Fighting for her survival and staying strong in the face of adversity is, unfortunately, something in which Shawniece Robinson has become accustom. Now in her late-30’s, Shawniece has battled cancer three times in just twelve years and, while some around her lost their own battles, she’s been fortunate enough to now take what she’s learned throughout her life and pass it on to those around her.
When Shawniece she was first diagnosed with Stage II triple negative breast cancer, she was just 24 years old.
“At that age, it was like they were speaking Spanish to me,” Shawniece described of receiving her diagnosis. “I didn’t understand what any of that meant. I just thought, ‘Ok, did you take care of it?’ I was thinking about it like a cold or a cyst, and I was just totally uneducated about the situation.”
For Shawniece, there was less of an emotional reaction than a sense of mystery and unknowing.
“You hear the stories, and you see people go through it, but you never ever think I will be you,” she said. “I was thinking, ‘What do you mean? I just really got breasts!’”
At the time just before the diagnosis, Shawniece had trials and tribulations which she was had gotten through, and then she noticed a lump. “I was in the shower and I thought, ‘What is this?!’”
When Shawniece got in to see the doctor, he immediately sent her for ultrasounds the same day and a biopsy the day after that. After coming back to see the doctor after the test results had come back, Shawniece saw in the doctor’s reaction just what she was up against.
“He came into the room and he said, ‘You’re in trouble,’” said Shawniece. “There was a nurse there, and she had been listening. She pulled me aside and was trying to break it down for me but I still didn’t understand. She said, ‘You’re going to be okay. Whatever you do, do exactly what the doctors tell you to do and don’t ever miss a doctor's appointment.’ That just stuck in my head the whole time and I never missed an appointment.”
Not long after, Shawniece was scheduled for a lumpectomy to remove the tumor which would then be followed by eight rounds of chemotherapy. Up until this point, she hadn’t really felt any serious physical effects on her condition.
“After the lumpectomy I did eight rounds of chemotherapy and that’s when it hit me that, ‘I’m really sick!’ There’s a delayed reaction when you do chemo so I would go in for the treatment on Monday but I wouldn’t feel it until Thursday. When I started to feel it I thought, ‘How is this supposed to help me?’”
Shawniece got through her first treatment feeling fine, but when the second dose came around she really felt the effects, and wound up in the hospital. Eventually, she was able to get back up on her feet, finish the rest of her chemo treatments, and ultimately be pronounced cancer-free.
Then, in 2009, the cancer came back in the very same spot as in 2005 and her doctors recommended mastectomy. For Shawniece, this was a tough thing to consider.
“By this time I was 29 and they said that they were going to take the breast,” she said. “Nobody had mentioned any other options, it was just, ‘That breast has to go now!’ So I had the mastectomy done and then I had four rounds of chemo.”
After this second bout with cancer, Shawniece thought about how she really can’t go through this again. This motivated her to pick up a book and seek out information about her cancer, about how to get healthy, and limit the possibility that she could get sick again.
“I hadn’t really thought about how my health had something to do with the way that I ate. Growing up, you were doing good just to get a meal and to eat every day! After this though I started thinking more about what I put into my body and how it all matters.”
“I thought, ‘I can’t go through this again!’ So, I cut out the pop and a lot of the unhealthy things I was eating before. It’s hard and that’s when you realize how addicted you are to certain foods. You can’t just stop with the bread, sugar, starch, and these things aren’t easy to cut out of your life. Even now I still struggle with it.
These battles also changed the way that Shawniece looked at life. She cut out the negativity around her and began to focus on the positives. This wasn’t always easy and at the same time that she received her diagnosis, her best friend was in a fight for her life as well.
“My best friend, Shyree Simmons, was diagnosed at the same time and we were doing it together,” Shawniece said. “She was stage four when she found out so it was rough but we battled together. At the beginning, it helped to have her there with me but when she passed it really scared me.”
Another revelation was finding out about the cancer and other health problems that her family had dealt with in the past. Shawniece found strength in finding out how close family members were survivors as well.
“I didn’t find out that my aunt had cancer until I was grown,” Shawniece described. “They didn’t talk about it; it was a secret. Now women are up-front about it but back then it was all hush-hush about cancer. I think that was wrong too because you need to tell your kids what ailments run in your family. I didn’t find out later that it is dominant in our family. They all were survivors so that gave me hope. They were all treated and fine. It might not have changed much but it’s so important to know what health problems run in your family.”
In 2015, Shawniece felt another lump in her other breast and, at the time she had recovered from her previous battles, and was going once a year for her annual check-up. Although she had recently had a mammogram, something told Shawniece to go back to the doctor and have them take a closer look at what she was feeling. Her persistence paid off as the lump turned out to be triple negative, part cancerous and part precancerous.
“The surgeon was so cool,” Shawniece described. “At the time, his wife was going through the very same thing and he really let me know not to think about the past. This was a whole new situation. Going back and pressing them to get an ultrasound after my yearly check-up saved me and that just shows how important it is to ask questions and go to the doctor no matter how old you are. It can save your life!”
Through all of her trial and tribulations, Shawniece always heard a faint little voice telling her that things were going to be okay.
“That was God telling me, ‘I got you,’” she said. “I wanted to live! I wasn’t going to succumb to this, I had too much left that I want to do! Even though I felt terrible, I kept telling myself, ‘You want to get married one day, have children, and become that celebratory hair stylist that you always fought to be. You can’t go anywhere!’”
“My family - my goodness - what’s going to happen if I leave them? I couldn’t leave them and I haven’t lived yet! I was thinking, ‘Why me?’ And then it hit me that God was saying that it didn’t have anything to do with me. He wants me to let people know that this is not a death sentence, and that there is live after cancer.”
For Shawniece, having cancer has opened her eyes to world in ways that she might have otherwise viewed it.
“All of the negativity plays a part trying to be happy and healthy,” she said. “You have to make it your goal to be happy and sometimes it can be hard. You’ve got to treat people how you want to be treated, and what’s inside your heart is going to help heal you.”
“You’ve got to take care of yourself. Don’t let things in life run you over. Who I am now is just a world from who I was before I first got cancer. I’ve learned so much and you can’t take one day in your life for granted because you really don’t know what’s around the corner.”
Being a survivor has opened Shawniece up to relationships and opportunities that she would not have experienced otherwise. Through email, text, and social media, she’s connected with fellow survivors who don’t have to simply imagine what she’s gone through. The anxiety, sleeplessness, and emotions that come with battling cancer can’t be imagined, and connecting with people going or who have gone through the same situation was comforting. These connections let Shawniece know that it does get better and there are people out there that can help make life with cancer easier.
“I always try to get involved around Breast Cancer Month and if I see someone getting down, and feeling like there’s no hope, I’ll reach out to them to let them know that things get better, and there is so much to live for and be thankful for,” said Shawniece.
“I’m thankful that I’ve had the chance to learn so much. It’s important to take the time to eat right, drink water, and calm your mind. More than anything else though, go to the doctor!”
If you’re a cancer survivor or you have a friend or family member that is, please share your story and how long you have been cancer free to email@example.com. Simply send us your name and how long you’ve been cancer free to be added to our growing list of Survivors. We look forward to sharing some inspirational journeys with you through this series!