VICTORIA -- As Susan looks through photographs from her childhood, she remembers lying in bed singing along with the radio: "I’d be thinking there’s got to be a better life."

Her dream of becoming a musician was sidelined after her single mom’s heart attack. Susan left school in Grade 6 to help support her siblings. "I wasn’t doing very good anyway," she recalls. "So I went out to help bring home the bacon."

Susan spent decades working two to three minimum wage jobs at a time before starting a family of her own. "I went to write my friend that I had this beautiful daughter," she says with a smile, before fighting back tears. "And I couldn’t spell ‘beautiful’ or ‘daughter.’"

Susan says she made a vow to her baby in the moment to go back to school. She completed Grade 12 in her 30s. Before that, she learned to read and spell better through singing karaoke: "You’re singing along and you’re forced to read!"

Susan was a 40-year-old single mom by the time she made it to college. She also started a small karaoke company, and taught people with special needs to read through singing.

"Joy is singing," she says, adding that performing can also be empowering. "It makes a voice for us all."

Despite struggling with learning disabilities, mental health and chronic pain, Susan works a couple jobs, performs in her band ‘Vintage Funk,’ and runs the thrift store ‘Vintage Buck.’

Her downtown Victoria shop employs people with cognitive and physical challenges. "It’s such a great feeling to be able to conquer all of these things that come towards you," she says with a smile. "Instead of giving up, take it on!"

Susan says she’s grateful for the perseverance she learned from the little girl she once was. "Of all the times she wanted to escape she never did," Susan says as she looks down at her old photos with a smile. "I’m here now. I’m so proud."

Watch the Sawatsky Sign-Off at 6:55 p.m. Monday-Friday on CTV News Vancouver Island.