In Her Words: Shoshanna Howard
During the first year of the pandemic, at 36, Shoshanna Howard found a lump in her breast. Her doctor insisted it was just a cyst, but her intuition told her it was cancer. When she was given a treatment plan, she knew that she just wanted to survive. So, she surrendered to what her doctors recommended and supplemented that protocol with energy healing therapy and acupuncture as much as possible — even though Covid made it difficult to be out in public with a compromised immune system. Fast forward to a little over a year later, Shoshanna is in remission. She made it through this challenging time with the love and support of her sister and friends, as well as by moving her body through dance and finding humor in tragedy. To read how breast cancer made her become more of herself and how she was able to be vulnerable and live IN love, see our latest In Her Words below.
Name: Shoshanna Howard
Location: Oakland, California
Current Health Status: Remission
Tell us about yourself.
A seeker of joy and laughter. I love comedy, art, reading, hikes with my dog and bringing people together. I grew up in Colorado, traveled and lived abroad for most of my adult life and have been living in the San Francisco Bay Area of over 10 years.
When were you diagnosed with cancer?
I was diagnosed in October of 2020, two weeks before my 36th birthday.
What were your first thoughts when you were diagnosed?
When I first felt the lump, I knew something was wrong. Even when the doctor was convinced it was a cyst, my intuition was clear that I had cancer. When I got the official call I thought – I knew this, why did I know this would happen?
How did your friends and family take the news?
They were broken. Two days after I got the official diagnosis, I spent the day calling people. I have a lot of close friends, this is something that I truly cherish about my life, but when it comes to sharing bad news with those you love, hearing them hurting is the most painful experience. That said, my community of friends and family rallied so hard for me. They brought me food, sent me gifts, organized emails with updates, but my favorite was on chemo days they would flood my phone with funny videos to distract me. I am beyond thankful for them.
Describe your treatment and how you arrived at that course of action.
I sort of just floated into what the doctors recommended. I surrendered, really. I knew I needed these treatments that cause immense pain and sickness, so instead of resisting or trying alternatives, I accepted that what was being told to me was what would mean I’d survive. And it did. That said, I do think meditating every day and receiving energetic healing from a number of healers in my life supported me through the process.
Were you able to work through treatment?
I did and learned so much about vulnerability in the process. I work for myself as a media and communications consultant and I tend to have close relationships with my clients, so telling them about my diagnosis was challenging and liberating. I was even able to bring on new, high-profile clients as I was going through the hardest time of my life. All of my clients knew what was going on and being open with them about my illness felt like a level of radical transparency that made us more human. I think this transparency is needed on so many levels of our society. We are not meant to suffer in silence, and workplaces, where we spend a majority of our time, needs to be more accepting of our conditions.
Where and how have you found the best care?
I got lucky. My doctors through my insurance company (Kaiser) have been incredible. They are smart, compassionate and driven to heal.
Have you received any additional support or alternative therapies? If so, what kind, and have they been they beneficial?
I received a lot of energy healing, such as Qi-Gong and Reiki, from practitioners in my life. Additionally, I received acupuncture regularly and continue to today. That said, I would have done A LOT more if the pandemic wasn’t happening. Because of my condition, being in public was impossible, but I would have done bodywork, group meditation, trips to hot springs and so much more.
What or who have been your biggest supports? Who makes up your cancer tribe?
My friends Soazig and Beth, and my sister Naomi – these three women were my core team throughout my treatment. My friends organized everything I needed and sent thoughtful, well-written emails updating my network on my status and needs. It is really challenging to communicate the complexity of cancer treatment and they did an incredible job ensuring my extended network fully understood what was happening to me. This allowed for me to not have to tell people about my treatment process and instead talk about deeper stuff, like my love for them, my fears of dying, my lust for life.
My loving sister, Naomi, was my caretaker during chemo and surgery. She was a beacon of light for me and reminded me to laugh even when I thought I couldn’t.
What has been one of the most challenging aspects of the experience for you?
Becoming a sick person. I have always been healthy and active, but since getting diagnosed my energy and strength have diminished. This has been a hard truth to sit with and to contend with the possibility that I may have lost my youth before I was ready.
What is one thing you wish you knew before you were diagnosed?
It is extremely possible to get breast cancer when you are young. I truly thought I was invincible to this since I was young and healthy, but that is just not how cancer works.
Is there a particular mantra or inspiration that helps you?
Find the funny. Though it might not be apparent immediately, there is always humor in tragedy.
If you could offer a woman, who has been newly diagnosed, some words of wisdom for her journey, what would you tell her?
Accept all of the support you are offered and if you are not getting what you need, you must ask for it. You are your strongest advocate and only you know what you truly need. You deserve to be cared for.
What are you most proud of in your cancer journey?
I told myself I would journal every day, no matter how I felt or how much I wrote. I did this and now I have a complete journal filled with small moments and deep reflections. I’m still maintaining this practice today. Also, I’m a dancer, and even though my body became weak I still found moments to dance. Whether it was a quick dance before chemo started or my full-out dance party after I found out I was cancer-free – maintaining this part of me and prioritizing it makes me proud.
How has breast cancer affected your outlook on life? On illness?
The only thing I can truly say that changed is how I understand love. The depth and beauty of love expanded for me and I now feel like I actually live IN love.
How have you changed?
Honestly, I became more myself because of this. I’ve always been a direct/heart-on-my-sleeve kinda person, but now, as a survivor, I’ve doubled down on who I am. I’m more in love with myself now than ever before. I am more in love with my friends and family, my days, nature, encounters with strangers. I love more and I laugh more. Of course, there are dark days and the trauma of cancer still finds a way to grab me. But when these moments arise, I allow myself to feel the pain and find ways to be compassionate to myself. Ultimately, cancer was not my beautiful reckoning, but finding love in the gravest of times became my liberation.