Susan Mortensen-Turley was young, talented and bright. It couldn’t have gotten any better. At 25, Mortensen-Turley, a 2001 Corona del Sol graduate, had a great life, years of accomplishments and a bright future.
And one day cancer took it all away.
After losing a battle with colon cancer in December 2008, her family wants to make sure her dream and memory remain alive and has created the Susan Mortensen Turley Foundation. It is geared toward cancer awareness among young people and supporting individuals whose lives have been touched by cancer.
“We want to educate young adults so that when they’re going off to school and they’re in charge of their own healthcare, that they’ll be better equipped to talk to their own doctors,” Susan’s mother, Janet Mortensen, said.
It can happen to anyone at any age.
Susan was a cross-country and track star at Corona del Sol High School, and was selected as female student athlete of the year. She excelled in athletics and in the classroom. After high school, she competed for the University of Arizona Wildcats cross-country and track teams. She graduated, got a job and later married.
In the summer of 2008 Susan became ill.
“She really started feeling poorly,” Janet recalled. “In June she started getting really sick and (doctors) thought maybe she had an ulcer or something.”
After a colonoscopy, doctors found the source of her sickness. She had colon cancer.
“It was really a late stage of cancer,” her mother said. “It had spread into her liver.”
Janet said Susan was outgoing, funny, positive, impactful, helpful and smart. Even while engaging in the biggest fight of her life, Susan had others in mind. She wanted to help people who were thrust into a situation just like hers.
“Right before (Susan) passed away she wanted to help other people.”
The foundation, Janet said, is making an impact by raising awareness in a number of ways. There will be a 5K run on March 27 at Kiwanis Park. Registration can be done at the event, and the proceeds will assist with the foundation. Janet said the foundation also will have a retreat for young adults dealing with cancer.
“They can go relax and get away. Once you get cancer it kind of takes over your life. It’s nice to get away sometimes,” she said. “They can be young adults and try not to worry about this cancer.”
Susan, whose name will grace the Female Student Athlete of the Year award at Corona starting this year, kept a blog. In one entry, she wrote about the importance of getting checked early. The blog post impacted others.
“A lot of people got tested earlier than 50 (the recommended age for testing),” Janet said. “We’ve known five people so far that have talked to their doctors.”
A friend, 35 years of age, asked his doctor for a colonoscopy. Doctors found two polyps. One was pre-cancerous. Janet’s sister-in-law, in her 40s, had her colon checked, and pre-cancer cells were found. Since they both had theirs detected early, the cancer can be addressed and treated.
Janet said the foundation is also working with hospitals and the American Cancer Society. The foundation is working hard to help young adults get checked early.
“The educational part is going to be huge,” Janet said. “If you catch them early, you don’t have to go through what (Susan) went through. It was awful. It was absolutely awful.”
With education as its top goal, the foundation is working hard to spread its message. Janet said she hopes it can grow and make an impact in many young adult’s lives.
“We hope to fund programs for support groups .We want to do retreats. We would like to do a pamphlet for the American Cancer Society and talk to schools,” she said.
“We want to educate them. We want to help them while they’re sick. We have some big goals.”