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Shannon’s Journey, 23

It has been awhile since I’ve done a chapter on Shannon’s Journey. Tonight, I’m doing one and sadly, it’s not a happy chapter, but it’s an important chapter.

But first, I’d like to include my last two Facebook posts here. They were sort of mini chapters, so I didn’t include them in her journey, but I think, before I go on, that I should, so if you’re not on Facebook and are following Shannon’s Journey here, you can read those posts below, and below them, you can find out how she’s doing in her struggle now. If you have read them on Facebook and you remember them, you can skip ahead.

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July 6, 2016

Shannon came by yesterday and we had a long talk and despite the fact that she’s had a lotta hard days, she’s managed to come through them with a smile most’ve the time and that can’t be easy, cuz cancer didn’t take a backseat for her just cuz she’s got a life she has to live, a job she has to work at, kids she has to raise, pets she has to care for, a house she’s gotta clean and plus, she has to, you know, pay the rent and all the other stuff people who don’t have cancer have to do.

And she’s still got surgeries to face.

With all that, smiling’s gotta be hard. But none of her smiles are forced and every time she talks with us, she regales us with stories about her life and her doctors and her cancer that have us in stitches. Someday, I’m gonna write about her life and her stories, but I’ll change the names to protect the innocent.

But even with my ace writing ability, I could never begin to make her stories as funny as they are when she tells ‘em.

I remember one day when she was in the hospital, so wracked with pain, that Vesta and I wanted to cry. None of the drugs they gave her to make the pain, at least, bearable worked and still she said something about her condition that made us laugh. Actually, it wasn’t about her condition, it was about the shitty drugs that didn’t work.

But as for how she’s doing now, she’s working six hours a day and hopes to be back up to full time soon. Her legs hurt, but other than that, she’s pain free. If you zoom in on this photo and look real hard at the area just above her left eye, you can see a few eyebrow hairs, trying to grow back. She told me she saw a couple hairs on her legs and that she can foresee a time in the future when she might actually have to shave ‘em.

She said life without eyebrows sucks and is looking forward to having them back. She’s still bald as a cue ball, but she’s been there before and is confident her hair will come back.

She’s gonna start breast reconstructive surgery soon and in February she’s gonna have her ovaries out so she doesn’t get ovarian cancer, which the doctors say she will most likely get if she doesn’t have the hysterectomy. And she’s not looking forward to that, but then again, who would be.

All she’s ever wanted is to be a normal girl and as you can see in the photo I’ve posted in my comments below, she looks just like a normal girl and if her life woulda gone along the way it was supposed to, she’d’ve been a normal girl. But alas, it wasn’t to be so.

Why God wanted to pick on her, I don’t know. They say He works in mysterious ways and maybe this is one of ‘em. Maybe He wanted her to suffer, so that I’d meet her and write about it and some kid somewhere would read these words and be inspired and grow up to save the world one day.

Or maybe He just wanted to take a normal girl and make her special.

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August 4, 2016

Yesterday, Vesta and I met Shannon at Renown Medical Center, where she did her admitting check in. And this morning, at 9:00, she has her first of three reconstruction surgeries. And after those are finished, she has the hysterectomy to look forward to.

But the worst is behind her.

And in a couple weeks, God willing, she’ll be back at work full time. And in a couple months, she’ll officially have beaten cancer twice and she’ll be what she’s always wanted to be, just a normal girl with a normal life.

Let me rephrase that, she’ll never be normal, she’ll always be be an extraordinary girl. But even an extraordinary girl can have a normal life.

And look at her hair, have you ever seen a more beautiful sight?


Message from Shannon to Vesta,

Before the next chapter, I think Ken and I should talk. I have some things to share and it’s not easy. I’ve been having difficulties emotionally lately and it’s hard to share, but I think it’s time, maybe someone following my story can relate so I don’t feel so alone.

Message from me to Shannon,

Would you like to come to us or would you like us to come to you? We’re busy till around 3:00 today. And we’re free all day Monday and Tuesday.”

If you like, you can bring Kyle here around 5:00 and we can bbq salmon, but we can do something else as well if you and Kyle don’t like salmon.

Or we can do anything you like on Monday or Tuesday after you get off work.

Message from Shannon to me,

I'm not sure if I have time to meet today.  I'm getting dinners ready for Kyle for the week since I'll be back at work.  I'm kinda freaking out about going back, but hoping it'll get me out of my slump.

Message from me to Shannon,

Okay, next weekend it is. But don't freak out before Saturday, okay?

Message from Shannon to me,

I'm hoping I'll be a little better lol.  I'm kinda wondering if the tamoxifen is messing with me.  I think I may make an appointment with my regular Dr if I don't see improvement this week.  I don't think I want to talk to Riganti about it because she'll just say suck it up.

Message from me to Shannon,

We got our fingers crossed for you.

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A week after the above messages, Shannon came by, at 10:00 on a warm Tuesday morning. It had been cold for the last few days, but the sun was back and that was a good sign, or so I thought.

On August 20th, she went to her plastic surgeon to have her expanders taken out and her implants put it. They also took some fat from her stomach to put around the implants. Sadly, we weren’t able to be there, but Katlin took photos and Shannon sent them to us, so we could do that chapter.

I’d planned to have her in our garage studio, for photographs of her breasts as they are now, cuz they’ve healed well and she looks great. I waited for the story, because I didn’t want to just show her body all marked up and the bruising on her tummy where they took the fat.

