A Survivor Story:

Kristina Shaughnessy

Kristina Shaughnessy Continues to Fight Cancer for Women in South Jersey

On January 25, 2012, the day before her 47th birthday, Kristina Shaughnessy had a mastectomy followed by a treatment plan of chemotherapy and radiation. This year, she celebrates her birthday a breast cancer survivor, a South Jersey mom of two and BreastFest volunteer who is spreading the word about early detection and her personal experience at Virtua.
 

How did you learn that you had breast cancer?

I have a sister who is five and a half years older than me and is a two-time breast cancer survivor. Because of her diagnoses I started getting annual preventative mammograms every year since I was 33. When I went for my annual exam, I received a letter two days later in the mail asking me to come back for additional images.It was typical for me, so I didn’t think anything of it. After additional views and an ultrasound the radiologist said I would need a needle biopsy. At that point, there was something in me that thought, “this isn’t good.” I returned for the needle biopsy days later. You look at the doctor’s face and you try to read them. I was told I needed to be prepared for whatever news I got, and that I should make an appointment for the surgeon. I spent Christmas worrying and four days later found out that I had cancer.

How did your family react to the news?

We were like deer caught in headlights. The first thing out of my mouth was, “am I going to see the next Christmas with my girls? Am I going to live to see them grow up? “The doctor assured me I would and wanted me to get an MRI as soon as I could. “Are you going to lose your hair?” That was the first question my daughters’ asked. But I shared with them that it’s not all about the hair. I think when people ask that, it’s sort of them saying, are you going to be OK? Overall they did really well. The ability to bring them in to talk with someone also helped. Giving them the chance to see other survivors was good. I don’t want them to be afraid of their future.

Why did you choose Virtua for your care?

There was a moment when I was first diagnosed when everyone said you should go across the bridge, but why deal with that hassle when Virtua is right here in our community with great physicians and nurses? I was very happy to stay at Virtua and I would highly recommend it. I don’t ever want to have to recommend my breast surgeon to anyone, but I would!

Was it difficult to decide on treatment?

Knowing that I could have my whole life with my girls, if doing chemo gave me a small percentage of a better chance of no recurrence, then I was going to do it. I was lucky. I only had to have four rounds of chemo—but it was four rounds too many. So many women have to endure eight or 12 rounds. It was rough, but I did it. We thought I wouldn’t need radiation, but that turned out not to be true. Nobody’s case is cut and dry, and everyone is so different. If the radiation was added insurance for me, I was going to do that, too. Now, I’m taking tamoxifen (used to help decrease the risk of recurrence) for the next five years.

How helpful was it to have a nurse navigator at your side?

My care was great and my nurse navigator, Tara, was just wonderful. She would call to check on me, but I also had the ability to just pick up the phone and ask her to help me. It was really helpful knowing that there was somebody there who could help coordinate some of my care. You’re so inundated with information at the beginning. It gets so overwhelming and so difficult to filter what you do and do not need to read, so it was helpful to have the nurse navigator there to ask these questions. If she couldn’t answer it, she would get the answer for me. You really feel like you have a whole team helping you. It’s great.

How did you get involved with BreastFest?

I was involved with BreastFest and the Tyanna Foundation before my diagnosis. This is something near and dear to my heart. I’ve known the O’Brien sisters for some time and it’s funny because about a month before my diagnosis I was telling them that I think it’s really important that we connect people to BreastFest—women who have been helped by the event and share how the money stays here in South Jersey to help women we know. I shared that we really need faces of survivors who have been impacted by the funds donated to Virtua. I remember telling Sara (O’Brien) that I will not be your poster child for BreastFest! But I’m happy to be for so many reasons.

Did you seek genetic counseling after your diagnosis?

I did have the genetic counseling done through Virtua. A counselor helped with making up my family tree and figuring it all out with a chart. My sister had been tested years ago and didn’t carry the gene, so the chance of me having was slim, but I needed to find out for my girls. We have no history of breast cancer, and yet both of us (two sisters) have had it in two completely different types, but for us, there is no gene. I wonder to myself, is it the hot dog I ate as a kid? Is it where we grew up? These are the things you ask yourself, but we just don’t have the answers today.

What advice can you share with moms facing a diagnosis?

All moms have super powers. They just do. I feel like mine haven’t come back just yet, but what I want women to do is see me and know that you can do this.So often people will see me and say, “Wow! You look great!” Almost questioning why or how I can look as well as I do. How else should I look? I’m done with treatment. I did all I could, and now I’m moving on with my life. I want women to know that you can do this. You CAN do this. It’s hard, but you can survive this. You see the stats that one in eight women will get breast cancer, and then you sit in a room of eight women. We live in a small community. I’m stunned at how many women I’ve found who have been affected by breast cancer. Fortunately, and unfortunately, I have made good friends through my treatment. A diagnosis does not have to be the end of the road. You can still celebrate life. BreastFest is a celebration of life and love and memories.

What do you think about the color pink now?

I think pink ribbons for breast cancer awareness are great, but I’m not a big fan. It’s a good marketing tool, and if it helps makes people turn around and think to donate, great. But instead of purchasing a pink item and having a small portion of your purchase go to support a cause, why not just give to an organization in your back yard that is going to have a bigger impact.

Genetic Counseling and Testing Saves Lives

While 90 percent of cancer cases happen due to lifestyle, environmental or aging factors, five to 10 percent of cancers are passed down from generation to generation. If you or your family members have been diagnosed with colon, breast, ovarian or uterine cancer, you could be at increased risk for developing these cancers.

Does cancer run in your family? How do I know if I am at increased risk?

Take the following risk-factor questionnaire, which may identify a few indicators that could increase your risk for colon, breast, ovarian or uterine cancer.

For more information, visit Virtua.org.

Virtua Foundation

303 Lippincott Drive, 4th Floor
Marlton, NJ 08053
Phone: 856-355-0830

Fax: 856-355-0831
vhf@virtua.org

 

 

Virtua Foundation is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization committed to enhancing Virtua's mission through philanthropy.

 

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