Diagnosed at age 37
WORTHINGTON -- Thinking back to all of the people who helped her and her family out during her battle with breast cancer, Shari Droll smiled.
"My kids probably ate better than they normally do," she said with a chuckle. "So many friends, family and co-workers brought us food and helped out in so many ways."
A mother of four, Shari was 37 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had discovered a lump a few months earlier, but didn't think it was anything important. Harvest was going on, life was busy and she had just started a new part-time job dispatching for the Law Enforcement Center in Worthington. When the lump started to get a bit sore that winter, she decided she had better have it checked out.
She went to an appointment on Jan. 28, 2009, and was immediately sent out to the Breast Health Institute at Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, S.D. A mass was detected, so Shari went straight to ultrasound, then in for a biopsy.
"They thought it was cancer, and the advocate got me scheduled to see the surgeon the same day," Shari said.
She received the phone call confirming the cancer diagnosis on a Saturday evening while the family was gathered for supper.
"It was my son's birthday," she said.
She took the call in another room, and by the time she got off the phone, her husband Steve was standing next to her.
"I was pretty devastated," Shari said. "Everyone I knew who had been diagnosed with cancer -- my grandfather, my brother -- had died."
Shari had been diagnosed with Stage III invasive ductal carcinoma and had a 3 to 4 centimeter mass. The cancer cells had spread to her lymph nodes.
She was supposed to dispatch that night, but ended up calling into work to explain the situation. Everyone, she said, was supportive and wonderful.
After getting a second opinion at the Mayo Clinic, Shari decided to stick with the Breast Health Institute. She began an 8-round course of chemotherapy, going every other week for a treatment.
The chemo side effects weren't as bad, she said, as the effects from a shot called Neulasta, which is used to boost the body's white cell count. The shot made her whole body ache.
Shari didn't experience all of the side effects some people get from chemo. Medication controlled her nausea very well, she said, and she never had the metallic taste in her mouth some people describe.
"I kind of hoped I'd lose some weight, but that didn't happen," she joked.
She did, however, lose her eyebrows, eye lashes and hair, and learned an important lesson in the process.
"Don't shave your head!" she emphasized.
At one point, when clumps of hair were falling out, Steve offered to shave her head. It sounded good in theory, but turned out to be a bad idea. Afterward, it felt like there were little tiny pins sticking in her head, she said.
She had a wig to wear, but found it uncomfortable -- it was unbearably hot and caused headaches, she said.
"I ended up just wearing scarves on my head," Shari explained. "Then a job opened up in the records department and I went to the interview wearing my wig."
Laughing, Shari chalked that up as another mistake. She did get the job, though.
Her final round of chemo was on June 1, and on June 17 she had surgery. She had opted for a double mastectomy to ensure the cancer would not come back. A lymph node was also removed. After her surgery, she went back once a week for a month for expanders, having decided to get implants.
From July 2 to Sept. 14, 2009, Shari had radiation every weekday. She would leave work at 3 p.m. and drive to Sioux Falls.
"I had 37 treatments," she said.
Steve went with to almost every appointment, and the few he didn't attend were because Shari had so many friends who wanted to accompany her.
Her four children were also supportive, taking over many household chores. Ruefully, Shari admitted that didn't particularly last after she was feeling better. Her youngest daughter tends to "mother" her still, which makes her smile. The children were shocked when Shari and Steve told them about the diagnosis, but didn't really have much to say. Steve, she said, was wonderfully supportive.
"He took care of me," Shari said simply.
Steve never really told her how he felt during her cancer battle, but she suspects that is because he was working hard to stay strong for her.
When she was first diagnosed, dying was all she thought about.
"I cried a lot. Then I put my faith in God and his will," Shari said. "I got a sense of peace and was ready for whatever."
Talking with other breast cancer survivors, including her advocate from the Breast Health Institute, helped calm her fears.
"You learn more about what to expect, and to see that they made it through gives you hope," she explained.
The thought that the cancer could come back is always at the back of her mind, Shari admitted.
"I don't know how you ever get away from that," she said.
Her last surgery was in March 2010, when she got her implants. Since then, she's just trying to get things back on track.
"It feels like you miss so much of your life, between appointments, feeling sick, things like that," Shari said. "Everything else takes a backseat."
To lift her own spirits, Shari participated in a Breast Cancer Walk in Sioux Falls with her mother and two daughters. It was uplifting, she said, to see all the survivors. Recently, she walked in the Breast Cancer Fund Walk in Windom. One day, she admitted, she hopes to participate in a Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk for the Cure.
Before her diagnosis, she said, she didn't pay much attention to all the advertising and pink ribbons, but these days, if given a choice between two products -- one bearing the pink ribbon and one not -- she'll grab the one with the ribbon every time.
"I was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 37 years old," Shari said. "Now they want to change recommendations for a mammogram to age 50, and I think that is so ridiculous. There are so many young women being diagnosed."