Defying the Odds: Shirley E.’s Empowering Journey as a Breast Cancer Survivor 

At 81 years old, Shirley E. has already signed up for all five 3-Day events in 2023, inspiring others with her unrelenting spirit. As a breast cancer survivor, Shirley believes in the transformative power of walking and encourages everyone to join the cause. Read on to learn more about why Shirley continues to participate in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day. 

My 3-Day walking adventures began in 2009 with my first walk in San Diego. I was not familiar with Susan G. Komen and the 3-Day until the previous year, 2008, when my niece sent me a donor request. I told her I would donate if she would walk again the next year so that I could walk with her. She did, and that was my first 3-Day and it changed my life. At that time, I was a 13-year breast cancer survivor, so I was walking to celebrate that. Now I am a 27-year survivor and walk in hopes that we find the cures so that no one else hears those words, “you have breast cancer.”   

My mammogram did not show any cancer, but I had felt a lump that my gynecologist did not find, so I thought I was imagining it. The following year there was still no indication from either the mammogram or the doctor that there was a problem, but I said, “what is this lump?” He did not think it was anything to worry about but sent me to see a surgeon to check it out. After an ultrasound found nothing, he decided we should take out the lump anyway. I then heard the words “we’ll send it out, but I think it is probably cancerous.” It was, and I had to have a second surgery to get a wider margin, followed by eight weeks of radiation. At that time, they did not take a sentinel node to see if the cancer had spread, so I had about 27 lymph nodes removed. I had thoroughly memorized Dr. Susan Love’s Breast Book and knew I was at risk for lymphedema, so I requested physical therapy to reduce that risk. The surgeon agreed and it worked! 

I was determined not to let the breast cancer diagnosis interfere with my life. I was a teacher at Eastern Connecticut State University, and because I had been teaching extra classes over the previous few years, I was able to take a reduced teaching load in order to get through treatment easier. The schedule was still very tiring. I taught an undergraduate class on Monday mornings, went for my radiation treatment, and then taught an evening graduate class. On Tuesdays I went for my radiation treatments and then went home to bed. Wednesdays were a repeat of Monday. Thursdays I was able to go home to rest after my radiation treatment. On Fridays I taught an undergraduate class and then my husband (who was retired so he was driving me through all this) and I went to lunch and went shopping. This gave me something to look forward to each week.  

I have completed 27 Komen 3-Day walks, walking all four of them in 2022, and five planned for this year. Why do I keep doing this? Because I now know too many people whose lives were cut short by breast cancer. I know too many families who have lost a loved one to breast cancer. I want to be part of the reason why breast cancer is defeated. I want to see little girls not worry about becoming part of a breast cancer statistic. The money that I am able to raise will help do this. Asking for donations is not easy, but these donations do so much toward the goal of defeating breast cancer.   

When I am walking the 3-Day I am enveloped in the Pink Bubble, which makes walking so much easier than when I do training walks alone. The Pink Bubble has given me so many friends over the years. My message to the Pink Bubble is to embrace the experience and take a piece of it home with you to see you through until the next 3-Day walk, because once you do one walk, you are hooked and you keep on coming back.    

Be an advocate for yourself and remind others to as well. If I had not intervened, I would have gone another year with that lump and possibly not have had as good of an outcome. 

Keep on walking. We will defeat breast cancer one step at a time. 

We all walk and fundraise in hopes of a world without breast cancer. Read more inspiring stories like Shirley’s here.