Shana Wilson, originally from Vermont, now lives in Venice.
When were you diagnosed?
April 3, 2019, just a few days after my 40th birthday.
What kind of treatment did you receive?
I had a double mastectomy and seven lymph nodes removed in April, six weeks of radiation and have two more surgeries in October – a hysterectomy on the first and breast reconstruction on the 10th.
Did you face any obstacles? If so, how did you overcome them?
Many! My biggest obstacle has been being a single mother without any family nearby and two young children and trying to stay strong for them. I’ve overcome that by allowing friends to help with meals and transportation and realizing that I don’t have to be strong all the time. That it was okay to be honest with my children and that it’s okay for them to see me cry.
What was the most challenging part of your experience?
Trying to work and financially support myself and my children while going through treatment. I worked part-time for a local nonprofit and didn’t have any sick or vacation pay and didn’t qualify for the FMLA. I needed five weeks off following surgeries in April and May.
Going through radiation for six weeks Monday through Friday cut into work time and there were some weeks when I had nine doctor appointments in a single week. I lost my job recently as I am facing two more surgeries in October and need additional time off to recover from both. It’s been extremely difficult trying to keep a roof over our heads and to stay on top of the bills. I’m thankful for friends who set up a GoFundMe that has helped during this time.
Where did you find the greatest support?
I found my greatest support through my church community (the Exchange Church in Sarasota) and girlfriends near and far.
How has the experience affected your relationship with friends and family?
In times like this you find out who your true friends really are. Some people get scared and run while others, who you would never expect to, step up. This experience has brought my children and I even closer together than we were and has made our bond so much stronger than it already was.
How has this experience changed you?
I’m still in the middle of this experience and I know that this is going to continue to change me. I’m not the same person I was in March when this journey started. I’ve gone through shock, anger, grief, resentment and peace.
This experience has taught me to be real and raw. You always hear the saying that “life is short, live each day like it’s your last.” When you are faced with a cancer diagnosis, that becomes reality. It really does teach you to live like each day is your last. Most importantly, this experience has strengthened my faith as I’ve realized that without God, there really is no hope. I’ve clung to His promises for me and, without my faith, I would have never made it through the dark, lonely days.
I have learned that I can’t do this alone and that’s okay. Sometimes the greatest sign of strength is in admitting that you need help and allowing others to help you.
What advice would you share with others?
Not to let anger or resentment win. That will destroy you quicker than the cancer will. Don’t be afraid to be real – some people will leave your life, but the ones that truly care about you, will step up and be there for you.