Shauna Wears Pink

I will never forget the day my doctor uttered those horrifying words “I am sorry to tell you, but that is a cancer tumor that you have in your left breast”. I was 33 years old, and my life changed forever. I invite you to read my story, learn from it and hopefully be inspired to reach out to other young women living with and beyond breast cancer.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Green Goddess

It has now been more than a year since the passing of my dear friend Shannon Watson who lost her battle with breast cancer on April 16th, 2010.
Shannon was one of the original members of the Pink Ribbon Cowgirls, the young survivor support group that I co-founded in 2006.
Shannon was told by her doctors that she would die young when she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2007, but she was determined to prove them wrong and lived several years longer than predicted. I had the distinct honor and privilege to call her my friend and to participate with her in what she referred to as her “bucket list”. Shannon had the unenviable job of preparing her list at the tender age of 27. One of the items on her list was taking flying trapeze lessons, and I agreed to take them with her. I was terrified the entire time, but Shannon wasn’t. She sailed through the air without fear, much like she faced death. Shannon refused to give up, and fought so hard to live right up until the last hours of her life when she died in the arms of her husband at peace knowing that she had done everything she could to live a full life. Shannon was 29 years old when she died, and left behind a loving husband, a wonderful family, and hundreds of friends and acquaintances that where so touched and inspired by her courage and tenacity in the face of certain death. Among the many things that inspired and helped Shannon to live as long as she did was her commitment to be a Green Goddess. Shannon and I went through our original chemotherapy treatment at the same time back in 2005-2006, but less than 1 year out from treatment Shannon learned that her cancer had metastasized to her liver and bones – the dreaded Stage IV diagnosis. In case you are not familiar with breast cancer, Stage IV breast cancer is not curable. While there are fabulous new therapies that may prolong life for many years, it is eventually fatal. In the process of rallying around Shannon, we stumbled onto the sexy young spokesperson for cancer, Kris Carr, and her Crazy Sexy Cancer book. Kris was also living with metastatic cancer, and had found a way to stop its progression through diet and lifestyle. What a concept? So we all eagerly adopted Kris’s Green Goddess diet (as Kris so fondly calls her followers) which essentially meant eating a raw vegan diet that is also free of gluten and all forms of sugar. We all became Green Goddesses for Shannon. Shannon also eagerly adopted this diet and kept it up until the end. It is my firm belief that this Green Goddess diet prolonged and enhanced the quality of Shannon’s life immensely. I have remained on a vegan (mostly raw and gluten free) diet for the past 5 years, and I believe that I too have seen enormous benefits from this way of life. In addition to getting back down to a lean and trim size 6 (same size that I was in college), I have enormous energy and stamina. My immune system is better than it has ever been, and my blood sugar levels stay incredibly consistent (I used to suffer from daily blood sugar lows). And last, but certainly not least, this way of eating significantly decreases my risk of a recurrence of my breast cancer (many, many studies have proven this fact out over and over again, DIET MATTERS!). So today I reaffirm my commitment as a Green Goddess not only for you, Shannon, but for myself (I know you are munching on some fabulous green thing up there and smiling down on me right now). I challenge anyone reading this blog to do the same. This is not a diet, but a wholesale lifestyle change. If that concept is too much for you, just make a commitment to add more green things to your life. Buy a juicer and add a daily green juice to your life (I promise you will thank me for it later)…..Love you Shannon….I think of you every day when I make my green juice. You continue to inspire me each and every day!

Shauna’s Favorite Green Juice:
1 head celery
2 cucumbers
1 head kale
1 stalk broccoli
Half a bunch of cilantro

Run everything through a juicer (I prefer a Breville Juice Fountain), and enjoy 32 ounces of pure green goodness! For those of you that need to work up to this amount of green goodness, I suggest adding in another cucumber or an apple or pear at first and only include half the head of kale…..once your pallet starts to get cleansed of sugar you can work your way back to my recipe.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Me and My Sis

