Jeweler loses equipment, peace of mind in theft Studio burglary is setback for breast cancer survivor

March 04, 1997|By Jason LaCanfora | Jason LaCanfora,SUN STAFF

It's rare that Susan Laugen gets depressed.

She remained positive when diagnosed with breast cancer and treated in 1992, and made her friends laugh from her hospital bed when the cancer recurred in 1994 and again last summer. She kept active by joining a band, and she began making jewelry in hopes of earning a living from her craft.

Then her studio was burglarized.

"It just hasn't been a good year," Laugen said. "I thought 1997 would get a little better since I just went through surgery in the summer but the robbery was like a slap in the face.

"This has really been a big one for me, quite honestly. You kind of fight off depression when you fight off an illness. I was holding my own for a while, but this really got to me. I know it's going to get better, but right now I can't work in the studio and that hurts."

Laugen, 41, poured herself into her craft, spending weeks fabricating each item. She has done metal work for only a short time, but she was getting good and was hoping to photograph recent work for inclusion in art shows.

She never got a chance to add them to her portfolio.

The eight sterling silver pieces she spent months creating were stolen last month from her Hampden studio -- a loss of up to $1,000 in potential sales. Thieves took $600 worth of equipment as well. And they took Laugen's peace of mind.

"It's a real violation," Laugen said. "That was the sanctuary of my life."

Laugen is used to struggles. She has been in and out of hospitals for the past five years, while raising her two sons, Ray, 13, and Peter, 9.

Doctors detected the breast cancer in its early stages and told Laugen there was only an 8 percent chance of it recurring, but in 1994 she was back, getting a bone marrow transplant and high doses of chemotherapy.

She was progressing smoothly until last summer. The cancer returned, and Laugen endured radiation treatment and a modified radical mastectomy. Laugen said she is doing fine now, though the possibility of a recurrence always remains.

That's where her friends come in. If Laugen is in the hospital, friends and family are always there. A collection to raise money for metal equipment is in the works, and getting a baby sitter is never a problem.

"She has a really powerful support group," said Karen Olson, a longtime friend who has watched Ray and Peter since they were babies. "Ever since I met her, I've been motivated to spend time with her as a friend, but I'm also hoping a little bit of her personality will rub off on me."

Laugen's relentlessly positive attitude, passion for life and creativity have inspired others.

"Sooz is a wonderful person," said Jimmy Rouse, owner of Louie's Bookstore Cafe, where Laugen has worked since it opened in 1981. "Her spirit, the way she's handled cancer, her openness about it, her incredible energy to attack it and survive with good humor -- it's all inspirational to me. It's the ultimate assertion of life over death.

"For any artist to lose their work is devastating, but I don't think Sooz will let it be tragic. Tragedy is defined by how you react to it. It's not going to stop her from continuing to create and enjoying her life."

About two years ago she picked up a set of bongos while her friend Mary Pat Hughes and her band were playing, and she hasn't stopped since. Laugen sits in with the band and earned the nickname "Bongo Betty."

"When she plays the drums it kind of helps take her away temporarily, and it's really important to me as one of the things I and the band can provide for her," Hughes said.

With support from friends, Laugen said she'll persevere, even if she doesn't get her jewelry or equipment back.

"I know I'll be all right," she said. "It could be worse. The cancer hasn't recurred, my kids are healthy, I have terrific family and friends and there's a roof over our heads."

Pub Date: 3/04/97

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