We are proud to announce our next very deserving recipient , Shelly Sanford.
Shelly was first diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2009. She underwent mastectomy and chemotherapy. She was diagnosed 7 years later with metastatic breast cancer. Please read Shelly’s story below.
December 12, 2009 was just like any other Saturday morning, hanging out in my PJ’s talking with my husband, reviewing our plans for the day ahead. I had just run upstairs to get something and was coming back down when my hand brushed against the side of my left breast. I stopped immediately and thought “what was that?” I felt what I thought was a small lump. My fingers kept moving back and forth over the lump to be sure that I was really feeling what I thought I was feeling. Unsure, I asked my husband to feel the spot and see if he could feel anything. Sure enough, he felt the same spot that I did. I tried to remember the last time I had done a self-breast exam. Why hadn’t I felt this before? Although not always good about doing it on a monthly basis, I thought I had been familiar enough with my body to know the lump hadn’t been there long. Now I started kicking myself for not having scheduled my mammogram for October when I should have. You see, I had just turned 40 in October. My OB/GYN had been recommending for a few years that I get a baseline mamo before 40 but I declined, telling him I had to wait until 40 because my insurance wouldn’t pay. When I had my yearly exam in May, he once again wanted me to get one and I told him I would in October after my birthday. Well, procrastination got the best of me and even though I knew I needed to schedule, I never did.
I called my OB/GYN’s office first thing on Monday morning and they were able to schedule a mammogram for the next day. I was lucky that the radiologist was at the Women’s Center that day and was immediately able to read the mamo. He told my husband and I that they found some calcifications that looked a bit “abnormal”, so he wanted to send me for a biopsy.
At my monthly “card group” that Thursday evening, I shared with the girls my news, and asked for prayers. I reassured them, as well as myself that everything was going to be okay. I saw the doctor the next day, December 18, for what I assumed was going to be a biopsy. Actually, I wasn’t aware that you have a consult first and then they schedule the biopsy. She was very reassuring, 9 out of 10 times these turn out to be nothing, try not to worry.
The following Monday, I had an ultrasound guided needle biopsy and an appointment was again scheduled with the doctor for Tuesday afternoon. It was time to wait again. I tried not to think about what was happening and tried to act as normal as possible as we had not said anything to our two boys or our families. I confided in my best friend and in my sister-in-law that I was scared to death and by the look in their eyes I could tell that they were both concerned as well.
On Tuesday morning I received a call from the doctor’s office asking if I could come in earlier. I assumed with Christmas just a few days away, they were trying to get things wrapped up so off I went, trying to be positive. “I know it is nothing, it can’t be cancer.” I reassuringly said to myself. As the doctor started talking to my husband and I, I started hearing words like tumor, infiltrating, ductal, stage 1. What is she saying? I was trying to understand the best I could and then all of a sudden it hit me, I HAVE CANCER! How could this be! I don’t have a family history of breast cancer or any other cancer for that matter. None of my close friends have had cancer, how could this be happening. Steve and I both broke down at that point and I knew that we had each other and that was all that mattered. We would get through this, because it is not something you go through alone, your “people” experience cancer right along with you.
The hardest part was telling our two boys and our friends and family. We immediately went to my friend’s house where we cried and prayed and gathered enough strength to go home to tell our boys. The oldest, being 14 at the time had enough wisdom to ask; “You caught it early didn’t you? I know you are going to be okay.” And the youngest being 12, all he could say through his tears was “I don’t want you to die!” It was right then that I knew I had to fight the hardest fight I had ever fought. I had two boys to raise, a loving husband to grow old with and friendships that needed to grow for 40 or 50 more years. I was not going to give up.
