The Best Mother’s Day Gift Is the Gift of Health

triple negative breast cancer
Photos courtesy of Jess Fredericks.

For me, Mother’s Day typically meant spending the day with my three children (Ella, 13, Jack, 10, and Luke, 6) — with the kids bringing up breakfast in bed, flowers, and lots of snuggles. As a young, healthy 40-year-old mom with no family history of cancer or risk factors, I never would have expected a breast cancer diagnosis. I would have never expected that this year, I would be in that same bed on Mother’s Day recovering from a double mastectomy and on my third round of the most toxic chemotherapy regimen out there. I have decided to shift what I cannot control into what I can control, which is to share my story and diagnosis in hopes of spreading awareness and life-saving action for others and their loved ones. The best Mother’s Day gift that we can give ourselves is the gift of health.

“I found a lump,” is a phrase that I have heard, but never thought I would be saying to my husband or best friend. A moment that quickly turned into my doctor confirming that it was, in fact, breast cancer, only two weeks later. My breast cancer, unfortunately, is one of the most aggressive and hard-to-treat types that is on the rise among women my age and even younger. It is called triple-negative breast cancer, and unlike other subtypes, it is not fueled by hormones and researchers are still trying to understand the behavior of these tumors, which made me want to be even louder about the importance of early detection.

Here are the hard facts, but ones that I hope will encourage action:

  • I had a clean mammogram last August.
  • By January I had a very aggressive 2.5cm tumor that I found doing a self-breast exam.
  • I have no family history of breast cancer or cancer.
  • I tested negative for the BRCA gene and all breast cancer genes.
  • I am a healthy 40-year-old.

breast cancerHad I not done a self-exam and waited for my yearly mammogram in August, my prognosis would look a lot different. The days after being told that you have cancer are utter chaos: the intense waves of emotion, endless scans, and then most importantly, ensuring that you are with the right medical and surgical teams. Unfortunately, in the beginning, I was not. And had I not done my own research, voiced my concerns, and asked all the right questions, I would have never moved hospitals and would not be in the excellent care of my team at Mayo Clinic Jacksonville right now. While I can’t change the beginning of the journey, I can now focus on getting myself cancer-free with my new oncology team.

I am currently on round three of 16 chemotherapy treatments which will be followed by five weeks of daily radiation. While there are some days that my body feels battered, my spirit has never been stronger. I have found beauty and peace in moments that I never thought I could have. And the support from friends, family, and our local community has left me speechless. This past week, my favorite, incredibly talented local photographer Jess Fredericks offered to take photos at Guana Reserve before I lost my hair to chemo. Ironically, on the day of the shoot, my hair started falling out in massive clumps as I was getting ready. I picked myself up off the bathroom floor and decided to do the shoot anyway, and I am so glad that I did. At one point during the shoot, a large clump fell onto my shoulder, and Jessica captured the moment as I let it go on the beach. It was in that moment I felt at peace letting my hair go. A few days later, I decided to have my husband shave my head. There is so little control that I have on this journey, and this was something I was able to do on my terms which made me feel incredibly empowered.

I have realized that while we can’t control what life throws at us, we can control how we rise above those moments and slowly rebuild when our world has been turned upside down. In the very beginning, my best friend said to me, “You’ve been given this mountain to show others that it can be moved.” And that is exactly what I intend to do.

From one mother to another, I cannot stress this enough: Early detection can save your life. I hope that this will remind you and your loved ones to be advocates for yourselves, to speak up, and to follow your instincts. Do the monthly self-breast exam, schedule a mammogram, prioritize your health over your busy schedule, and be relentless in seeking medical help if you suspect that something is wrong.

I am honored to have this opportunity to share my story here. I hope that you will share it and help continue to build momentum around action for all of those affected by breast cancer. It takes a village, but I know that this village can and will help save lives!

Helpful Local Resources

Click here for a very helpful resource on how to schedule a mammogram. For anyone local who has been diagnosed with cancer or has a loved one diagnosed, here are a few businesses that have helped me along the way.

Tammy Card at Ten Salon Neptune Beach: My talented hairstylist who cut off 12 inches of my hair to make my hair falling out easier to process.

In the Pink: A local non-profit boutique serving women, men, and children with all types of cancer. They have a wonderful salon with a selection of wigs for people going through hair loss.

Jess Fredericks: My favorite local photographer who was able to capture a very vulnerable time in the most beautiful way.

About the Author

Maura Shuey is a mom of three beautiful children living in Jacksonville Beach. She was recently diagnosed as a healthy 40-year-old with an aggressive form of breast cancer and wants to share her story to encourage action and the importance of early detection within the community and beyond.


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