SW INSPIRE: Susan Bertrand
Founder, Maureen’s Hope Foundation
BY JENNA SCHIFFERLE | PHOTO BY KELLY KANE
Though Jan. 19 will mark 10 years since her sister passed away, Susan Bertrand can still remember Maureen’s sense of humor. Maureen was strong-willed and charismatic with few regrets in life. She took everything in stride and was constantly making Susan laugh. The sisters were lifelong friends. But on June 5, 2001, that laughter quieted when their lives took an unexpected turn. Maureen was diagnosed with clear cell adenocarcinoma , a form of cervical cancer. She was pregnant, and the baby would not survive treatment. That didn’t stop Maureen from fighting until the very end.
Toward the end of Maureen’s battle, Susan and her family organized a benefit for Maureen to help cover her medical costs. It raised a significant amount of money, but Maureen passed away a few weeks before the benefit was held. Susan and her family contemplated what to do. They finally decided to take the money and give it back to the community. They used the money to help build a playground for Ronald McDonald House, and Susan decided to make baskets. She filled each basket with small tokens such as lip balm and soft blankets — things that helped Maureen during her struggle. She then made them available to people who were struggling with cancer.
She was inspired by the small difference she made with these baskets and during her grieving process, she sought a way to honor Maureen. She decided to take her efforts and turn them into a non-profit organization called Maureen’s Hope. Because of the name, people often make the mistake of calling Susan by her sister’s name. It doesn’t upset her by any means, because it’s a beautiful way to remember her sister, Susan said.
The foundation has evolved since its creation and now has several major programs for cancer patients and their families. The baskets they make are meant to inspire and promote healing, and each one is made specifically for the recipient. “I put my heart and soul into each basket. I try to make them all special,” Susan said.
In addition to the baskets, Maureen’s Hope sponsors the Beads of Courage program for children who are going through cancer treatments. Each child who signs up for the program receives a string of beads that spells out his or her name. After each treatment or procedure, the health care provider gives another bead to add to the string. This promotes perseverance and gives each child something to strive for during their difficult times. The foundation also gives You and Me Bears to children at hospitals so that they can share them with family and friends when they are apart.
Susan’s work gives her a way to honor the memory of her sister, while helping other people who are going through similar experiences. In 2010, Susan decided to go one step further and signed up for the Livestrong Challenge in Philadelphia, a 100-mile bike race. She had always been a devoted cyclist and thought that this would be the perfect way to combine her passion for raising money for cancer research with cycling.
Her life took another unexpected turn when she hit the 43-mile marker during the race. The weather was poor and the roads were slick and slippery. Susan was in the zone, and very focused, but she lost control of her bike and was launched into a cement boulder. Her friends realized that she was not with them and went back to find her unconscious. She was rushed to the hospital and expected not to survive. “Literally when I got to the hospital, it came down to a matter of minutes.”
Susan was bleeding internally and was put into a medically-induced coma for two weeks. With her fighting spirit, she pulled through and slowly recovered, despite cracked teeth and difficulty speaking and walking. During her recovery, Susan said she found herself at the receiving end of people’s good will, a place she was not accustomed to being. This inspired her even more in her later efforts with Maureen’s Hope. Now, she personally understood the power of giving.
The accident threatened to scare Susan away from cycling, but she didn’t let it. After her recovery, she got back on her bicycle and slowly started riding again. The fear was still there, but she wouldn’t let it discourage her.
“I had my health, and I told myself, how can I not do something I love?” This past September she took part in another 100-mile ride. “Fear can be paralyzing and I think you have to face it to fully overcome it.”