I was faced with making several decisions about my treatment. Lumpectomy or mastectomy? My children are in school, involved in their activities, I don’t want to leave them and my support system behind to go elsewhere for treatment so do I do surgery here or somewhere else? If I do a mastectomy, do I do reconstruction? How about chemo, will I do it here? After days of going back and forth, asking many, many questions I finally decided I would choose to have a mastectomy with reconstruction. It was a hard decision and truthfully it was through prayer that I finally came to this decision, it was the one that left me with a sense of peace.
I had surgery on January 5th, 2010 to remove my left breast as well as several lymph nodes. Two weeks later when I went back for my follow up appointment, I received pathology results. I had one lymph node that was within the breast tissue that was removed that was affected but other than that all nodes were clear. Great news! But they also found an “indicator” called lobular carcinoma in-situ which indicated my chances of developing cancer in the other breast were doubled. A new decision to make, which I really didn’t have to give much thought to, get rid of the other one too. I didn’t want to have to worry about whether cancer would come back again, eliminate the possibility. Two and a half weeks after my first surgery, I had my right breast removed. As far I was concerned my cancer was gone and I didn’t have to worry.
I stared chemo treatments on February 17th with a positive attitude and ready to take it on. I had a total of 16 treatments and as of July 28th, 2010, I successfully finished all treatment. Reconstruction took place in the following months and by the end of 2010, other than regularly scheduled checkups with my oncologist, I was able to put this chapter of my own cancer behind me, while being able to move on to help others going through this same thing.
For the next 7 years I followed up with my monthly, then every 6 month, then yearly appointments to make sure I was still cancer free. In 2017 I was informed that my oncologist was no longer going to be coming to Fort Dodge to see patients and my options were to see him in Des Moines or to see the new doctor that was going to be taking his place. After discussions with my husband, we made the decision that I would transfer my care to Mayo Clinic as several people that I know had had positive experiences there. I was set up with an excellent doctor at Mayo and was told to bring all of my previous records. Upon review of my records, something suspicious was found that they felt needed further review. I followed up with pulmonology who scheduled a PET scan, the first I had ever had, and that day was given news that was unbelievable to hear. I was informed that I had spots in my liver, lungs, hip, and lymph nodes in my chest. To say I was shocked and scared was an understatement. I had no idea that this was happening inside of my body as I felt great, no indication of any of this.
The next day I was scheduled for a biopsy of the tumor in my liver. It was determined that the genetic makeup of that tumor was exactly the same as my previous breast cancer, it was labeled metastatic breast cancer. I was shattered! To hear the words almost 8 years earlier was difficult, to hear these words now was devastating. But once again, I drew strength from my deep and unyielding belief in God and that He, as always was walking this journey with me.
My family, friends and God have been by my side throughout this new journey. My sons who are now grown, but still my biggest cheerleaders told me, don’t worry mom, “everything will be okay” and even gave me a sign to remind me of this.
I started an oral medication that I needed to take twice daily, morning and evening. As a reminder of the times I needed to have it, my son set a timer on my phone with the tune being the song “Three Little Birds”. The lyrics of the song are “don’t worry, about a thing ‘cause every little thing ‘gonna be alright.” It is amazing how just that daily reminder can empower you and give you strength.
After almost three successful years on that initial drug, I have now switched treatment a couple of times, but we keep working and striving for tumor shrinkage and keeping the cancer at bay. A very good friend of mine and one of my spiritual cheerleaders has taught me that God wants our BOLD prayers, so daily I BOLDLY ask God for complete healing and for the miracle of my cancer being completely removed from my body.
Most people would not look upon this situation as a blessing, but I can truly say that because of this journey I have been more than blessed by the people that have been in my life and the new ones that have come into my life. I have new friends and old who are going through this exact same journey as me. We draw strength from one another and lean on each other when we need it. I have a strong belief in the power of prayer and I have come to find out that I have more people than I know praying for me. It is my passion to bless others as I have been blessed and to live each day to the fullest.
A $3,000 goal was originally set and we are still in need of $1,100 to make Shelly’s bedroom makeover a reality. Please consider a donation today.