I was diagnosed with stage III ER+/PR+ breast cancer at age of 26. At that time I was unaware that a woman my age could receive a breast cancer diagnosis. I was under the impression that breast cancer was an older woman’s disease. I definitely didn’t think you could get breast cancer before age 40, because 40 is all you ever hear in relation to breast cancer and mammograms. I felt alone and confused. I had questions! Lots of them! How could I have breast cancer? Will this little lump in my left breast kill me? Who will take care of my daughter? Will my daughter have breast cancer? What about my mom? I don’t have a family history of breast cancer. I had never seen a young African American woman on commercials, billboards or talked about in the media, so how could this be?
I went through the bulk of my breast cancer treatment without any help from support groups, resources, social media or the cancer community. While undergoing treatment I saw first hand the void in services for young women. It was heartbreaking. Young women often have many questions, fears and concerns that aren’t touched on in support groups of older women. I wasn’t aware of any groups that catered to the needs of young women and I often thought of creating one, but I had no idea where to start. I felt that young women my age were being ignored by the cancer community until a couple years later, when I met two women who invited me into a group that focused on young women with breast cancer. While involved with that group, I began mentoring other young women, sharing my story in the community, high schools, colleges and volunteering, when my harsh lingering side effects allowed it.
The young women I spoke with could easily relate to me and connect with my testimony, because I looked like them. I looked their age, I was the girl in the club, not the image of their parents or grandparents. Looking at me, made the possibility of getting breast cancer real to them (according to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer was the #1 killing cancer that year for girls/women aged 15-55)
You see that?
SO WHY DO I HAVE TO WAIT TIL 40 TO GET A MAMMOGRAM?
I WOULDN'T HAVE LIVED TO 40!
My experiences and partnerships in the community afforded me the opportunity to meet many inspiring young women, some of their stories touched me in a way that I will never forget. The most heartfelt testimonies came from the stage IV breast cancer patients and I formed a special bond with them over the years. Unfortunately, I have walked many of them from the beginning to the end of their journeys. These very special young women have shared their fears, concerns, tears and wishes with me. Each of these relationships has granted me with more strength, power, and an increased purpose…and thus Shay Sharpe’s Pink Wishes (SSPW) was founded in 2011.
In August 2014, at age 36, almost 10 years to the exact day of my initial diagnosis, breast cancer returned in my left breast. I found the lump myself, AGAIN! I didn’t have to undergo chemo this time, but I did undergo radiation AGAIN. I thought the 2nd time would be easier, because I knew what to expect. Boy was I wrong!! My breast cancer recurrence was extremely difficult!! I had my left breast removed again, actually removed forever, before starting radiation. I burned really bad during this round of radiation, which made them have to extend my course of treatment . I have reached my radiation max and I can never have radiation again.
I’m tired. I’m fatigued. I’ve gained a ton of weight. I’m so worn out! I’m in full blown menopause thanks to my oophorectomy, so needless to say, I’m hot too! After my body had a little rest, I decided to have my right breast removed again too. I have opted out of reconstruction and made the decision to stay flat. No fat transfer, no implants, no prosthesis. I’m just gonna rock my flat chest! Surprisingly enough, It was an easy decision. No second thought. No hesitation. No regrets! I LIKE IT!
I am thankful to everyone who helped me make it through this ever winding journey, especially my family and Team SSPW! Taking care of SSPW has definitely been the distraction I needed during this tough time. Even in the midst of my uncertainty, I never stopped granting wishes, giving hugs or restoring hope.
shay has been featured in numerous photography projects, magazine & print publications, and television programs; inspiring people all over the world.