#YWBC Shannon

#YWBC: Shannon

Name: Shannon Kathryn Cook
Age: 40
Occupation: Machine Operator with Estée Lauder Co, Full Sail University Digital Marketing Brand Strategy, Student and Entrepreneur
Age when diagnosed with breast cancer: 38
Breast cancer type: Triple Negative Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, BRCA1 genetic mutation
Breast cancer stage: Stage 2
Treatment: Two months of Adriamycin and Cytoxan chemotherapy. Followed by four months of
Taxol chemotherapy treatments every week.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself that has nothing to do with cancer:

I’m a machine operator for a global beauty brand that owns some of the top designer skincare and makeup lines in the industry. It’s funny because I’m completely high maintenance when it comes to my looks, style and quality of products I use. Most of my guy friends say that I’m a creature with the best of both genders. It’s flattering, but I’m not that mechanically mastered. But hair and makeup? Absolutely.

What’s your go-to pick-me-up song?

Nice for What, by Drake. This is my motivational and preferred traffic jam song. It’s also a motto that I use when I’m feeling down about myself when it comes to my relationships and overtime at work.

Shannon Cook

How did you discover your cancer?

I had just met my current boyfriend. After a long night at work, I returned to my apartment to find him asleep. I quickly warmed up the shower to relax from my day. Being the chivalrous man that he is, he entered the bathroom with a huge fluffy towel to dry me off. (This is our daily ritual.) As he dried my body and towelled my left breast his face lit up with horror. I felt it when he touched the lump again. The look on his face made me collapse on the bed. I already knew it was cancer.

What went through your mind when you received your diagnosis?

I can remember everything in detail at this moment. It was 12:25 p.m. and I was preparing to walk out the door for my daily commute to work. I was in the bedroom tying the last lace on my boots when my cell phone rang. The caller ID read Dr. F. With trembling hands and a knot in my throat I confidently answered as if I was invincible to anything he was about to tell me. I felt brave yet I was sure that my diagnosis would be breast cancer.

#YWBC Shannon

His exact words were, “The results from your biopsy came back not as we had hoped. I’m so sorry.” I was numb physically and mentally. I responded, ”So what’s the next step?” While I was containing my composure, he went on to explain a scheduled follow up in a few days to create a plan. I hung up the phone and that’s the moment I became flooded with every emotion I’ve ever felt, paralyzed by each memory and experience I had encountered in my entire life. It was suffocating me. I fell to my knees, buried my face in a mountain of pillows on my bed and wept. I don’t think I have cried so fiercely before. It was terrifying. I rose to my feet with mascara pouring from my eyelashes and there I stood trembling with a fear I cannot explain. My late father, who passed from cancer at 42, was embracing me. I took the strongest breath I could, as if it would make me invincible and made a vow, “I will NOT go out like this!” The fear left my soul and it was at that moment I became a soldier.

What’s the craziest thing someone said to you after being diagnosed with breast cancer?

A gentleman who had been through cancer treatments in the past said something to me that made me disgusted. His exact words were, “It’s all about the money. You don’t need all the chemotherapy treatments they will prescribe. Doctors nowadays are taught in med school to help the patient get through as many poisonous treatments they can handle. More treatments mean more money. It’s all a game and they don’t care how much you suffer.” I was infuriated with this man and his disrespectful condolence. I said nothing. I politely smiled and walked away.

There was another man who said the words that carried me through the darkest times and encouraged me through this vile sickness. My lovely Oliver, the man who found my cancer, he is my heart. He looked up at me when I told him the severity of my diagnosis and fearlessly said, “Trust your doctors and respect your treatments.” He helped save my life with just those words. I thought and lived through that advice every single day.

#YWBC Shannon

Who has been your biggest source of support throughout your experience with cancer?

My Mia, my mom. She was my right-hand woman from day one. She was fearless, she never left my side and she dropped everything to be by my side through this hell. She saw my father become crippled and wither away from the same chemotherapy treatment meds I had to endure. She is the strongest woman I know. She’s my best friend.

What has been the most difficult part of being a young woman with breast cancer?

The entire process is difficult, as anyone can imagine. The first big struggle and fear that overwhelmed me was not working 60 hours a week. I love my job and I’ve always been a free spirit, always on the go. No time to sit or rest because I have a lot to do in my lifetime and I’m going to do it ALL! When I was forced to take medical leave and stay inside for weeks on end I thought I would go mad. The human body can endure tremendous physical pain, but it’s your mind that will be the biggest factor for your success. You must constantly change your mindset and adapt to your environment or you will not survive.

Shannon Cook

Another struggle I suffered was with my hair. I loved my hair. I had been a hairdresser for nearly 10 years and it was my trademark, my superpower. People were eager to see me just to know what new colour my hair was or how elaborate my hairstyle was. It was my signature feature but now my biggest nightmare. Once my chemo treatments were finished and my hair grew back, it was completely opposite of what it was pre-cancer.

Today I battle a deep depression from my surgeries. I had genetic testing done due to my family history, my age and how aggressively my cancer was growing. I carry a damaged cancer suppressing gene, BRCA1. I was forced to have both breasts and ovaries removed. I’m very sorry that I don’t have a triumphant ending to this part of my story but I’m still undergoing countless surgeries to correct my initial procedures. My tissue expanders have also been placed on a global recall for causing large cell lymphoma within the scar tissue of the breast. Being the soldier that my Mia has raised me to be, I shall slay this demon and share my happily ever after ending soon.

What’s something unexpected you learned about yourself as a result of having breast cancer? 

I could write a novel from this question. There have been a hundred and two unexpected characteristics, flaws and emotions I never knew I could feel or understand before cancer. The most significant thing I learned about myself through all of this is that I am not an X-Man, I’m not superhuman. It’s quite difficult to come to terms with immortality, vulnerability and the act of crying selfishly for your own circumstances. It’s not something I want to feel anymore, yet I cannot forget it.

What words of wisdom would you pass on to another young woman who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer?

In the words of my love, my Oliver, “Trust your doctors and respect your treatments.”

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