Written by Jaimee Green
Most people probably can’t imagine what it would be like to spend New Year’s Eve losing all their hair. But, Margie Shanks, a breast cancer survivor, can. In 2005, when most people were watching the ball fall in New York City’s famed Times Square, Margie was home with her husband, Jim, watching helplessly as her hair fell to the floor.
Back in 2005, it had been five years since Margie’s last mammogram. “I wasn’t someone who took getting an annual mammogram too seriously,” she recalled. It was only following the loss of her sister, Betty, to breast cancer just months before that she decided she should get a mammogram. “Even when my sister was diagnosed, I felt it had very little to do with me. I never thought I could also be at risk for getting breast cancer because we had different mothers and I always thought the gene for it was passed through the mother,” she recalls.
However, the mammogram revealed a large mass in her left breast.
“The radiologist happened to be in the hospital when I had my mammogram. He came in and showed it to me and suggested I get a biopsy immediately, which I did. The surgeon I went to to do the biopsy looked at the mammogram and told me she was only going to do a needle biopsy because she could see no point in doing surgery on me that day and again the next week,” she recalled.
Because of the size of the mass, it was assumed that Margie had advanced breast cancer. Consequently, the surgeon performed a radical mastectomy and removed 22 lymph nodes. However, after the surgery, the biopsy revealed that Margie didn’t have one large cancer, but two concurrent, small ones. There was no lymph node involvement. This was very good news.
Everything happened so quickly from the time the first biopsy confirmed it was cancer to the surgery. Margie had little time to process the seriousness of her situation. She had little time to be emotional about it until she was well on her way to recovering. Her strong support network included her husband; children, Jim, Ron and Jeri; and their spouses, Debbie, Sheryl and Bill; grandchildren; friends; family; and co-workers at the Brockton School, where she worked at the time. “I think it was so emotional for all of my family because they had just watched my sister die. They thought that was also going to happen to me.
She remembers consoling her grandson Ronnie after a football game his team had lost.
“He was crying so I told him there would be other games and he shouldn’t feel bad over the loss. He told me he wasn’t crying because his team lost the game, he was worried about me. It made me realize how hard my cancer was on everyone I loved and who loved me.”
Her six-week recovery following surgery took place the same year as a weather event classified as a bow-echo that took the roof off her house south of Brockton. Her ceilings were ruined and had to be replaced. With the upstairs of her house under construction, Margie had to recuperate in her basement. Her entire family pitched in to speed up the job of restoring order to her home.
Following her surgery, she underwent chemotherapy and did really well with it.
“I had a schedule. I did my chemo on Thursdays and took Fridays off from work. I was sick during the weekend and back to work Monday,” she said.
Like most patients, following chemo, Margie began taking a pill for five years that suppresses potential cancer cells from coming back. After completing the cycle, less then a month after her last pill, Margie discovered a lump at the mastectomy site. Originally, it was believed to be nothing more than a cyst. But once the physician opened the site, he quickly realized it was cancer and extracted everything he could from the lump site. She then underwent six weeks of radiation and began a new pill cycle.
As part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Margie is one of the five survivors who spoke during the Oct. 23, Pink Night Out, at the Sherman Inn. Her story, like many others, is one of determination, courage and strength.
Like many breast cancer survivor patients, Margie is diligent about getting her annual mammogram and attending her three-month check-ups with her oncologist.
To date, she is cancer-free.
“I am really glad I had that mammogram because I believe it saved my life,” she said.