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.

Monday, May 22, 2006

My friend is gone

Breast cancer has claimed yet another life. This time it was my friend. I will call her Mary for purposes of this blog. Mary found me one day in the infusion room of my cancer clinic. We were introduced by a mutual friend and proceeded to have one of the most lively and memorable conversations I have experienced. As we sat there for three hours receiving our infusions in back to back chairs we talked about all kinds of topics, from our treatments to the deeper meaning of life. Mary, whose cancer had metastasized into her skin, was in her fifties. However, despite our age difference she possessed a thirst for life that I found contagious. As I sat talking to Mary and as she elicited information and knowledge from me about my treatments and future goals and dreams, I realized that I was needed. I realized that breast cancer had happened to me for a reason, and that reason was to help other young women with breast cancer. As we talked the hours away while our chemotherapy drugs dripped intravenously into our veins, Mary made me realize that there was so much I could do….that I could put a voice to this disease and how it affects young women so uniquely. She set up lunch to introduce me to other young women from the Breast Cancer Resource Center, a wonderful organization mobilized to provide support and information to women with breast cancer of all ages, The goal of the lunch was to get young women together to brainstorm about ways that the Breast Cancer Resource Center could reach out to the growing number of younger women diagnosed with breast cancer. From that lunch has grown a group of young women called the Pink Ribbon Cowgirls, a social network of younger breast cancer survivors. Mary, made that happen, despite the fact that she was experiencing the last months of her life. She left this life last week, and is hopefully in a better place now where she has beautiful skin and feels no pain. Despite our short time together, Mary and her words had a profound impact on me by awakening in me that person who will be a foot soldier in the battle against breast cancer. So in effect her legacy lives on through me.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

LIVESTRONG Day – May 17, 2006

Today May 17, 2006 is LIVESTRONG Day. Today is the day that Lance Armstrong has asked us to come together and raise a united voice in the fight against cancer. As I sit here today and think about the past 10 months… diagnosis at age 33 with stage II breast cancer, my younger sister’s subsequent diagnosis with breast cancer at age 31, the four surgeries to remove the cancer and preserve my fertility, the 8 months of grueling chemotherapy…..I realize that I have been living each and every one of those days by Lance’s motto to LIVESTRONG. Since my diagnosis with breast cancer on August 4, 2005, there has also not been a single day that has passed during which I have not asked the question “why?” “Why me? Why now?” I have finally realized that I may never know the answer to “why”. What I do know is that my life has been repurposed. I have been given an opportunity to use my voice and my energy to join others in not only fighting cancer, but in eradicating it as a cause of death in my generation. I want my son to grow up in a world free of cancer. Please join me on LIVESTRONG Day to pledge to use your voice to eradicate cancer during our lifetime.
Please take a moment from your day and send a letter to Congress in support of LIVESTRONG representatives on Capital Hill today.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Living life one day at a time

Chemotherapy! I know that I should think of it as life saving medicine, but I just think of it as poison. The best way to describe the side effects is to think of having a massive hang-over for over a week. The first few days involve dehabilitating nausea, then I move on to two or three days of mind numbing fatigue. From there I develop a headache so intense that it hurts to even talk. After these effects wear off, I experience mouth sores and extreme intestinal upset. Then despite thousands of dollars of shots to encourage my body to increase its production of white and red blood cells, my white blood cell count usually plummets to dangerous levels putting me an serious risk of an infection from anyone and anything I encounter. But for me the worst side effect of all is the fog that descends upon my mind. It lingers each time for almost a week. Each day I awake and think, “This will be the day that I feel better”. This goes on for a number of days each as dark and foggy as the previous, as my body and mind fight to overcome the pain. Then one day I awake and the clouds part, the sun shines into my mind and I feel like shouting from the treetops, “I am alive, I am alive.” My husband and friends can always tell when this day comes because I start returning e-mails and voicemails with a vengeance, as if I have returned from a long journey. Then I will feel fine for two weeks, until have to go back to the clinic for another treatment. I so dread my treatments that I begin to experience nausea two hours before a scheduled treatment, and each time I open the door of my clinic a waive of nausea hits me in the face. I have trouble wearing clothes that I wore for a particular treatment because the mere sight of them almost makes me vomit. I know in time this will all pass, and the chemotherapy has probably saved my life. So I keep on putting one foot in front of the other, just focusing on the day at hand.

Who needs hair anyway!

