For Breast Cancer Awareness Month we wanted to share the story of one of our loved Buzzoms customers, Shawnte Thompson. We hope her story inspires women to love on their bodies, be gentle with themselves, and stay strong as we all work through our unique struggles.
Hello, my name is Shawnte’ Thompson, and on September 30, 2019 I became a warrior. I was diagnosed with stage three, triple negative breast cancer. With this month being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I’m going to share with you my journey and how I’ve managed in the middle of a global pandemic.
What Began as a Standard Weekend
It all started last August, when my youngest daughter was about to start her freshman year at Delaware College for Art and Design. I decided to take the kids on an end of summer outing at a local amusement park. On this particular day, I was extremely fatigued but that wasn’t unusual for me because I live a pretty busy life and I often bite off more than I can chew. But, by the end of the day, I had a headache from hell. I actually started to feel like someone had beaten me up. My body was sore.
Once I arrived home I took a hot shower to wash the day away. I immediately hopped in bed. I always rub on my breasts (my Buzzoms) out of habit. As I rubbed I started to feel pain. The pain was under my arm as well as my breast. I kid you not, when I felt the knots in my breast I gasped and I immediately started to cry. I knew that wasn’t normal, not even for me. I have large dense breasts and at 23 I was diagnosed with Fibrocystic Breast Disease. This means I have cysts in my breast that feel lumpy to the touch, but not cancerous cysts. I got up and grabbed a glass of wine to get my mind off the issue.
The next morning I wake-up and immediately go with my friend to the local urgent care. The doctors at urgent care gave me a prescription for antibiotics and pain medication. They also gave me a referral to get a sonogram and mammogram. At this point, I still haven’t communicated with my daughters what’s happened.
The Time to Diagnosis
Saturday morning I wake up tired as ever, questioning why I made an appointment on a Saturday at 7:30am. Once I make it to the radiologist, I hand the receptionist my referral. I change into the hospital gown and I wait for the tech to return to conduct her tests. The tech finishes, and I proceed to get dressed but I hear a tap on the door. It was the tech telling me that the radiologist wanted to speak with me. In my head I’m thinking, “lady I don’t have time for this.” I go into the radiologist office and she proceeds to tell me that they’ve seen some things that are concerning and that I need to have it further investigated. Honestly, it went in one ear and out the other. I shake my head to acknowledge what she’s saying. I leave the office and start the drive to my son’s football game. On my drive there my mind starts to think back to what she was saying. What if this is something to be concerned with? I didn’t have time to deal with that though. I was a mother on the way to support her child. The last thing I wanted to do was think about being sick.
On my way home my phone rings and it was my primary care physician stating that he had my results. I was surprised by the urgency - this was a Saturday afternoon which also happened to be a holiday weekend. He then asks me to come by that day to get a referral to an oncologist. I replied “sir I can’t make it today, I'll come tomorrow.”
The next day was Labor Day. I wake up and can barely get out of bed. I touched my breast and realized my shirt was wet. I touched the area and realized the wetness was coming from my nipple. At that moment I felt nauseated and called my partner into our bedroom to tell him what was going on and after some convincing, I ended up at the emergency room. At the ER I mention my Saturday trip to the radiologist. The doctor informs me that they can pull my radiology report. Meanwhile, I’m sitting in triage waiting for them to tell me if they found the report and answering a slew of questions from the kids who kept texting me. I lied about where I was going because I didn’t want them to worry.
The doctor returns and her face says it all. My partner is with me as they continually give me different medications. After the back and forth, he questions, “what’s really going on?” After receiving my verbal consent, the doctor looks at him and says, “we think she has cancer.” I was so out of it from the pain medication I just laid there staring at the ceiling afraid to look at anyone.
That week I had so many appointments scheduled and so many phone calls to make that my head was spinning. I could feel myself falling apart. I immediately called a therapist. In the middle of all of this, remember life doesn’t stop. My kids were having football practice every day with games on the weekend. I was working a full-time job. If that wasn’t enough, I got a phone call that my cousin was on life support and I needed to go to the hospital immediately. Surrounded by family, I watched my cousin take his last breath. I cried, and cried, and I then thought about my own situation which I hadn’t shared with my family. I had no real plans to do so.
