and marvel at it all.  I am healthy again.  I am Mommy.

RS: Who or what inspires you and why?
SN: My friend Lisa is the best mother I have ever met.  She handles the tears, the potty training, the cooking, the laundry, and the disappointments with grace, and I wish that I could take care of my family and friends half as well as she does.

RS: What is the most rewarding experience you have had and what made it so?
SN: Many times I struggle to fit my research in to an already full day, packed with playdates, household chores, blogging, and taking care of family and friends.  It seems as if work and life are often at odds, as they both want to take all my time.  This fall, though, I was able to combine the two worlds gracefully, taking my children with me to an academic conference where both my husband and I were participating.  We split the sessions; I would go to the morning session and he the afternoon.  While one of us was listening to scientific reporting of the geology of Mars, the other would be exploring a local museum, farm, or waterfall with the children.  We both were able to enjoy both sides of life, and introducing my children to colleagues at the conference helped me feel that my life was integrated again.

RS: If you could change any ONE thing, what would it be and why?
SN: Eradicate cancer.

RS: What advice would you offer to others looking to accomplish goals or defy definition?
SN: Choose what is important to you — work, family, publications, free time, sports — and focus on making your life reflect that priority.  With me, it’s my kids.  Everything else I do, from blogging to space science research, stops when my kids need me.  It doesn’t mean that I’m the most successful in any other area, but I am always there for my children, and I am true to that priority.

RS: How important is technology to you?
SN: Vital.  (see next question)

RS: How are you using technology to accomplish your goals?
SN: Without a laptop, the internet, and a few basic tools, I would have spent last year isolated from the world, and I probably wouldn’t have healed nearly as fast or as well.  Now that I’m healthy again, I rely on those tools to get back to work, and to put it away when I need to.

RS: So how have you been using your Envy?
SN: I love the Envy!  I use it to do space science research, to keep up with my 5 blogs, to build community both professionally and in cancer advocacy, to twitter with farflung friends, to propose future work, and to set up playdates.  It’s only been here a week and already I find myself looking forward to naptime or evenings when I can relax and get some work done.  Unlike my old laptop, this one is sleek and professional, and it lets me concentrate on solving the more important problems — like how to find time for research and children in a busy life!
Susan blogs regularly for Mothers With Cancer. You can also read more from Susan on her own blog Toddler Planet, or  on her Twitter feed.


3 Responses to The Voodoo Envy

  1. You're fortunate says:

    You are very fortunate. I have no family, wish I were dead actually. Don’t post this as I’m sure it violates yr standards.

  2. Lisa says:

    I envy your ENVY!!
    Really Susan you are the one who does the inspiring!
    (tears are running down my face, since I read this before and the same thing happened….)
    Hugs and hope that bug is out of your place for good (mine too!!) Miss ya and Merry Christmas!!

  3. whymommy says:

    Thanks, Lisa. Hope we all get over this virus and can play again soon!

    To you’re fortunate (who left a fake email, so I can’t respond directly). I’m sorry for your troubles. I hope that you can find something that interests you and brings you joy.

    You probably don’t know that I almost died last year, that I was so sick I couldn’t move my body at times, and that I had to face the fact that my cancer is almost always fatal. Quickly. But I did, and I can tell you that life means so much more to me now.

    It’s the little things. Every day, there is something that jumps out at me and makes me say, “Wow. I almost missed this.”

    That’s what I do with this blog now. Talk about the things that I’m glad I didn’t miss.

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