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Book Review: “In Her Shoes – Dancing in the Shadow of Cancer”

This week, it has been my honor to have Joanie Shawhan, author of
In Her Shoes – Dancing in the Shadow of Cancer as my guest. If you missed my two-part interview, go back to Monday and Wednesday’s blogs to get to know Joanie. Today, I’m posting my review of her book. If you’ve not already been convinced to buy a copy, I hope my review with be the thing that convinces you!

All of us have been affected by cancer. Either a friend, a co-worker or a family member has been diagnosed with the “dreaded C.” And we have watched them fight, and hopefully, prayerfully, win the battle. Or perhaps you have been the one to hear the diagnosis. Breast cancer. Ovarian cancer. Leukemia. Glioblastoma. The list goes on. You find yourself in the midst of the battle, wondering what hit you and when the next blow is coming.


Joanie Shawhan, author of “In Her Shoes – Dancing in the Shadow of Cancer” knows of what she writes. Joanie is a nurse with a background in oncology, but she was stunned when she received the diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Joanie’s book is about her journey, but it is not a “woe is me” type of book. She doesn’t gloss over what she went through. Cancer is not a scenic ride through a beautiful countryside. She does, however, include moments of grace, of God’s sweet presence, of the blessings of family and friends. At the end of each chapter, she writes a simple, yet profound, prayer, seeking God’s help and thanking him for his presence.


Included in this book are the stories of eleven other women who received various cancer diagnoses. Cancer does not treat people equally, as these stories will show, but it can be beat, as Joanie’s and these eleven women’s stories also prove.


Finally, Joanie wrote “Helpful Hints”- suggestions on how to deal with the various side-effects and other aspects of the battle.


Even the cover of this book is impressive. Strappy teal, high-heeled sandals against a purple background. Teal is the color that represents ovarian cancer. And the shoes?? Dancing shoes, of course.


As a writer, I should have the words to convey to you how moved I was by this book, by the bravery of Joanie and the other women, by their faith, their courage, and their tenacity. All I can say to you is that “In Her Shoes – Dancing in Shadow of Cancer” is so inspirational that I believe everyone who has cancer or who knows someone who has cancer should have a copy of this book. Every cancer unit of every hospital in America should have a copy of this book in each of the patient’s rooms. It is that good.

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Part Two: Interview with Joanie Shawhan, Author of “In Her Shoes – Dancing in the Shadow of Cancer”

Welcome back to my interview with Joanie Shawhan!

Joanie, not only do you tell your story in the book, you interviewed 11 other cancer patients and told their stories. How did that enrich the takeaway for readers? What was the overarching theme you noticed as you interviewed others—that common thread?

I feel the other women in the book really added a beautiful dimension sharing their unique experiences with various types of cancers. We all have distinct personalities and each one of us coped with our diagnosis and side effects differently.

Common thread? Go through the process, press on, and do what you need to do to fight the cancer.

How have you been involved with cancer survivors and awareness since your diagnosis?

About 10 years after my diagnosis, I found out about an ovarian cancer camp near Missoula, Montana free of charge for ovarian cancer survivors. There I finally met other survivors. I also met women who were involved in a program called Survivors Teaching Students. They went into medical schools and shared their ovarian cancer stories with the medical students to raise awareness of the symptoms of ovarian cancer in hopes of earlier detection since ovarian cancer is usually diagnosed in the latter stages.

Through the Survivors Teaching Students program, I met local ovarian cancer survivors and we decided to form an ovarian cancer social group, The Fried Eggs—Sunny-Side Up. We meet once a month for lunch. We invite speakers on topics of interest and plan fundraisers for ovarian cancer.

Tell us a story from one of the survivors in your book.

Joann was diagnosed with breast cancer one year after her 13 year-old daughter, Jill, also featured in the book, had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and had chemotherapy. Cancer had ruled her life that past year and she was not going to let that happen again. Joanne had a lumpectomy and radiation therapy. After fifteen years, her oncologist released her from follow-up care. One year later, her mammogram revealed another lump, a different kind of breast cancer. This time she underwent chemotherapy where she struggled with mouth sores, chest pain, and baldness. Joanne immersed herself in research, determined to keep her family safe from chemotherapy. At that time, she had a newborn grandson, and she wanted to be sure he was protected from the chemotherapy drugs. She refrained from holding him until she had completed her treatment. To prepare for a well-deserved vacation in Italy and Greece, she participated in the Livestrong program offered by the YMCA. This program focuses on cardio and strength training after cancer. She has had recurrence and is undergoing treatment.

Stacy was diagnosed with breast cancer and elected to have a double mastectomy with reconstruction. She shared humorous stories of her childhood as she reminisced with her dad during her chemotherapy treatments. Stacy is an advocate for breast cancer awareness. She appeared on the cover of a fitness magazine wearing boxing gloves to knock- out breast cancer. She modeled in a fashion show fundraiser and participated in the Relay for Life sponsored by The American Cancer Society. Stacy is cancer-free and enjoys spending time  her grandchildren.

Cathie noticed her arm had swollen two times the size of normal and headed to the ER. They diagnosed her with blood clots from a tumor in her chest—non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Cathie had just started a new job as a middle school principal and was determined not to miss a day of school. She scheduled chemotherapy at the end of the workday on Friday, recovered over the weekend, and returned to school on Monday. She promised her students that if they would achieve their reading quota for the year, she would kiss a pig. At the end of the year, wearing her wig, a newspaper photographer captured her kissing the pig. Cathie is cancer-free and expecting her first grandchild.

You don’t downplay the God factor in your book—it provides a quick devotional read for those who can’t focus on longer devotionals. What is your prayer for your readers when it comes to God’s presence in their cancer journey?

