Be a Survivor

Three Bouts with Cancer Hasn’t Stopped Birmingham Resident Shawn Williams from Enjoying Life

When Shawn Williams was diagnosed with melanoma in the early 90s, her life immediately changed as she began a journey as a cancer survivor. Since then, her journey has included two additional cancer battles and the cancer care team at St. Joseph Mercy Oakland provided the support, compassion and personalized care needed to fight each diagnosis.

“A cancer diagnosis is often seen and felt as a crisis. You’ve survived the news and shock of a cancer diagnosis – you’re a survivor,” says Suzanne Jermstad, MSN, FNP-BC, AOCNP, ACHPN, an advanced oncology nurse practitioner at St. Joe’s, who works with cancer patients actively in treatment.

Williams underwent surgery in 2003 to treat ovarian cancer and was prepared to resort to drastic measures when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015. She was referred to Amy Kirby, MD for further consultation.

“Dr. Kirby looked at my ultrasound, examined me and the took me into a conference room,” says Williams. “She spent an hour and a half with me. I remember her kindness and compassion. She told me, ‘we’ve already discussed you in tumor board and you’re going to see Dr. Goodman.'”

“At a time when you feel so out of control, they make sure you feel in control – and that’s so important,”

When she shared her desire to forego chemotherapy treatment and have a mastectomy instead, Judie Goodman, MD, a  hematologist-oncologist at St. Joe’s didn’t try to dissuade her – she listened and provided options.

“At a time when you feel so out of control, they make sure you feel in control – and that’s so important,” says Williams of her cancer care team at St. Joe’s.

After discussing her options and learning that her cancer was 100 percent curable, Williams opted to undergo chemo and have a lumpectomy, realizing a more radical course of treatment wasn’t necessary for a full recovery.

As Williams survivorship journey continues, she has returned to doing the things she loves, including hiking in Sedona and enjoying sunrises and sunsets. Pursuing normal activities can be critical to recovery and St. Joe’s provides the resources and support to help patients continue to do the things they enjoy.

“After a diagnosis, patients experience a multitude of emotions – they are fearful, worried, anxious,” says Jermstad. “The mental battle plan is just as important as the physical battle plan and we provide the tools to fight that mental battle. We encourage patients to do what they can to keep their life normal and continue doing what they love to do.”

St. Joe’s offers resources for cancer survivors at every stage of their journey, including breast and lung cancer nurse navigators, new patient orientation, survivorship classes, a breast cancer support group and personal appearance classes for cancer survivors. These resources allow patients to continue to receive support even after they complete treatment, as they establish their “new normal” as survivors.

“That’s where ‘survivorship’ comes from: after treatment, patients felt the loss of that safety net that was there for them throughout their treatment,” says Jermstad. “There was a gap when patients would finish treatment and drop off the radar – and they felt that.”

Williams recognizes the importance of survivorship support at all stages of treatment. After receiving exemplary care from St. Joe’s cancer care team as a patient, Williams is now able to give back to current cancer patients through participation on St. Joe’s Oncology Patient Advisory Council and her work as a mindfulness instructor. She focuses on helping patients improve quality of life by staying present and enjoying the positive aspects of life, even in the midst of cancer treatment.

For more information about breast cancer prevention and treatment programs at Saint Joseph Mercy Health System, visit stjoeshealth.org/cancercare-breast. To speak with a representative, please call 1-877-712-HOPE.

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