Finally, the day came when the doctor revealed all of the findings of my test. I was accompanied by my partner and my best friend. Nothing could’ve prepared me to hear the words that come out of his mouth. “Our tests show that you do indeed have breast cancer.” I crumbled. My doctor was sure I could beat it but I was scared. He had already set my appointment with the oncologist for the next day.
I get in the car barely able to see. My partner grabs my hands and says “We will get through this, but you can’t handle it the way you’ve been handling this the past two months.” I agree and we head home. I try to process all the information that was given to me. The amount of information you will receive with this kind of diagnosis is mind blowing. It is definitely information overload.
The day came for my first round of chemo and I was so scared. The doctor ordered eight rounds in total that would be given every other week. On the off weeks I would get my replenishment done because chemo depletes your body of everything. During my first round I honestly thought I was going to die. My head hurt, I was nauseated and my body hurt all over. My boyfriend, daughter and best friend took turns that weekend caring for me. My daughter, my poor child, had to bathe me. We both were very scared, I wanted her to leave but I needed her and she wouldn’t have it any other way. I hated her seeing me so weak and fragile. During my treatment week I would send my youngest child who I still hadn’t told. I also hadn’t shared the news with my daughter who was away at college. I had no real plans of telling anyone, until I was told my hair would start to fall out. It was going to be pretty hard to hide it now, especially since I had long locs. I loved my hair and everyone knew it. Having cancer will expose you of all your insecurities. Physically, you will change and there’s nothing you can do about it. I would suggest therapy to anyone in this fight. It’s a must to keep a positive outlook on things.
At the end of the eight rounds I was scheduled to have surgery to remove what was left of the mass after chemotherapy. I also had fourteen lymph nodes removed. I had my surgery on March 5th 2020. This is significant because the very next week the country was hit with the deadly virus, COVID19. Those in the high risk category were older adults and people with preexisting medical conditions - that was me. What was I going to do now? My doctors told me to stay in. In fact, for the first couple of weeks we were only allowed to do telehealth visits. Nobody knew what this virus was and the CDC guidelines seemed to change weekly, and the pandemic was causing uncertainty around my radiation therapy. I was stuck in limbo because all of the doctor’s offices were canceling appointments left and right.
I eventually get my drainage tubes out and start radiation. Radiation was a lot different than chemotherapy. With chemo, they tell you that you will be sick but radiation makes you tired and burns your body. I managed to make it through chemotherapy with no pain medication and I even turned it down initially during radiation. By week three my doctor said to me “Ms. Thomspon it’s time for something to help with the pain” I’d taken all the creams and ointments she suggested with no problems. I just felt like I had so many drugs in my system already so why add anymore. I gladly agreed this time becase I was burned badly. It was so bad that taking a shower was enough to make me faint.
About midway through radiation. I received a call from my doctor about scheduling a follow-up appointment. He says I still have “a little cancer” even after the surgery. I would have to endure another round of chemo. I wanted to scream, kick and cry. How and why was this happening?
Now, I’m 8 months into this cancer fight. This is where therapy plays a major role. My therapist was able to help me work through my feelings. I was able to communicate with my loved ones effectively. Nobody will be able to truly be able to understand what it is you’re going through unless they’ve been through it themselves. But I do help my story helps women understand the importance of recognizing symptoms, acting quickly, and just being nice to yourself and other people during times like this.
I’m currently still fighting this horrible disease in the middle of a pandemic. I’m strong and optimistic that’ll beat this monster. For anyone that’s fighting this or knows someone in this fight - remember to be patient with yourself or that person. Go get your screenings. If you’re afraid, take a friend or love one with you. Seek out a therapist to help you handle the heaviness of your diagnosis and to help you keep a healthy positive outlook on things. Also, for my strong willed women, please accept help. This is no time to be stubborn or prideful. If you are working while receiving treatment, please make sure you’re open as with your employer. Remember to rest and take care of your mind, body and spirit.
If you or a loved one has been affected, if you’d like to connect, or if you are just a proud supporter, feel free to visit my personal blog at www.shealexmarie.com.