Being diagnosed with breast cancer was the beginning of an amazing journey. Most people might find that crazy, but I don’t.
I found out on December 2, 2009 that I had metastatic (stage IV) HER2-positive breast cancer that had spread to my liver and ribs. My first question was, “How many stages are there?” My oncologist answered, “Sheila, you have the highest one.” First there were tears, and I asked God, “Why me?” I also had to think back to what my mom would always tell me: “Sheila, never question God.”
This Is Just the Beginning
In Dec. 2009 I began feeling pain on my right side. At that time, I was in the United States Air Force with over 24 years of military service. I went to my physician assistant, and she ordered a mammogram.
When the mammography technician told me to sit down for a minute because she needed to show my results to the radiologist, I instantly knew something was wrong. Then she came back in and said she needed to do an ultrasound. My heart sank. After the ultrasound, the radiologist pulled me into his office and said, “Look at this — you have breast cancer.”
I said to myself if it had to have been me, Lord, I am glad it was me because I wouldn’t want my three sisters to have to go through this. Physically, the whole experience was tiring. From getting tests and scans to getting the port and even entering the treatment center was kind of a rude awakening for me.
Spiritual Growth After Feeling Overwhelmed
Everything happened so quickly. Oncologist, port, breast cancer surgeon, Taxol, Herceptin, treatment center, mass, lesions, Benadryl, Pepcid, CBC, tumor markers, Zometa, vitamin D supplements, Tykerb, Femara, hormonal therapy . . . Wow, I was truly overwhelmed. It would have been nice to have a military liaison or a military support group to stand by me through the beginning stages of my journey, but I had no one from the military. They sent me to the civilian hospital in St. Louis, Miss., and that was the last I heard of them.
I had to dig deep and find my faith and my whole understanding of my diagnosis. Matthew 17:20 says, “For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”
After 9 months of Taxol and Herceptin my tumor markers finally became stable. I started hormonal therapy (Femara), which lasted for 3 years. During that time, my faith took over. It felt so good to just lay that burden down and give it to God.
Unshakeable Faith and Learning Not to Fear My Diagnosis
Having unshakeable faith has been key to my survivorship. My cancer did eventually return in November 2012, and I found out the day before Thanksgiving. I went back on Taxotere for 4 months and then started on a new chemotherapy medicine called Kadcyla. I think God made this new chemo especially for me, because I found out in June that my cancer had shrunk and my tumor markers had returned to normal/stable. I still cry sometimes because there are days when it’s hard to bear, but my good days outweigh the bad.
I’ve learned to enjoy life, and most days I don’t even think about my cancer. Cancer will not define my life or who I am. God has already defined my life. I’m a living testimony of what God can do.
Fear is an emotion that God does not give us. Fear comes from the devil. I don’t fear cancer anymore. There’s nothing to fear when you have God on your side and in your corner.
People often say, “Sheila, I’m so sorry you have cancer.” And I tell them not to be sorry for me–I’m not sorry I have it. It happened, and now I’m on a journey to beat it.
Thriving With Strength and Love
So how did I end up with stage IV cancer? I guess no one will ever know why, but I did, and I’m still striving and thriving.
My family and friends have been an amazing support system throughout my journey. I know I couldn’t have traveled this journey alone, without their love and support. I also honor and have great respect for Living Beyond Breast Cancer because they have been amazing throughout this whole process. I went to the Annual Conference for Young Women Affected by Breast Cancer in Feb. 2013, and there was so much amazing information to take back to my support group in St. Louis. It was nice to meet amazing young women who had beaten this disease and who showed great strength and love.
What would I tell someone who is newly diagnosed with metastatic disease?
- Dig deep within your soul and fight.
- Just because you receive bad news doesn’t mean you will never receive good news. God is an “on-time” God. Wait on him. It’s the best thing that I’ve ever done.
- Ask lots of questions, and please stay off the Internet—it can become very depressing.
- Get involved with a good support group of both family and friends.
Get in church. My faith has sustained me through the good and the bad.
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The views expressed in this story are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Living Beyond Breast Cancer.