Shaneen Wahl was born in Michigan and now lives in Punta Gorda.

When were you diagnosed?

I was 46 years old when I was diagnosed in 1996. That was 23 years ago.

What kind of treatment did you receive?

I was the poster child for early detection. Even though the cancer had become invasive, it was very early stage and did not affect the lymph nodes. I am thankful for routine mammograms for that.

I had a wide lumpectomy and radiation.

Did you face any obstacles?

My husband and I retired early (a year and a half before diagnosis). We sold the house, sold the furniture and put a few important things into storage. We bought an RV and set out to see America. I thought the diagnosis was the end of my American dream. But no. I had treatment and kept right on traveling.

What was the most challenging part of your experience?

Having been diagnosed early, the treatment was a major inconvenience, but doable. The challenge came when my health insurance treated me as a new enrollee with a pre-existing condition at policy renewal. I had trusted that the Florida State Legislature had vetted the plans that were being sold in Florida, but that was not the case. I then learned about the health insurance industry lobby.

Where did you find the greatest support?

In the beginning, many well- meaning friends said, “Oh, my (aunt, mom, sister, friend, etc.) died of that, because they didn’t know what to say. After picking myself up and kicking out the depression those comments instigated, I became pro-active. Scheduling talks about early detection in the campgrounds we visited and starting a blow by blow email campaign to all of my friends and acquaintances.

I gained strength and realized that the cancer was not going to kill me and neither was I going to allow the insurance company take my retirement away after they raised my premiums.

What came next was a three year plus fight to keep my health insurance. That newfound strength led me to testify before the Florida Legislature numerous times. You can find my picture on the front page of the Wall Street Journal just a few columns away from George Bush. Peter Jennings World News Tonight reporter Jackie Judd spent a day with me in my living room with her photo team for a TV segment.

U.S. Senator Patrick Leahey invited me to Washington to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The State of Michigan brought me to talk to their Insurance Commissioner. There were over 40 newspaper articles, many that went nationwide (thank you Greg Martin of the Charlotte Sun).

But the greatest support was then-Florida Insurance Commissioner, Tom Gallagher. He was doing the job he was put into office to do: work for the good of the people of the State of Florida and not the insurance lobbyists.

It was a long three-year fight but was worth it when Tom Gallagher stood beside me to announce that the measure had been passed to make sure that what happened to me would not happen to any other Florida resident.

How has the experience affected your relationship with friends and family?

As with other things, great and small, your friends will always be your friends and your family will always be your family, you just need to give them a few instructions on how to handle you.

How has this experience changed you?

I learned that I am capable of much more than I ever thought was possible. Just because something bad happens in your life it doesn’t mean good won’t come from it.

What advice would you share with others?

Early on, I told myself that I would never call it “my” cancer, but instead, “the” cancer. I taught my friends to refer it as such.


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