Surviving breast cancer puts things in perspective

Kris Shelley sank into her recliner, fatigued from her first chemotherapy treatment the week before. Already, she could feel her hair dying, becoming dry and brittle like straw. It wouldn’t be long until she shed it completely.

“My biggest fear, my hardest hurdle was the fact that I was going to lose my hair,” Kris recalls thinking at the start of her treatment. “I’d heard that it doesn’t always grow back the same. If you had straight blond hair before, it might grow back dark and curly or red and wavy.”

Luckily for Kris, her annual mammogram had caught a small cancerous mass early enough for her likelihood of recovery to be high.

As she continued the treatment, she found that losing her hair wasn’t such a big deal. “It was not the devastation to me that I thought it would be, at all,” she says now. “Sometimes we get wrapped up in what we do and how we look, but we forget that what’s really important is taking care of yourself and taking care of others.” Getting cancer, she adds, “is humbling and puts [in] perspective that some of the things we think are so important aren’t important.”

An energetic and optimistic person by nature, Kris says that during her walk with cancer she made extra efforts to stay positive, handle her treatment with dignity, and surround herself with positive people, from her friends and family to the knowledgeable team at Scott and White’s High Risk Breast Clinic, to her radiation oncologist at Georgetown Cancer Center.

To lighten the mood, for example, Kris had a rotation of three wigs that she wore, depending on how she was feeling. She most often donned “Dee,” a short, casual style, while she wore “Fancy,” a more formal wig, for dressier occasions. Then there was “Sexy Donna,” a wig she named after her neighbor, who helped her pick it out.

“Attitude is ninety percent of everything you do. And we always stayed positive. We never entertained the idea that there was anything we couldn’t get through,” she says.

Kris finished her fourth and final chemo session at the end of May, had her cancer removed in July, and completed radiation treatments in mid-October. Her hair has now grown back to a little over an inch in length, and she’s feeling stronger emotionally and in her faith.

“The experience, for me, was not necessarily one I’d want to do over, but it was definitely a strengthening, a learning, and an enriching experience,” Kris says. “For me, it was a faith walk, because I knew that whatever God put in front of me, we were going to go through together, and I was going to be okay. I had faith that he would take me through that. And he certainly has.”


For more information about Scott and White breast cancer care, visit www.sw.org/cancer-institute/breast/breast-cancer.

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