Sharon’s Story: lending a helping hand and finding the silver lining in a cancer journey
At 53, Sharon was as healthy and carefree as could be. Between raising her children, working, and enjoying life in the small community of Stettler, Sharon was constantly on the go. Cancer never crossed her mind.
In June of 2018, after discovering a suspicious mole on her left thigh, she scheduled an appointment with her doctor to have it checked. The scans and biopsies confirmed that Sharon had skin cancer – Melanoma. With this type of cancer, immediate surgery was required. The surgical plan included a wide excision of the mole area and the removal of any sentinel lymph nodes in the event the cancer had spread.
Sharon found that keeping an eye out for changes in her moles and skin, as well as her persistence in getting a biopsy, were the most beneficial in her cancer journey. The biopsy and subsequent surgery saved her life. “I was lucky that the cancer hadn’t spread and that I was only in stage 1. I am grateful that I advocated for myself and sought treatment as soon as possible.”
After her melanoma diagnosis, Sharon realized how important early detection and sun safety is. “I recall the surgeon telling me that because I have fair skin, freckles, and a lot of moles, I could have been a poster girl for Melanoma. I am also extremely sun sensitive, as I burn easily and get heat strokes often as well. When you know better, you do better. I have continued to have annual skin checks and have become much more careful about protecting myself from the sun,” says Sharon.
Unfortunately for Sharon being cancer free was short lived. In June of 2020, she went in for her annual mammogram and the physician noticed some abnormalities. Following an ultrasound and a biopsy, she received a phone call that would change her life forever: she had been diagnosed with a second and different type of cancer, Invasive Ductal Carcinoma.
Sharon was devastated by the news, and the road to recovery was long and difficult. “I had a lumpectomy, four cycles of chemotherapy, and twenty sessions of radiation therapy. I’ll be on medication for the next four to nine years. But it was my resilience and determination to survive that kept me going.”
The unfortunate reality of a cancer diagnosis is coping with the possibility of its recurrence. And fear leads to anxiety. After completing her treatments, Sharon started having uncontrollable anxiety about the possibility of developing even a third cancer. “It was always on my mind. I didn’t know what I should be eating or drinking, how much exercise I should be getting, what kind of makeup I should be using and where can I find help.”
During this challenging time, she required a support system, and fortunately, a friend suggested Wellspring. “I am forever grateful that she did. I was able to benefit from so many of the Wellspring virtual programs, as I live two hours away from Edmonton.” says Sharon. Sharon began her Wellspring journey with the “Back to Work” program, then moved on to Healing Journey I-III, Yoga, Nutrition, EXCEL, and the Connecting Circle.
“To say that Wellspring programs helped me in my recovery feels like an understatement. They have had such a positive impact on my life and the person I am today.”
Today Sharon is using her experience with cancer to help others. Recently, she completed the volunteer training process here at Wellspring and now she can support and assist others in their cancer journeys in accessing the valuable resources and services that Wellspring provides to patients, survivors, and caregivers. ” It’s about never feeling alone again, no matter what your condition, stage, or prognosis is. Everyone facing cancer needs to feel supported and inspired by those who can identify with their journey,” says Sharon.
Cancer has also taught her to value life more than ever before. “Going through cancer, treatment, and everything that comes with it alters your life and perspective. It makes you appreciate all the good things in your life and the people that matter the most to you. The little things don’t bother me anymore, they don’t matter, and I appreciate life so much more than I ever did.”