Most of you already know the story, but just to recap, in August of 2005, at the age of 33, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. One month later, at the age of 31, my sister Tamara was also diagnosed with breast cancer. Most of you know the rest of the story of how we went through chemotherapy, double mastectomies and multiple reconstruction surgeries. Today, two and half years later, we are healthy and strong again and believe that we are truly cancer survivors! We have always been close as sisters, but the cancer experience has brought us even closer. Not only do we share the same DNA, now we share the same experience of knowing what it is like to come face to face with our mortality. Life for both of us is mostly back to normal, but there are always those moments when we realize that life will never be the same as it was before the cancer. We have been forever changed by this cancer experience. Some days I embrace that fact and make plans to help other cancer survivors with their battles. Other days I curse the cancer and curse the day that I learned exactly what takes place during a mastectomy and the pain that follows or the fact that a port had to be placed inside my chest because the chemotherapy drugs I received were so poisonous that my normal arm veins could not handle them. Today is a good day….and my sister and I have decided to help others in this great battle against cancer. In celebration of our own battle and triumph over breast cancer we plan to ride our bicycles together across the state of Iowa the last week in July as part of RAGBRAI and Team Livestrong. We are proud to help raise funds for cancer research and awareness so that others faced with this disease may also be survivors!! For those of you that follow my blog, I plan to try to do blog entries along the route so that you can keep up with our progress across the state of Iowa.

If you wish to donate to the cause click here to see my personal Livestrong page.

If for some reason this link is not live, just cut and paste it into your internet browser.

Thank you for supporting the Lance Armstrong Foundation.

Your contribution is greatly appreciated.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Vote “Yes” to End Cancer

Next Tuesday, November 6th Texans are voting on a historic amendment to the constitution of Texas which could put and end to cancer in our lifetime. Did you know that this year alone, more than 95,000 Texans will be diagnosed with cancer, and more than 37,000 Texans will lose their lives to the disease? Nearly 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women in Texas will develop cancer during their lifetime, and cancer costs Texans $30 billion a year in direct and indirect costs. Proposition 15 is a constitutional amendment which, if passed, will authorize up to $3 billion in state general revenue bonds to fund cancer research, prevention, early detection and control programs. Prop 15, if passed, will also establish the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas which will conduct research to prevent or cure cancer, support existing cancer research efforts in Texas, and implement the Texas Cancer Plan, a statewide blueprint for cancer prevention and control.

I know what you are saying, “Shouldn’t the federal government be taking this type of action?” Yes, it should, but for the last few years the federal government has instead cut millions of dollars from the budget previously allocated to research for finding cures for cancer. So, Lance Armstrong and other prominent cancer survivors in Texas have decided to take matters into their own hands to build a research facility in Texas with the stated goal of “Finding a Cure for Cancer In our Lifetime”.

Most of you already know my story, but I will take a few minutes to recap and explain why this Proposition is so important for all of us. I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 33 and my sister at the age of 31. Prior to our cancer diagnosis, no one in our family had ever had cancer……no parents, no grandparents, not even any aunts and uncles. Also, my sister and I have none of the risk factors for breast cancer. So what caused us to both to get cancer at such a young age? No one knows. There has simply not been enough research to clearly identify anything more than a few sketchy risk factors. My sister and I are not alone. Incidents of cancer keep increasing at an alarming rate, especially in younger individuals who where previously thought to be more immune to cancer. I don’t know about you, but I want to find out what on earth we are doing to give ourselves cancer. And, if my cancer should return, I want to make sure that drugs exist which can cure my cancer. And most importantly I want this all to happen in my lifetime. I do not want my 3 year old son to be at the same risk for cancer that I am! And if God forbid my son ever does get cancer, I want to make sure that drugs exist that can cure him.

So I urge you all to vote “yes” to Proposition 15. If not for yourself, then do it for your children. We have to end cancer now so that our children will have a future.

Please pass this along to anyone in Texas registered to vote and please, please get out and vote on November 6th.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Feel Your Boobies!

