Susan Rose had butterflies as she stood in uniform before her tae kwon do class and instructor earlier this month.
Cancer had claimed Rose's good health, but not her spirit. She knew her forms. Had practiced her kick combinations. Made up her mind that if she passed her brown belt test, she would be worthy.
The instructor and class at the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center knew something Rose didn't.
She had proven herself long ago. And for her dedication and determination, she was about to receive an honorary first-degree black belt.
"I was so surprised. I just about fainted," said Rose, a 67-year-old Clearwater mother of three, grandmother of five and great-grandmother of one (with another on the way). "You know how you can freeze up and don't know anything? That's how excited I was to find out I was being honored.
"They had a cookie cake for me and everyone was giving me hugs. I never knew people thought so much of me."
In May 2008, Rose was diagnosed with cervical cancer. It was terminal and she went into hospice care later that year.
"She's unbelievable, an amazing woman who is an inspiration to everyone," said Master Paul Castricone, 51, head tae kwon do instructor at the rec center. "She has a heart bigger than anyone else I know."
And a can-do attitude.
On the Fourth of July weekend, Rose participated in the U.S. Open World Martial Arts Championship in Lake Buena Vista.
She won two first-place trophies in her age group, one for creative musical forms and the other for creative weaponry, skills she had learned years before in a martial arts weaponry class.
In recent years, Rose had wanted to get back into martial arts and take a tae kwon do class. Learning that she had cancer didn't dampen that desire.
"But I couldn't afford to take the class. Hospice originally got me into the class and paid for it," said Rose, who started the class in January. "Now I've actually lived too long to be under hospice care."
Rose's classes are now offered free from the rec center. She continues to take tae kwon do on Tuesdays and Thursdays, along with the recent addition of a Sunday evening weaponry class
"Susan Rose is the epitome of all that martial arts stands for," said Castricone, an Oldsmar resident. "The martial arts are a spirit-mind connection which can help overcome obstacles. And night after night, Rose is in class giving 110 percent."
Rose's daily life outside of tae kwon do is a bit more difficult.
She admits money is tight, but still stays positive.
For now, she lives with her brother. He and Rose's two daughters take turns driving her for medical care. She's had several surgeries, and is scheduled for another one Monday at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.
While she may miss a few classes, she doesn't plan to be gone long. Tae kwon do is an integral part of her therapy.
"I considered taking tae kwon do as a worthwhile challenge to myself," Rose said.
"Master Paul and the class accept me for who I am, as I am. I wanted to, needed to be there. I'm so thankful for the class. I believe it's helped me deal with the pain and I know, because of it, I'm stronger."