By Debby Woodin
Shannon Sumner felt a lump in her breast.
It was April 2009 when she noticed it and called for an appointment with her gynecologist. But it was September before she could get in.
When she did, the doctor told her it was a fatty tumor. After all, at age 33, it was unlikely it would be cancer. But the tumor persisted.
“It felt like it got bigger and smaller,” Sumner said. She called for another appointment and got in again in April 2010. The doctor ordered an ultrasound.
“They knew before I got my clothes on I had cancer,” she said of the test results. It was invasive ductal carcinoma, but she didn’t know the extent yet.
The weeks followed in a whirlwind. One week it was a biopsy, the next a surgery consultation.
“It went so fast,” she said. “It seems like everything happened on a Tuesday when I first started going through everything,” she said in regard to the time that passed between her diagnosis and her mastectomy.
“They didn’t know until the day of the surgery,” that she had jumped one hurdle. It was found to be contained in the breast and had not invaded her lymph glands. One doctor described it as Stage Zero. Another diagnosed it as Stage 1. Either way, there were still more hurdles to jump.
While her cancer was determined to be the most responsive to treatment of its variations, she still had more to go through.
She had reconstruction surgery, then drug treatment.
“With my age, I ended up having to do chemotherapy,” Sumner said of the process that ran from July until September 2010. She had six treatments. “Actually I did really well,” with the treatments. “By the time I had my second appointment, I had lost all my hair. The only time I felt really sick was around the fourth appointment,” but after that her treatment went well.
Her cancer diagnosis bothered her less than the impact it would have on the rest of her life, she said.
“The only thing that really upset (us) is we weren’t sure if, going through the treatment, we could ever have children,” she said of her and her husband’s thoughts.
“But I have a motto that I follow: ‘Put your big-girl panties on and do what you have to do,’ and that’s what I did.”
She had the support of family and friends to help her, said Sumner, an employee of Downstream Casino.
“I was loved by my mom, my dad and my husband,” she said. “I had some support at Downstream. There were three of us women going through it at the same time.”
Since going through her treatment and reconstruction surgery, she now receives follow-up treatment that includes having blood tests every three months. She will go through hormonal treatments for another three years, which includes an uncomfortable shot in her stomach periodically.
She is grateful that the cancer was detected when it was, but says she learned that sometimes taking care of one’s self requires persistence.
“Don’t always believe what your doctor says if you feel something is wrong. Just because you’re young, doesn’t mean you can’t have cancer,” Sumner said.