Recently through the young survivor group that I co-founded, I met another survivor whose breast cancer story runs parallel to mine through time, but unlike mine does not have a happy ending. Like me she gave birth to a beautiful baby 3 and half years ago. Like me she found a lump in her left breast while she was breast feeding her beautiful baby. Like me she went to her OBGYN for advice and was referred for a mammogram and ultra sound. That is where our stories diverge. The results of my ultrasound where very suspicion, so I went to a breast surgeon and was diagnosed with what turned out to be stage II breast cancer through a core biopsy of my breast (which left I pretty significant hole in my breast). My fellow survivor also went to a breast surgeon, but for some reason did not do a biopsy of the lump and was sent away with a “lets keep an eye on it” recommendation. During the same year that I underwent chemotherapy to blast the cancer out of every nook and cranny of my body, her cancer grew unchecked into stage IV cancer, metastasizing to her spine, shoulders, hips, liver and lungs. She was not diagnosed until she finally collapsed from the pain of the crushed vertebra that had been eaten away by the cancer in her spine. Breast cancer, unlike other cancers, cannot be truly cured once it has metastasized to other parts of the body. And even when the cancer is caught early before it has spread beyond the breast, breast cancer patients are never considered cured because it can always come back as metastatic cancer in another part of your body. Major advances have been made in medicines that can help keep the cancer at bay for long periods of time (even years), but eventually metastatic breast cancer is usually terminal. So while I will hopefully go on to live a long and healthy life and see my baby boy graduate from college, my fellow survivor will probably die from her breast cancer and leave her young child without a mother. So my message to everyone is one of vigilance. You, and only you, are responsible for your body and your health. When you feel something suspicious, get a mammogram, an MRI, a CT scan, a biopsy or whatever else it takes to get an answer as to exactly what that lump is in your breast. And don’t ever take no for an answer. If one doctor blows you off, find another. I have a number of T-shirts and stickers that I wear in public that say “Feel Your Boobies”. These usually attract a lot of attention, but the message on my T-shirt is deadly serious! Feel Your Boobies every day if that is what it takes. If you don’t want to feel them yourself than have your boyfriend, husband or lover do it for you. And if you find a lump, for God’s sake go find out what it is!!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

I am back in the saddle!

Last weekend was the annual LiveStrong weekend in Austin, Texas benefiting the Lance Armstrong Foundation. The festivities included a 5K run on Saturday and a bike ride on Sunday through the beautiful Texas hill country both of which raised over $3 million for the Lance Armstrong Foundation. My husband and I have participated in the LiveStrong ride each year since its inception (formerly known as the Ride for the Roses) in memory of his mother who died of cancer when he was in his early twenties. In fact our relationship has been built on biking. My husband has been an avid biker his entire life, and we met when I was just beginning to bike. He taught me everything I know about biking and over the years we grew to be a great biking team. One of our favorites has always been riding 100 mile bike rides on a tandem bike (a bicycle built for two). With my husband’s expert bike handling skills up front and my strong legs in the back we made a great team. For the last two years I have been too weak or in too much pain to do the LiveStrong ride. However, this year was different, because I felt strong again. I am now 18 months out from my chemotherapy treatments and over a year out from my double mastectomy. Although I had not specifically trained to run a 5K and had not been on my road bike in over 4 years, I made a last minute decision to participate in the LiveStrong weekend this year. The Saturday 5K run went well, and I finished strong in about 31 minutes….still slow for me, but acceptable given that I had not trained. At the finish line the participants who are cancer survivors are diverted into a separate lane and handed a yellow rose as they run through. The girl handing out the rose took one look at me and told me that the roses where only for cancer survivors. I showed her the survivor sign on my back and she turned red and handed me a rose. Although I was momentarily offended, I took this as a compliment. What it ment to me was that I don’t look like a cancer survivor anymore. I have hair and a healthy glow and must have looked strong running through the finish line. On Sunday morning long before the sun came up my husband and I headed out to the bike ride with a borrowed tandem bike, a bike trailer to haul our 36 pound son, and a very sleepy 3 year old. We had a rocky start having blown the only bike tube we had for the bike trailer, but after borrowing another tube we jumped into the bike ride right behind Lance Armstrong and his entourage of famous supporters. I felt like a rock star the entire ride. Everyone that passed us could see the survivor sign on my back and had words of encouragement and something funny to say about the fact that we where hauling our son in the bike trailer behind us. We had intended to do a 60 mile ride, but found that hauling our 36 pound son plus another 15 pounds of gear in the trailer turned out to be more challenging than we had thought. We ended up doing the 45 mile loop and finishing strong just in time for lunch. Again, as we rolled across the finish line the girl handing out roses took one look at me and pulled back the rose. I finally got my rose, but not before I had to show my survivor sign to someone. I took it as a compliment again, realizing that I no longer look weak and frail like people expect a cancer survivor to look. The other thing I learned from the weekend was how important it is for survivors to participate in events like this. I was the inspiration for so many riders to get out there and raise money for the Lancer Armstrong Foundation. When they saw me riding, they realized that their efforts where not in vain and that the money they raised was going to help cancer survivors like me live long and healthy lives. It was a wonderful feeling to finally be back in the saddle!! And what could be better than pedaling up hills with my husband in front of me encouraging me to “keep pedaling” and my son behind me yelling “faster mommy, faster”? I felt healthy and strong again for the first time in a long time, long time!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Why, Why, Why?

