Survivor Stories: Shayla Johnson
January 9, 2017, was the day of my double mastectomy. I was considered "free and clear" on that day, but I celebrate my cancerversary on my final chemo day which was June 5, 2017. Even though it was just a precaution, it was one of the hardest battles of my life.
I was 34 on November 3rd and sitting in the doctor’s office waiting for my biopsy results with my boyfriend. He sat there cool and confident, because he couldn't allow the thought of the test being positive. I sat fearing something was wrong. I kept telling myself it was just a cyst, which was what my mom and sister have had.
I kept saying "I can’t have cancer. I'm too young!" "I can't have cancer. I just lost my mother a few months ago. Nobody gets cancer and loses their mother in the same year!" As soon as the doctor said, "Has anyone spoken to you?" I knew I had cancer. I cried for about as long as my mind would let me, then I went into fight mode and said, "Ok so what do we do next? How do I beat this?" After I was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer and also BRCA2 positive, I decided what was best was a double mastectomy. The biopsy from the removed tumor confirmed that the cancer was grade 3 and hormonally driven so the next course of action was the dreaded chemo.
I was more afraid of chemo than cancer and surgery put together. In fact, I almost declined it. I mean, you've already taken my breasts, now you want my hair and my figure?! You want what makes me a woman?! You want to stick poison into my veins?! I had to remind myself the most important question is "Do you want to survive?” I went through the AC-T 8 round chemo regimen at Dana Farber. I will say my team at the hospital made all my treatments a lot more bearable and the facility was a constant reminder to stay positive. I hate to toot my horn but "beep beep" lol I kicked chemo’s butt!
I couldn't stand some days, my body ached, the fatigue was unbearable, and food tasted horrible. I gained almost 25lbs and was holding onto my eyebrow, which was my last bit of hair, for dear life. The worst was the odd side effect of shooting nerves that cause a sensation of constant itching, but there was no way to scratch. Despite all of that I stayed positive, sure I screamed when I needed to, but I never lost hope. Here we are over a year later, and I'm on a hormonal suppressant plan, one year down and four more years to go. After much trial and error with medications and side effects, I think we found a plan that works. I take a daily pill and monthly injection. In the aftermath of all of this, my body isn't the same. I'm not sure if it'll ever be back the way it was, but I'm still thriving.
When I decided to be vocal about my cancer battle, I had quite a few women approach me and tell me how they stayed silent, and that the result is that they suffered in silence. My advice is to allow people to help and support you. Having such a supportive team was key for me. I had 7 people in my room after my surgery, and my nurse had to shoosh them haha, but it meant everything to me. My boyfriend came to almost every chemo treatment, and if he didn't my sister or friend was there. One very important thing to do is forgive and be patient with yourself. I thought as soon as I was done with chemo I was going to hit the ground running, and it hurt me when I couldn't. I had to and still have to remind myself that I've been through a lot...my mind and body have been through a lot.
One way cancer has changed me in a positive way is I don't view life the same. I'm doing more to seize the day, to ride this life until the wheels fall off. We are only here once and now I'm very aware of just how fragile our existence truly is.
Everyday, I put purpose into my Handful bra! I put turmeric, herbal tea, weight loss, and healthy living in my Handful. I put a new found obsession with makeup in my Handful. I put grapeseed oil and my mastectomy scars in my Handful. I put Life and Love into my Handful!