Advanced Breast Cancer Survivor

Live, love & laugh often

Life as she knew it changed for Shannen Chavez on November 6, 2013, when she was diagnosed with infiltrating ductal carcinoma at 41. Less than two months later, Stage IV findings made her diagnosis literally a life-or-death matter. In spite of it all, Shannen chooses to be positive and is more convinced than ever that her mindset helps her live life on her terms.

 

For six months I had been feeling lethargic and sick, going to doctors and being checked for things like thyroid issues, hormone issues and diabetes. I finally found a lump in my breast on October 7, 2013, and immediately contacted the women's hospital close to me. As a woman who had always been in tune with her body, I felt certain the biopsy result would come back as cancer.

Even though I expected the cancer diagnosis, I was shocked to hear I had Stage IV disease. I had no family history of breast cancer, and I had always done breast exams. I have two boys, now ages 26 and 20, and two grandchildren, so I underwent genetic testing. I am not a carrier of the BRCA gene, so at least I know I haven’t passed it to my sons.

My doctor basically told me I had metastatic breast cancer, and it had spread. I had two years to live, and I should go home and make my arrangements. I told her three things:

  1. You don’t know me very well.
  2. You’re not God.
  3. You’re fired.

Despite the way my doctor broke the news, I chose to adopt a positive mindset about my journey. I was referred to another oncologist, and I couldn’t be happier. He has more than 35 years of experience working with people with metastatic breast cancer, some of whom he’s treated for 12 years. I think it’s important to note that in getting a second opinion, I didn’t think I would hear a different outcome, but I was looking for the kind of positivity that I get from him. I think your mindset might just make the difference between living life on your own terms and living in fear from this disease.

My body has responded fairly well to treatment. I started with docetaxel, trastuzumab (Herceptin) and pertuzumab (Perjeta) for five months, and I am now just taking trastuzumab, pertuzumab, goserelin (Zoladex) and anastrozole (Arimidex). I take a daily pill and go in for infusions every three weeks.

I’m coping with the side effects as best I can. A rash will last three to four days about every three to four treatments. My neuropathy is continual, and my hair loss or thinning will be continual. Gaining weight and losing my long, lustrous hair have been hard. I just purchased my first wig, and I’m going to get it cut by my stylist. It’s a little shorter, and it will be something different!

Emotionally, I’m in a good place although it is a roller coaster. The ups and downs of daily life, especially the financial stress and knowing I will be doing this for the rest of my life, make it difficult. I work full-time as an HR manager. Fortunately, my employer has made accommodations for me to work at home when I need to. Like clockwork, I work from home every third Monday after treatment.

Even so, I have a lot to live for. My grandchildren are the light of my life, and I have a tremendous support system in my family and friends. I’ve learned that I have instilled strength, much love and positivity as well as resilience in my children. They have been a constant source of support for me from the very beginning. I told them all from the start what it is and the possible reality of the outcome. I am very open about it, even with strangers. It keeps me positive.

After my diagnosis, I went online and found some resources for people with metastatic breast cancer, but I had a hard time finding people who were going through what I was. I have found great support groups through Facebook. It was there I became involved with Little Pink Houses of Hope (www.littlepink.org), an organization that donates vacations to families fighting breast cancer. My family and I were able to take a week-long vacation the first year I was diagnosed. We put my cancer on the back burner and just enjoyed being together.

None of us are promised tomorrow, so enjoy the little things as well as the big. And, remember:

Hope - the sun is always on the horizon
Faith - only God knows
Strength - You will find it in the deepest part of your core exactly when it’s needed

 

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