Breast Cancer Survivor

Don’t forget to laugh

By Sharon Snowden-Hake
Stage II breast cancer

I’ve always been a go-getter and goal-oriented. After graduating cum laude from journalism school, I began an exciting career in modeling, acting, television hosting, public speaking and reporting. My work has taken me around the world, and I’ve been fortunate to work with several well-known companies, including Hallmark, Anheuser-Busch and Walmart.

One “client” I never anticipated adding to that list was cancer. But at just 29 years old, I received the shocking news that I had Stage II invasive ductal carcinoma in my right breast. I felt like I was in the prime of my life, so I was overwhelmed with frustration. And because so much of my profession was based on my appearance, I wondered if I’d have to start a new career.

My health came first, though, so I pushed aside those thoughts. After getting a second opinion, I dove into my treatments, which included a lumpectomy, four rounds of chemotherapy with the drugs doxorubicin (Adriamycin) and methotrexate, and radiation therapy. I treated cancer like it was my job—doing every test and treatment prescribed.

The treatments sent my cancer into remission, but two years later it came back in the same breast. This time around I sought three opinions and ultimately chose the doctor who was most aggressive in his approach. I underwent six rounds of chemotherapy, followed by hyperthermia treatment, more chemotherapy and, finally, radiation implants. Due to the nature of my work, the final breast reconstruction was very important. I opted for a TRAM flap. The surgery was long and hard, and they had to take skin from both my stomach and my back. Fortunately, I healed more quickly than I was told; most likely because I had continued to exercise up to that point.

The longer I went through the process, the more I realized it was important – and freeing – to be open about it with as many people as possible. I also had some positive and funny experiences I didn’t want to keep to myself. For instance, after working a fashion show, two people approached me to compliment my hair. Little did they know I was actually bald at the time and wearing a wig! I also landed a modeling job for a health and fitness advertisement when I was right in the middle of chemotherapy treatment. There I was jumping around in a wig and a leotard when I was in the worst health of my life, but it made me happy to know I could still be productive.

My mom, dad and sisters were with me at every step, and my friends stepped up in a big way, too. From accompanying me to appointments and checking in on me daily to traveling long distances for visits and enlisting an entire church to pray for me, I couldn’t have done it without them. I’ve been volunteering for the Bloch Cancer Hotline one day a week for the past 13 years, and I’m a co-chair of Art Bra, which raises money to help uninsured and underinsured cancer patients. It feels great to give back and help others.

As a cancer survivor, I feel a sense of strength. Stay strong, and remember to laugh along the way!

 

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