Weeks after her father's inauguration, Susan's mother, Betty Ford, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Susan soon began working with her mother to raise breast cancer awareness, and the two helped launch National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in 1984—and her health-related activism didn't stop there. When Betty sought treatment for alcoholism and subsequently founded the Betty Ford Center, Susan became a member of the board of directors in 1992 and board chairman in 2005.
In the midst of her activism, Susan also worked as a photojournalist for organizations including the Associated Press and Newsweek and co-authored two mystery novels. After marrying Charles Vance, one of her father's former Secret Service agents, in 1979, Susan had two children. The marriage lasted nine years before the couple divorced, and Susan married Vaden Bales, an attorney. Today, the two live in Tulsa, Oklahoma.