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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