Stories about breast cancer that can inspire and inform

Blog  |  Newsroom

Shannon’s Story: Climbing the Mountain

Shannon Schumacher is the third woman in her family to be diagnosed with breast cancer. This is her story in her own words.  

December 6, 2022, that was my day. At 46 years old, I was diagnosed with HER2-positive, ER-positive breast cancer. In that same week, my stepfather was diagnosed with stage 4 bladder cancer and my brother was diagnosed with lymphoma. 

I wasn’t the first one in my family to be diagnosed with breast cancer. I grew up watching my mom fight breast cancer. My mom is alive and healthy and has gone through five recurrences in her life. My grandmother died at 48 from breast cancer, which had spread to her brain. Unfortunately, I never met my grandmother.  

As you can imagine, the past year has been tremendously challenging. I started with surgery, which consisted of a lumpectomy and a port placement. Unfortunately, my lung was punctured during the surgery and I was hospitalized for a few days while my lung was repaired. 

Following the surgery, I did three months of chemotherapy, then one month of radiation. I had lots of difficulties with the chemo, but I was so proud that I made it all the way through.  

I remember hearing about methods where mountain climbers will look ahead to a specific spot on their trail and make a goal to just get to that next spot, then after getting to that spot, visually mark the next spot before continuing and so on. This is what I did during my treatment and continue to do. I envisioned the top of a mountain being the end of chemo, as that was one of my biggest mountains to climb. 

I have leaned on therapy. I had some debilitating anxiety the year prior due to other health and personal situations. The anxiety remains the most difficult life experience for me. Oddly, I felt fortunate to have gone through that the year prior to my diagnosis, as it gave me tools I could use, as well as put in place the most amazing therapist. It took multiple therapists to get the right person, but my current therapist has helped me through this experience. I highly recommend anyone in cancer treatment to use a therapist if they can. 

Also use the nurses and don’t ever hesitate to call them. There were weeks where they may have been tired of hearing from me but remember that’s why they are there. 

Meditate, walk, get massages. 

I lost all my hair and my face became very swollen from the steroids. I didn’t look like myself. This is temporary, of course. My husband would send me photos of myself to remind me who I am. 

Some people will become closer to you. Some people may ghost you. Many people won’t understand what you are going through. Lots of people won’t know what to say to you. Let that all go. Lean on the key people you need each day. You will change how you feel about your friendships and relationships. This is okay. 

There are so many resources and supports available now. Use as many as you can. Don’t get overwhelmed, and focus on one thing at a time. I found articles on Komen’s webiste and their Real Pink podcast, which have wonderful resources for me.

Unfortunately, my stepfather will not make it. He is currently in hospice. I grew up with him, so this is devastating. I have watched him fight like hell, though. My brother is doing well. We check in with each other regularly and have become closer. 

There is peace I have found through this experience – to accept what you have no control over. We didn’t choose to have breast cancer. This is the card I was dealt, and I am just focused on each step on that mountain. Listen to your body. Do not be afraid of what could happen. Find peace. 

Statements and opinions expressed are those of the individual and do not express the views or opinions of Susan G. Komen. This information is being provided for educational purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice. Persons with breast cancer should consult their healthcare provider with specific questions or concerns about their treatment.