And I thought I’d take those photos when she came by, but she’d only been with us for about ten seconds, when I knew those photos were going to wait for another time. Because here was girl in pain. A girl who looked like she was going to burst into tears at any second.

I knew from the past messages that she’d had a meltdown, was depressed and feeling alone, but she’d sent some upbeat kinda messages after the above ones and I thought maybe she was doing better and I shoulda known better. Crap, I was a social worker at one time in my life, so I really shoulda known better. I’m good at talking to people, good at understanding them, so I really, really shoulda known better.

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So, she walks into our living room, hugs Vesta. Says to me as she’s coming for a hug, “My hair’s coming in as gray as yours.”

“Ouch.” I was still thinking of my hair as brown.

But Shannon confirmed what the nice lady at the DMV said, when she looked at my driver’s license application and declared, “Gonna have to change that, honey, because it looks like it hasn’t been brown in awhile.” So despite all the photos of me taken in the last few years, two young woman have wounded me by telling me the truth.

And the truth was, my hair is grey. Vesta’s never said it. I’ve never seen it in the photographs, but it’s grey. It took me years to accept. Shannon accepted that hers is grey as soon as she saw it. She sees what is, not how she wants it to be or wishes it was.

And that’s both a blessing and a curse.

Mostly, when things are bad, she can thrust what is out of her thoughts with a smile and a positive attitude and force herself to go on, cuz she’s got kids who count on her. But sometimes, at night, when she’s alone in her bed the dark closes in around her, a depression so deep takes over and pulls her down into a bottomless pit, where light has never been, and all she can do is lay awake and cry.

And she’s been in that pit for awhile now, struggling to claw her way out, but the weight of everything that’s happened to her is too much for any girl’s shoulders, no matter how many pep talks her friends give her, no matter how many anti depressants the doctor’s give her and no matter how much she knows it’s all in her mind.

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This part of her journey has been going on for a little over six months. And for all that time, people have been telling her how brave she is, how she’s an inspiration.

But in her well of depression, she believes it isn’t so.

Holding back tears, she told us. “I’m not brave. I don’t deserve to be anybody’s inspiration. I’m just a single person and I’m all alone and it hurts.”

I wanted to cry. Vesta was on the verge. But if we did, it woulda been awful, three grown people crying in broad daylight. So we held ‘em back. But in these photographs, you can those tears wanting to burst out in her eyes.

Last week she finally opened up to a friend, who’s been through what she’s going through and she was surprised to find that her friend had felt the same way and that just maybe, she wasn’t the only person who’d had these feelings at this stage in their recovery.

But still, she’s alone in her depression and her grief over the girl who died when her breasts were taken away and she’s not yet embraced the new girl. She’s gonna be a phoenix, but she’s got a way to go. Right now, she’s wrapped in a dark place, covered in a black cocoon of loneliness and despair. And it’s bad. And it’s sad.

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She did wear a very funny shirt today, though. And she tried to put on a smile when I photographed her in it. It’s a weak one, but it’s a smile, nonetheless. And she’s gonna need a lotta those before she’s whole again.

And, you know, she probably doesn’t want me to say this and my phone’s probably gonna ring right after I post this and I’m probably gonna get an earful. But I’m gonna say it anyway. I don’t believe she’s getting the best medical care. I think her oncologist hasn’t been paying enough attention to her and to her meds. At least someone hasn’t been.

And that’s a big deal, cuz she’s gonna be taking meds for the next ten years or so cuz of this cancer business. And it seems she might be on the wrong anti-depressants and it seems like it’s her doctor’s job to know what she’s on and how long she’s been on it. It’s ON HER CHART, after all.

I know, I know, her oncologist is over worked, cuz she’s got so many patients. And that alone is sad. It’s sad Shannon doesn’t have enough money to get the very best, or at least someone who’s lobby isn’t so full of people.

And it’s sad that after her surgery, everyone thinks she’s healed and fine and good to go and why can’t she be chipper and smiling all the time. Nobody wants to see a draggy girl with a poopie attitude. Why can’t she just buck up and get along with her life? She’s not the only girl to ever have cancer, after all.

And when she encounters that attitude, and don’t get me wrong, people don’t come out and say it, but you can tell how people feel toward you, how they’re getting tired of your boring cancer and the fact that you don’t have any money and that you had to use your whole last paycheck for medical bills, and that you gotta hide your feelings cuz you don’t want your kids to know, but sometimes you blow up at ‘em cuz you’re just feeling so god damned shitty you can’t help it.

Yeah, you can tell when people are tired of your shit.

So you hold it all in till you’re alone in your bed, listening to your raging heartbeat and you cry your eyes out and wonder, “Why me? What did I ever do to deserve this?” And you cry some more, cuz you don’t have a clue how you’re gonna keep putting food on the table or come up with the money for your rent, cuz if you don’t pay those medical bills, they damn will let you die and it’s all so very, very unfair.

Is it any wonder that her hair is coming in gray?

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Vesta and I talked with her for a couple hours, then we went next door and picked peaches, cuz there is nothing better for a sad girl than fresh peaches, right off the tree.

And then we said goodbye, hoping her time with us had lifted her spirits some. We have great hope for her. She will, one day, break out of that black cocoon, but she won’t be a butterfly, she’ll be that phoenix I talked about earlier. But just not yet.

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