I wanted to conclude each chapter with a Scripture and a prayer because when I was going through chemotherapy I couldn’t focus to read, including my Bible. I struggled to even formulate a prayer. My hope is that each woman reading this book will feel validated, find comfort in the scriptures and prayers, and experience God’s love.

What surprised you most as you wrote the book?

The varied responses to a diagnosis of cancer and chemotherapy. For many of us we started in denial, but some were very upbeat, like Stacy with breast cancer. Joanne responded with a plan of action to find out everything she could because she refused to allow cancer to control her life again. Anna didn’t want any extra information. Cathie, diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, sported the attitude, let’s just do it and get it done.

For our readers going through cancer, what hope can you bring to them?

I hope through our stories in In Her Shoes: Dancing in the Shadow of Cancer, that readers will feel their experiences are validated and they will leave the pages of this book feeling encouraged and supported. Cancer is hard but you are not alone.

On Friday of this week, I will post my review of Joanie’s book. But don’t wait for my review, order a copy today!

You may connect with Joanie on her website at http://www.joanieshawhan.com.

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Interview with Joanie Shawhan, Author of “In Her Shoes – Dancing in the Shadow of Cancer.”

I am delighted to have as my guest this week, Joanie Shawhan. Joanie is the author of “In Her Shoes – Dancing in the Shadow of Cancer.” Welcome, Joanie!

“Thank you, Edwina, for hosting me. I am glad to be here to share my story.”

Then let’s get started!

I understand you were an RN at the time of your ovarian cancer diagnosis. Did you see the signs of your own cancer and get an early diagnosis, or did cancer sneak up on you? How did being a nurse factor into how you dealt with your diagnosis?

I was not prepared for a diagnosis of cancer. I had a few episodes of nausea the summer before my diagnosis. The weird thing about these episodes was they prompted me to ask myself, Could this be ovarian cancer? But as a nurse, these bouts of nausea relating to ovarian cancer made no logical sense to me because they were so infrequent. Therefore, being a nurse didn’t really work in my favor because I rationalized the symptoms away because they were atypical.

When I rolled over in bed and felt a mass in my abdomen, I brushed it off as a uterine fibroid and my doctor concurred. She ordered an abdominal and pelvic ultrasound to confirm a fibroid, but instead the test revealed ovarian cancer.

What are the signs of ovarian cancer and what tests are done to diagnose it?

Some of the signs of ovarian cancer are based on acronym called BEAT.   

B—bloating that is persistent.

     E—eating less and feeling fuller.

     A—abdominal pain.

     T—trouble with bladder or bowels. A woman may feel like she has a urinary tract infection or misdiagnosed with an irritable bowel.

The problem with ovarian cancer is there are no diagnostic tests. A pap smear will not diagnose ovarian cancer. So, if ovarian cancer is suspected, a woman needs an abdominal/pelvic ultrasound. The doctor will also order a Ca125, a blood test for the ovarian cancer marker and an abdominal/pelvic CT scan. The Ca125 is not used for screening purposes because many other abdominal issues can give rise to false positives, and some ovarian cancers will not cause the Ca125 to be elevated. Our best defense is to be aware of our own bodies and listen for the symptoms that mimic other ailments, yet whisper ovarian cancer.

Share one of the life lessons that happened during your cancer journey.

No matter what we are going through, God is still with us, he doesn’t change, and he will use what we have been through to offer hope and encouragement to others.

I’m amazed by the many women I have met on this journey who have faced cancer with courage, dignity and joy.

How has your cancer diagnosis changed the course of your life?

My diagnosis of cancer has totally changed my life. I never dreamed I would write a book. When I was diagnosed, there were no Gilda’s clubs, Facebook groups, or support groups for ovarian cancer. I didn’t know anyone else who had ovarian cancer besides Jill who was diagnosed at age 13. Were there other survivors? So I decided I would write the book I would’ve wanted when I received my diagnosis of ovarian cancer. After I wrote my story, I felt there were other women with encouraging stories to share, women whose cancer experiences were different than mine. So, I interviewed 11 other women and added their stories to the book to make the book relatable to more women.

In the process of writing, I have made new connections with people in the writing community by attending writing conferences and getaways. I am a member of a writing critique group, Friends of the Pen, and WordGirls, a coaching and writing community for Christian women established by Kathy Carlton Willis. I continue to write articles of encouragement, blog on my website, and advocate for ovarian cancer awareness.

When a patient is diagnosed with cancer, what goes through their minds? How can friends and family help?

A diagnosis of cancer is a huge shock. Some still view the C-word as a death sentence, which is not necessarily true with all of the advances in treatment.

As far as friends and family helping, there’re many ways to show your love and support: meals, housekeeping, childcare, errands, rides, and lawn care. Encouraging cards, texts, gifts, visits (call first). My sister sent me my first set of hats, determined to make hats fun. Her attitude proved to be infectious. A friend accompanied me when I selected a wig and we planned a fun day around that appointment. Another held my hand when I had my head shaved.

Your book, In Her Shoes, gives a lot of tips to help the patient through chemo and radiation. What are some of the tips you can share with us today?

I think one of the things I found important is to have someone with you when going to appointments. We’re often really stressed out and won’t remember everything that is said. On top of that, chemobrain enhances forgetfulness. It’s helpful to have someone with us who can write things down or validate what we heard because we can walk out the door and ask, “What did the doctor say about…?”

The fatigue from chemo is like having the worst flu ever so it’s important to ask for help and delegate. Pace yourself and plan rest times. Decide in advance what activities you will do and do those things that bring you joy. Sometimes one of the hardest things is to let go of those tasks you can no longer perform.

If you’re having any issues that aren’t being taken care of at home whether it’s pain or nausea or something doesn’t look right, feel right, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor or your clinic for help.

Come back on Wednesday to read part two of my interview with Joanie Shawhan.