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.

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!