Shannon’s Journey 1

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Shannon wore lipstick today. 

It’s not something she does on a regular basis. It’s not something she does at all, really. But her cancer is back and she wanted to feel good about herself, just in case the news from the oncologist wasn’t good.

And it wasn’t.


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Shannon has a BRCA1 gene mutation, which means she has a something like a 60% chance of getting breast cancer before she’s seventy. Well she got it when she was in her middle thirties and now she’s forty-three and it’s back.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

She came by our place at 11:00 and we talked for a bit. I asked did she want coffee and she didn’t, but I did, so I poured myself a cup. Vesta asked did she want some water and she didn’t. She said she was good.

So we got right into it. She told us about her life. About her divorce. About her kids. And about her cancer. I would’ve expected her to be in tears as she talked, I know I was fighting them, Vesta was too. But Shannon went on.

And I was terrified. My mother had breast cancer and back then there was no reconstruction. Your breasts were just gone, replaced by horrible scar tissue. I was in high school at the time and Vesta and I had just started going out together.

It was horrible for her. To this day, I just can’t imagine.

My cousin Johanna is a breast cancer survivor. We didn’t know each other when we were growing up, but we became email friends when Vesta and I lived in the Caribbean. She told me what she went through and about her reconstruction and from what I read, she didn’t sound a bit like she’d gone through what my mother did.

In one email, she told me that she looked better than she ever did and that her nipples were like the erasures on number two pencils.

Neither my mother or cousin told me about the horror of chemo and I guess I didn’t think about it. Now I’m thinking about it, reading about it, learning about it and it really sucks that people have to go thru it.

However, Shannon’s got a real good idea what chemo is all about, because she’s been thru it and she was desperately hoping not to have to go thru it again.


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But before she found out the fate of her near future, she wanted some photographs made of herself, the way she is now. She wanted something to show her daughters, because they may very well be facing the problem she is, because the BRCA1 gene mutation is hereditary.

So we put her under the lights, so Vesta could take her photos, but she said she was okay with both of us being there, so I took the pictures, while Vesta directed.

Shannon has never been happy with one breast being smaller than the other, which is a result of her last surgery. Still, I told her, it’s better than being dead and she agreed. I was trying to add a little levity to a situation that really didn’t call for it, but she smiled. Actually, she spent most of her time with us in a rather upbeat mood.

As I said, I’d’ve been terrified.


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She told us that mostly she’s figured out how to hide the difference in her breast sizes with the kind of bra she wears, but when she bends over, “Like this,” she bent over, “like when I’m brushing my teeth, I see myself in the mirror and I don’t like it.”

And I shivered. And I wondered how she could be so brave.


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Here, Shannon his showing us the scars from her first surgery, which to my eyes were not very visible. I wouldn’t notice them. But she also wanted us to see how her nipples didn’t point in the same direction. That, I did notice.

She said she had three choices about her reconstruction. She could have no nipples. She could have them tattooed on. Or she could have them recreated and I voted for number three and again reminded her about Johanna and how she’d said she’d never looked so good.

So, I’m hoping she picks door number three and when I retake her photos a few months from now, that she looks like one of those Playmates Mr. Hefner isn’t putting in his magazine anymore.


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Here Shannon is waiting to see her oncologist, Dr. Sowjanya Reganti. As you can see, she has a folder full of paperwork. She’ll have more before the day is finished.

When it was Shannon’s turn to go back, I asked could we go too and we could. We didn’t have to wait too long for Dr. Reganti, and I wanna take a sentence here to say, I don’t think I’ve ever been in a room with a more elegant human in my whole life. She reminded me of a Kaminoan. And if you’re not a Star Wars person, those are the tall elegant people who tend the clones on the planet Kamino. And Dr. Reganti, if you’re reading this, that’s compliment.

After she examined Shannon, she delivered the bad news. She’s gonna need chemo again. I thought Shannon was gonna cry. Actually, I thought everybody was gonna cry, especially me. But we all held it in. That was the news she was hoping she wouldn’t get, that she’d have to have chemo again.

Dr. Reganti also said that her cancer wasn’t back. This was new. Also, Shannon’s gonna need her ovaries removed as well, before she develops ovarian cancer. Yep, you got a BRCA1 gene mutation, you got a good chance of getting that too.

So it was with a heavy heart that we said goodbye to the elegant Sowjanya Reganti and headed to Renown, which if you’re not from Reno, is a hospital, a really big one.


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Getting admitted to Renown took about an hour and Shannon left with more paperwork. Here, she’s calling her mother to let her know how her day was going.


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And here Shannon is telling her mother she has to do chemo again. This is the only time during out long day together that we saw her coming close to breaking down.

Chemo. You go bald. You lose your eyebrows. You lose your eyelashes. You get sick. You get sick some more. Google it if you don’t know. I did. It’s awful. But, as I said earlier, it beats being dead. But it’s a horrible price to pay for staying alive.


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After Shannon finished her call to her mother, we met with the nurse navigator and I must confess, this was a job I didn’t know existed. The nurse navigator works with a social worker to try and figure out how someone like Shannon, you know a person who is not independently wealthy, can survive something like what she’s going through, financially.

And it’s not easy. The meeting took over an hour. There is some help for her, but she’s gonna have a hard time getting by. She can’t work, so there will be no paycheck. She’s a single mom and her kids have to eat. She’s gotta eat too. Then there’s the rent, utilities and those other bills we all have.

And, of course, there’s that part the insurance doesn’t cover. And that’s part of the reason she’s got a boatload of paperwork to deal with.

It’s just not very fair that you gotta deal with all that when you get sick. Still, that’s our system and we’re stuck with it, till something better comes along.


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Shannon wears this tattoo to celebrate that she’s a breast cancer survivor. Let’s hope she gets to put one on her other leg sometime in the near future. I know Vesta and I are praying for it.


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