I thought I was done asking the question “Why” until last week when I learned that one of my friends and a fellow young breast cancer survivor was diagnosed with a metastasis of her breast cancer (i.e. her breast cancer has shown up in other organs of her body.) I held it together all day, but in the car on the way home I finally let myself break down. My son was in the car with me and kept asking me why I was sad. The only appropriate thing I could think of to say was “one of mommy’s friends is sick”. My mind just kept screaming why, why, why her? There is just no logical explanation as to why breast cancer reoccurs and metastasizes in one person, but not another. The research does show that breast cancer is more likely to be more aggressive and more advanced in younger women. However, that still does not answer the question of why the chemotherapy and hormone therapy seem to work for one person, but not the next……and more importantly did the chemotherapy and hormone therapy work for me? I know that my reaction to this situation is a bit irrational, but my fear of a recurrence of my own is very real. Over the next few days I began to freak out over every little potential ache or pain, thinking…”What is that?” “Is my cancer back?” “Is it in my bones?” For the last few months I have been plagued with bouts of bronchitis and asthma, so I called up my doctor to see if I needed a chest X-ray. He did not think I needed a chest X-ray, so I made an appointment with him to try to convince him that I need a PET Scan instead which would show any cancer in my body. Again, I know I am being a little irrational, but this is how I deal with my fear of a recurrence. It is the only way I know how to deal with it. I try to work out every day because I know that decreases my chance of a recurrence by 50%. I try to eat healthy organic foods because I know that pesticides contribute to breast cancer. I take my Tamoxifen (hormone therapy) every day, despite its unpleasant side effects. The problem is my friend did all these things too, so why her and not me? It’s almost as if the cancer has already determined what it is going to do and there is nothing I can do about it, but wait and see if it comes back. So, I reaffirm my pledge to continue to make sure that I live each day of my life to the fullest. Yesterday with my husband and son, I visited a local springs and waterfall. I eagerly climbed up a big rock to stand directly under the waterfall so that I could feel the ice cold spring water pour over my entire body and then I jumped off into the deep blue swimming hole below. I felt so alive! Right then and there, I promised myself that I would take more time out of my busy schedule to do things that make me feel that alive!

Friday, June 15, 2007

“Did you say tattoos?”

The first time I visited with my plastic surgeon about my breast reconstruction process following my double mastectomy, he said that the final detail would be for me to get tattoos to recreate the color for my areolas. At the time I remember thinking I needed to get my ears checked, and asked “Did you say tattoos?” I had visions of showing up at a local tattoo parlor to be tattooed by a local tattoo artist with dreadlocks and a million tattoos on his body. As strange at it sounds, last week I completed the final step in my reconstruction by getting two tattoos, one on each of my areolas. Thankfully, my doctor has hired a registered nurse to perform the duties of the tattoo artists in a very clean and sterile medical office. When I first arrived at the office for my “tattooing” the nurse began to ask me all kinds of questions such as what color were my areolas pre-mastectomy and how big they were. I had to admit that I honestly had forgotten. Fortunately, my plastic surgeon had taken photographs, so she was able to print a nice colored photograph of my pre-mastectomy breasts. I had forgotten what they looked like, and was actually very surprised to realize that I actually prefer my post-mastectomy breasts. Yes, they are that good! Anyway, back to the task at had, together we picked out a color and she got right to work. I have to say that it was a little gross to watch, but luckily I could not feel a thing since I still do not have any sensation in my breasts. 10 minutes later I was bandaged and on my way out the door. The next day I was able to remove the bandages and take a look. They look great! They are the same color as before and seem to really complete the look of my new man-made breasts. In fact, in the locker room at my gym a couple women have asked who my plastic surgeon is, not knowing that I have reconstructed breasts, but instead thinking that I have had a boob job or a lift. In addition, I feel more confident at the gym. I used to cower a bit in the dressing room not completely confident in my newly reconstructed breasts. Now I am happy to show them off to any of the other women in the locker room. I can’t help but marvel at the miracle of modern medicine and realize how thankful I am that I have been put back together with such skill and competence.