This month brings a significant milestone for Lisa Shaner.
After five years, her cancer will officially be in remission.
She considers herself fortunate. Her cancer was caught by a mammogram before it had spread to surrounding tissue, considered Stage 0.
“Sometimes I feel I have nothing; I shouldn’t be talking about it, because there’s so many other people who’ve had such worse situations,” she said.
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Yet, she also understands the importance of sharing her story. She credits the annual checkup where her cancer was discovered with finding it so early and encourages other women to have such checkups.
For Lisa, the treatment was not the hardest part, but the aftermath — particularly the effects of the drug Tamoxifen, which she has taken for five years to inhibit estrogen receptors.
The drug is a common hormone therapy given for breast cancer, due to the link between breast cancer and estrogen, according to the American Cancer Society.
Blocking estrogen receptors can have similar effects to menopause, such as hot flashes and nausea.
“I dress for summer in the wintertime a lot,” she said.
When she learned she had cancer, Lisa was alone at a routine checkup. She was shocked, but not shaken.“I didn’t get sad. I probably became more of a fighter,” she said.
“She kind of likes to try things on her own,” husband Steve Shaner said. “She’s very headstrong in determination, and it takes a little coaxing to say, ‘Let somebody help you.’”
She continued to work through her surgery and radiation treatment, and remembers her hesitation over telling the three men she worked with what was happening.
“It was really hard telling a stranger,” she said.
“One of the guys, really touching, said, ‘Let’s go pray about it,’” she said. “It struck me as just a huge outpouring of somebody trying to help in the way that they knew how to help.”
“People don’t know what to say to you,” she said. “Just asking people how they’re feeling and if there’s something you can do is really huge.”
Though she said she kept a positive attitude throughout, four small words from her health coach still had a big impact: “This doesn’t own you.”
“I think that’s important, that your life doesn’t change,” she said. “It’s not over. You don’t just sit and worry about it. You have to keep moving forward.”
Lisa learned to slow down and take better care of herself.
“I’ve always been very work-centric,” she said.
She started paying more attention to what she ate and how it made her feel. She notices when she isn’t feeling well and whether stress or something like caffeine could be contributing.
While she downplays much of her experience, she does bear the permanent reminders of her treatments, such as radiation burns and tattoos used to help aim the radiation.
“I didn’t know what to expect with radiation,” she said. “It sounded very harmless when they talked about it.”
She remembers two times that she broke down.
The first was when she went in for an MRI, which was looking for any signs the cancer had spread.
“It suddenly hit me that I had something I was going to have to go through,” she said. She became physically ill and went to the car to talk with her husband on the phone.
“I just kind of stood back and bided my time and waited until the opportunity was right to let her know that I’m here and supporting and whatever I can,” Steve said.
As a spouse, the one thing Steve said he would like to see from doctors and treatment providers is more inclusion of the family, taking time to sit down and explain what a cancer patient is going through.
“There really wasn’t anybody to come talk to me, or to anybody in the family, about what was going on, what the process was,” he said. “I kind of had to figure that all out on my own.”
Walking as a survivor during her first American Cancer Society Relay for Life was also a significant experience, Lisa said.“That was probably the second time that got me a bit, because I never considered myself a survivor of cancer,” she said. “I had it, it’s done, it’s over with.”
Walking the Brown County High School track, Lisa was struck by how many people she knew who had also survived cancer, yet she had never known about it before that day.
Relay gave her a connection to other survivors and their stories, which is something she would like to see more of in Brown County.
She has nothing but praise for her nurses and doctors. She appreciates the support of family and friends, and how her husband’s fellow firefighters at the Brown County (Nashville) Volunteer Fire Department “treated me like a baby kitten” when she insisted on helping with their fish fry the weekend after her surgery.
Yet, there was a kind of void once her treatments were through, she said. “What do you do once things are done? How should I feel?”
Lisa said she would like to see some kind of local support group for cancer survivors.
“And I would love to participate in something like that,” she said. “If I can share something that helps someone else going through it, that would make me happy.”
Spouse: Steve Shaner
Cancer: Breast cancer