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, September 25, 2006

The Fog is Lifting

Slowly but surely the fog that has been surrounding my life for the past year is lifting. I am starting to get out more, see people that I have not seen in a while, and what I am realizing is that I have been so focused on simply surviving this past year that I have not noticed changes that have gone on around me. I visit with people and realize that their lives have continued. While I realize that of course life does go on, I am sad that I have missed noticeable changes in the people around me. Friends have changed jobs, gotten pregnant and undergone a myriad of other changes that I barely noticed because I was so consumed with keeping my own head above water. This also applies to my immediate family, in particular my 2 year old son. During his second year of life, my life was a world-wind of surgeries, doctor visits and chemotherapy treatments. The other day he recited an entire book to me. I had to ask my husband if he had ever noticed that before. My husband of course had seen my son do it a number of times. Why was I so oblivious? Some days I wish with all my being that I could turn back time or at least suspend time so that I could re-live my son’s first steps, the first time he said “I love you, mommy”, the first time he sang a song to me…..because all these firsts are jumbled together in my foggy memory of the past year. My husband has tried to document as much as possible with pictures and digital video for which I am very grateful. However, it still stings to realize you can’t remember the exact day when your son took his first steps. By comparison, I can remember the exact day I was diagnosed with cancer, the day I began chemotherapy, and the day I lost my breasts. Why are these days etched in my memory so vividly, yet I can’t remember my son’s first steps? I am sure I will sort all this out in time and have even noticed that over the past few weeks many of my memories are starting to resurface little by little. Last night due to a skipped nap my son was so tired that he needed me to rock him to sleep which he had not requested for a number of months. While rocking him memories started to flood back into the forefront. I remembered that during the long months of chemotherapy one of the only things that completely relieved my mind from pain was to rock my son to sleep at night. Even after he had fallen asleep I would continue to rock him for a while before putting him in his crib because holding onto him gave me the strength I needed to face another chemotherapy treatment. These days when I spend time with my son and husband I catch myself trying to etch these special moments into my mind forever. As I put more time between me and my cancer I am starting to believe bit by bit that I will be around for many more years which will allow me to make many more memories with my friends and family.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The “Blow-Up Doll” phase of my treatment

I am currently in what I refer to as the “blow-up doll” phase of my treatment. Every Monday morning I truck over to my plastic surgeon’s office for an expansion of my breast implants. The process takes less than 5 minutes, but is one of the most surreal things I have ever experienced. First my doctor uses a stud-finder, yes you read that correctly…a stud-finder, to locate the metal ports embedded under my chest muscle within my expandable breast implants. He then sticks a big needle into the port which I cannot feel at all since I no longer have nerve endings in my chest. Using the needle in the port he adds saline to the implant. At the first of our “blow-up doll” sessions he literally doubled the size of my breasts as my husband and I watched in amazement. He warned me that it would feel much like I had over-stretched a hamstring. He was correct in that I did indeed feel stretched, so stretched that I had a hard time breathing for a few minutes. I immediately reached for the ibuprofen in my bag, and after it kicked in I could breath almost normally. This week, with my sister looking on, my doctor again repeated the process…but this time with a little less saline. I watched in amazement as my boobs expanded even more. What a testament to modern medicine! Now only 5 short weeks after a double mastectomy, I have boobs even bigger than before my surgery. Granted they still look a little like a science project, but not bad for 5 weeks out of surgery. I still have two more of these “blow-up doll” sessions. Then I must maintain my over inflated status for 3 months in order to form a proper capsule under my chest muscle for my “real” implants. In January I will go back into surgery to have the expandable implants replaced with permanent silicon implants (which will be smaller and more natural looking), and then I will have a final surgery several months later to reconstruct my nipples. Anyway, in the words of my good friend Dan, “here’s to modern medicine and to blow up dolls”.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Life goes on

Today is my 35th birthday. I think back at the last year of my life and realize what a different person I am from the women I was a year ago. Yes, this past year has been rough. During the past 12 months I underwent 6 surgeries, 10 chemotherapy treatments, the loss of all my hair and the loss of both my breasts. To top it all off my younger sister went through the same thing. I know that I have not yet processed all that has happened, but I am certain that I will in time. Despite these trials and losses, I am grateful to breast cancer. It made me see the wonderful things in my life clearly for the first time. Before cancer, I felt like I was lost at sea. I had a loving husband, a great career, a healthy baby boy and good friends. However, I did not truly appreciate these things. I took them for granted. Getting cancer makes you realize that you cannot waste another minute of time taking things for granted….because you might not have that many more minutes. I feel like I was given a second chance in life, and I do not plan to waste it. Now I relish the moments I get to spend with my husband and 2 year old son. I soak them in and try to imprint them in my memory forever. Now I practice law, not for the status or money, but because I truly love helping my clients develop their entrepreneurial ideas into growing businesses. Now when I am lucky enough to spend time with friends, I truly appreciate the kindness and generosity of all those friends who have helped sustain me during this last year. And when I have extra time, I spend it trying to help other young breast cancer survivors through the same trials and losses. I tell my story so publicly because I hope that it will make each and everyone one of you pause for a moment and give thanks for all the wonderful things in your life and to promise yourself that you will never take those things for granted. So I am thankful for the last year of my life, and today on my 35th birthday I reaffirm my pledge to make every moment count!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Being a mom with breast cancer

One topic that I have not spent much time on in previous posts is my diminished role as a caregiver for my 2 year old son over the past year of treatment for breast cancer. I am fortunate in that my son has been attending a wonderful child development center since he was 2 months old. So when I was diagnosed with breast cancer a year ago, his life was not turned upside down as mine was. He continued to go to school each day and maintain the routine that he seemed to know and love so much. I would be at home reeling with nausea from a chemotherapy treatment, while he was safe at school enjoying his normal routines. So I consider myself to be very lucky in that he had a place to go each day where life was “normal”. However, as I have mentioned previously I did most of my chemotherapy treatments on a Friday which meant that I was pretty sick over the weekend when he was home from school. I always had a friend or family member around to help out on those weekends with caring for me and my son, but to be honest most of the work over the last year fell squarely on the shoulders of my husband. For over a year now he has been my caregiver as well as the primary caregiver for our son. Again, I consider myself incredibly lucky to have such a wonderfully devoted man as a husband and father to my son. But, I can’t help but feel incredibly guilty over what I view as the partial dereliction of my duties as a mother over the past year. For example, for the past almost 4 weeks since my double mastectomy surgery, I have not been able to pick-up or carry my son per the strict orders of my doctor. This has been very hard on both of us. Not only is it very sad for both my son and I, but it places an incredible burden on my husband since technically I can’t be left alone to supervise my own son. My son has been very cooperative at helping himself in and out of his crib with the use of a step-stool, and he can even get himself in and out of his car-seat and my SUV with a little coaxing from me. I try to compensate in every way that I can think of and do as much as I possibly can like supervising his bath-time and reading bed-time books. But, I still feel guilty. My son clearly loves me very much and even seems to understand at some level what I am going through…..he takes periodic breaks from jumping around the living room and couch to snuggle next to me, stroke my arms lovingly and shower me with big kisses and hugs. But when he is hurt, perceives danger or needs something, he has learned to go to his father for help. This makes perfectly logical sense since his father has been the one doing all those things for him over the past year, but it still bothers me that I have not been completely there for him as a mother should be. Again, I know I am so lucky to have such a wonderful husband as a father to my son. I am also thankful that my son seems unaffected by the past year. I know things will get better, and he will soon have his mom back. So I look forward to and dream of the day when I can again swing him around the living room and listen to him squeal with delight.