This week, we sat down with Shaunell Robinson, a six-year breast cancer survivor, who also happens to be one of the faces in our launch campaign, and yes, she radiates in person just as much as she does in her photographs. Shaunell was an avid gym-goer when she discovered a lump in her right breast after a workout session – soon after, she was diagnosed with early stage triple negative breast cancer and underwent a lumpectomy and 30 days of radiation. She proclaimed, “I immediately went into warrior and survivor mode. I told myself that I was not going to claim this. I’m going to beat this!” To learn more about her diagnosis, what some of her most challenging aspects were, and what advice she would offer to newly diagnosed women, read our interview below.
Name: Shaunell Robinson
Location: Sacramento, CA
Current Health Status: Six-year breast cancer survivor
When were you diagnosed with breast cancer?
March 26, 2012, at the age of 35, I was diagnosed with early stage triple negative breast cancer in my right breast. They called it non-invasive DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ) because it did not spread beyond the breast milk duct. It was considered an aggressive breast cancer because it was triple negative. Plus, I have a family history of breast cancer. I knew of my aunt passing from breast cancer 18 years prior but then I learned a cousin was diagnosed with breast cancer 3 years before I was diagnosed. I had to take the BRCA gene test and luckily it came back negative. Triple-negative breast cancer is one of the fastest growing breast cancers and most deadly in African American women due to the lack of knowledge and health care. Because I love working out, I found my lump after a morning of working out. It just so happened to be chest day and when I finished and was getting ready to shower, I noticed the lump. I immediately called my doctor and made an appointment. I was already preparing myself for the worst.
What were your first thoughts when you were diagnosed?
I knew when I got the call they were going to tell me I had breast cancer. I immediately went into warrior and survivor mode. I told myself that I was not going to claim this. I’m going to beat this! I told my husband and three sons right away. My sons were 11, 14, and 17 at the time.
How did your friends and family take the news?
My family and friends were worried but very supportive.
Describe your treatment and how you arrived at that course of action.
I opted for the lumpectomy because of the location of the tumor and the stage. I underwent two surgeries and 30 days of radiation.
Were you able to work through treatment?
I chose not to work during my radiation treatment. I wanted to be stress-free as much as possible. I remained off work for 6 months during my surgeries, radiation and recovery.
Where and how have you found the best care?
I’ve found the best care through Kaiser and my friends encouraging me to eat healthily and exercise as much as possible.
Have you received any additional support or alternative therapies?
I joined a support group in the beginning of my diagnosis and they were very helpful in preparing me for my surgeries and what to expect after the fact.
What or who have been your biggest supports? Who makes up your cancer tribe?
My husband, sons, my gym buddies and close friends. My gym buddies played a key role because they encouraged me to come walk on the treadmill every day. Just being in the gym made me happy.
What has been one of the most challenging aspects of the experience for you?
After my lumpectomy and radiation, it was very hard for me to see the discoloration of my skin and the hole in my breast. My breast was not the same. I experienced anxiety and it affected my self-esteem, but I masked it. For someone who was so fit and strong, I felt weak and I lost a lot of weight and muscle due to the internal stress. I refused to take any medications, I depended on homeopathic remedies. I eventually started getting back into the gym and building my strength up. As I aged, my breast changed even more, so in early 2018, I had reconstruction surgery. In order to make my breast more symmetrical, I had a breast reduction on my left breast and had fat transferred to fill the hole that I had in my right breast.
What is one thing you wish you knew before you were diagnosed?
Breast cancer has always been in my forefront because of my previous family history. I wish I would have known more about the mental stress it causes and the constant feeling of anxiety. The feeling of no longer being yourself. You have to prepare yourself on how to live after breast cancer. Once you go through something like this, you’re not yourself anymore. Some people are stronger after this and some are weaker. That’s why it is so important to have a good support system.
Is there a particular mantra or inspiration that helps you?
Getting up and exercising every day helps me live beyond this.
If you could offer a woman, who has been newly diagnosed, some words of wisdom for her journey, what would you tell her?
I would tell her that her diagnosis is not a death sentence. She can and will beat this. I would tell her to fight like a girl. Be strong. Be beautiful and be you. And I would tell her to keep a journal to write down her thoughts when things get tough.
What are you most proud of in your cancer journey?
I am proud of how strong I was during this battle. I am proud of myself for not giving up.
How has breast cancer affected your outlook on life? On illness?
I see life differently. I realize life is too short and try to enjoy every minute of it. I’m more cautious and aware of what I put in my body now.
How have you changed?
Before my diagnosis, I was a gym rat, workaholic, and helicopter mom who kept a super clean house. Now, I don’t work out as hard, but I make sure I get some form of exercise daily – that might include yoga, stretching or walking. I learned to take more family vacations, date nights and girls’ trips. Since my diagnosis, I’ve gone to Cabo, Jamaica, Hawaii and visited other local cities. I learned to relax a little and enjoy the moment. My house is not super clean, but it’s lived in. I had to learn to let go and stop sweating the small stuff.