My doctor said it would happen, but I lived in denial for at least 10 days. I thought…”it won’t happen to me.” I will be that one person that does not lose their hair from chemotherapy. But it did happen just as predicted by my oncologist exactly 14 days after my first chemotherapy treatment. When I brushed my hair on day 12 after my first treatment, long strands began to come out. The next day even more came out in my brush and in the sink. Each morning I would wake up to a pillow full of hair. It was a weekend and we were at the beach, so I refused to face the fact that I was loosing my hair and simply put it up in a ponytail. However, the next morning, exactly 14 days after my chemotherapy treatment, I woke-up and realized that I had to wash it. I took it out of the ponytail and proceeded to brush it. Over half of the hair on my head came out in my hands and landed in the sink. My hair was officially falling out. I tearfully asked my husband to join me in the bathroom in order to shave the rest off. So with my son in my lap and tears streaming down my cheeks, my husband shaved off what was left of my hair. I will never forget the first time I looked in the mirror at my bald head. It took my breath away. Then, my husband did what was one of the most caring and compassionate things he has ever done for me. He asked me to shave his head too. He said that if I had to be bald, he would be too! I have adjusted to life without hair. In many respects it simplifies life…no more hair products or blow drying. Getting ready in the morning is a snap. What I miss most about my hair, however, is my anonymity. People are very polite and try not to stare, but I can often read their thoughts on their faces. They know I have cancer. Everyone equates female baldness with cancer. They look at me and they think …”wow, she is so young, if cancer could happen to her then it could happen to me.” I am a daily reminder to everyone around me that cancer knows no boundaries…that it can happen to anyone, of any race, sex or age.

Chemotherapy: What does not kill me will only make me stronger

On Friday, October 14, 2005 with my now 14 month old son safely at school, my husband and I went to the cancer clinic for my first of 10 grueling chemotherapy treatments. The infusion room is a friendly place consisting of recliners, big screen TVs and lots of pillows and blankets. It looks like a comfy living room except for the IV polls next to each recliner. The chemotherapy treatments are not painful and are injected directly into big veins through the use of the port-a-catheter implanted in middle of my chest. The purpose of chemotherapy in my case is to kill off any possible cancer cells that living in my blood stream or that might have strayed off to other organs in my body. I would receive 6 treatments, three weeks apart, of a cocktail of drugs known as FEC (5-FU, Epirubicin, and Cytoxan). After that, I would receive an additional 4 treatments, also administered every three weeks, of a drug called Taxotere. I tried to think about the chemotherapy medicine positively, but I soon developed an almost violent reaction to the sight of the two tubes of red fluid (Epirubicin) that would cause me so much pain over the coming months. Overall my first treatment went pretty well. The medicine hit me immediately and within four hours of my treatment my living room began to spin around me, and I could barely stand up due to the waves of over-whelming nausea. The next day however I felt better and after receiving more IV drugs and more anti-nausea drugs I actually had the energy to play with my son. The next day my steroids kicked in full force and I called a friend to come over and help me clean out my entire closet. Steroids are administered in connect with chemotherapy to give the body some ammunition to fight off the damaging effects of the chemotherapy. However, Monday morning the steroids wore off and I could not get out of bed. No matter how hard I tried I could not bring myself to get up. Although still not up to snuff, on Tuesday I insisted on going back to work. I dragged myself to work the next few days until by Friday I finally felt like a human being again. My treatments were three weeks apart, so I had two weeks to feel like myself again. The one side effect that lingered were blood sugar crashes every hour or so. I went to a nutritionist who put me on a high protein low carb/glycemic index diet with instructions to eat every 2-3 hours. After a few days on the diet a felt like a new person.

My survival rate

The single most important conversation I had with my oncologist was about my survival rate. After my surgeries and prior to starting chemotherapy we sat down with him to discuss the results of my two pathology reports (one from each surgery). He had input data regarding my exact type of cancer (from the cancer tissue found in my removed tumor) into a software program that analyzed the information along with my age and other statistics about me. The resulting report was very straight-forward, but startling to see in such black and white form. The report indicated that without further treatment, my survival rate for the next 10 years was 60%. In other words, I had an almost 50/50 chance of dying from my breast cancer during the next 10 years. However, if I completed chemotherapy and hormone therapy (i.e. put off having more children to complete a 5 year course of Tamoxifen) my survival rate increased to 80% per his report. In other words, my chances of dying in the next 10 years from breast cancer went down to only 20%. In the grand scheme of things these are probably not bad odds. My odds of getting hit by a bus tomorrow might be higher. However, something about seeing it in writing on that piece of paper was a big reality check for me. That day I vowed to never take another minute of time for granite. Time, I realized was the most precision thing I owned, and making wise choices with that time would become the most important goal in my life.