Cancer does not discriminate. It affects people of all ages, races, backgrounds and lifestyles. And sometimes it finds those you’d least expect – those who have lived the healthy, balanced life that we all strive to achieve.
This year, breast cancer found Shay Moraga at 39 years old.
A yogi who lived a clean, balanced life full of organic foods, close friends and a deep faith, Shay had relatives affected by the disease, but thought she was beating the odds. Her triple negative breast cancer diagnosis came as a complete shock. Soon she would be counting on that nutritious food, those close friends and her deep faith to get her through the greatest challenge of her life: fighting this relentless disease.
Shay has always been a private person and was hesitant when a good friend offered to start a private Facebook page to lend support and to unite those who offer positive energy and prayer along her journey. It wasn’t long before Shay began to understand how the generous support from others can be transforming and healing, or just how many people she would impact with her heartfelt posts and sincere gratitude for the support of others, for life, and all it has to offer.
I was humbled when asked to join the Shay’s Warriors page and deeply moved by the inspiring words Shay was sharing. Her strength and positive attitude were uplifting. I further encouraged her to share her journey, and we are honored to feature Shay’s Story (in her own words) in Desert Health®.
And so it begins…
Have you ever used the phrases “Everything happens for a reason?” or “Your life can change in an instant?” I am living proof that both of these statements are true.
February 11th, 2016, is a day I will never forget as long as I live. With that being said, I now live every day being more thankful than I was the last. Every new day I have is now a gift. February 11th is the day that, at 39 years old, I sat in a doctor’s office while she told me I had breast cancer. Not just any breast cancer – I had triple negative breast cancer. It is the day my heart stopped beating. As words mumbled out of her mouth (like in a Peanuts special) she informed me that it was an infiltrating Invasive Ductal Cancer (IDCA), but we could not out rule out a sarcoma. The doctor said it was highly aggressive and there were limited ways to treat it. All I could get out of my mouth was, “Am I going to die?” She did not respond as I would expect. She didn’t say much of anything.
After the pause, she went on to tell me that there was a good possibility that it had spread throughout my body into my lymphatic system. That is when I got scared. That is when, yes, my life flashed before my eyes. All I could think about was my family – especially my 12 year-old daughter. I could feel my stomach drop and the blood rush out of my body as the doctor asked me to take a deep breath in and hold it. She was giving the nurse in the room weird looks as she checked my lungs. What was going on, what did these looks back and forth mean? How could this be happening? I am a yogi. I eat organic. I use non harmful products for cleaning. I recycle, for God’s sake.
Then something clicked inside of me like it had many times before. I was propelled into action. Thinking to myself, I put it all into perspective…Ok, so I have cancer. I can beat this. Let’s get a game plan together NOW.
I asked the doctor what was next. When will we know if it is a sarcoma or not? What is a sarcoma? How can we find out if the cancer has spread? Based on my breathing did you hear anything? Again, she did not act in a way that I expected her to, nor did she respond with anything that led me to believe that I wasn’t going to die. She kept telling me it was ‘highly aggressive.’ She never once told me I could be cured. She pulled out a diagram to show me what I had and to explain the options. She spent the first 20 minutes telling me all about what would not work. I finally got impatient and asked her what would work. She said if anything, it would be chemotherapy followed by radiation, and a possible mastectomy or lumpectomy. I thought, ‘Ok. Great. When do we get started?’ I was ready. I was ready to get this aggressive tumor out of me ASAP and move on with life.
I asked her…What do we do next? She said I would need a CT scan, MRI and possibly a few more tests. So let’s go! Can I get it today? That is when she looked at me with cold eyes and said, ‘We need to preapprove your insurance and tests could take 7-10 days or more to schedule.’ Now I know insurance has a lot of red tape, but 7-10 days? You just got done telling me I have a very aggressive tumor that is highly likely to have spread throughout my body and you want me to sit and wait 7-10 days to see if I get approved for these scans and or treatment? Are you kidding me?
It was then I felt in my gut something was not right. I knew I needed a second opinion and quick. My life was in my hands and the seconds were beating in my heart. It was the Friday before President’s Day, and I knew I needed answers before Tuesday. I gathered all of my things and left. As I walked out the door, I could feel my legs shaking. I was going numb. I got into the elevator and broke down. One big loud cry. Then it was over. I knew I needed help. I knew I needed prayer to find the right doctor. So I picked up the phone….
That President’s Day, Shay spent every moment convinced that she was going to die. Fortunately, with the help of good friends and teachers at her daughter’s school, she found a doctor who embraced her fears and concerns and got her in on Tuesday. He changed her world around by reassuring her that she was going to be ok. “We are going to have to make some tough decisions today, but I want to make it clear that we are going for a cure.” He explained in detail what was happening and what needed to be done. Her biggest hurdle, he said, would be to stay positive. Shay liked him right away.
Follow-up tests the next day concluded that her cancer was not a sarcoma and had not spread to the lymph nodes. Next on the list was a consultation with a surgical oncologist. If she liked him, he would be taking her through surgery following her chemo treatments. “Right away, I knew I liked him – a good ol’ mid-western guy from Chicago. My dad grew up in Chicago and I immediately felt a calming connection,” she said. “He was my guy, and in awe that I had even found this tumor. He said, ‘Kid, you have an angel sitting on your shoulder. That is one very difficult tumor to find. If you hadn’t found it when you did, we might be talking about a very different outcome.’”
Shay’s fight began on February 23 with surgery to have a port inserted into her chest to prepare for 20 weeks of chemotherapy followed by the removal surgery. Shay’s first Facebook message to friends read: “Two weeks after starting treatment I expect to start losing my hair. I have always wondered what it would be like not to have a lot of hair…now I will know. Next week after my port surgery I will be cutting my hair very short to prepare for the transition. Soon I’ll be shopping for wigs, beautiful scarves and a slew of baseball caps (that my head will finally fit into). :-) Thank you so much for the love, encouragement, support – and especially the prayers.”
Following are some of her subsequent Facebook posts:
Hi Friends –
First of all, the outpouring of Love and Support is incredible. I am blown away. It has been an emotional rollercoaster. In such a strange way, and with everyone’s help, I feel like I am preparing for the race of a lifetime…I have already learned so much on this 2-week journey. From people I have never even met to people I have known for 30+ years, I do feel your love. Please pray for my family and the team of surgeons that will operate on me, and please pray for me to LET GO for once and let someone else take the reins. This will be the hardest part, but I know so necessary. Please know I could not get through this without all of you. I feel loved and so blessed with each and every one of you in my life one way or another.
Today is a little emotional kind of day for me. Well, that is a lie. I guess the past 6 months have been a little emotional. Seriously though, today I can count on one hand how many treatments I have left: 5, FIVE, #5, V…220.127.116.11.5!!! I am feeling pretty good both mentally and physically. I have had minimal side effects, other than those that a little Kombucha can’t take care :). My head is starting to see baby hairs all over and best of all I am still kickin’. Like a lot of people, I cannot get the new Justin Timberlake tune out of my head…”Can’t stop the feeling… I want to dance, dance, dance.” I want to skip. I want to run. I want to laugh and be goofy. I want to go to Disneyland.
The past week has had its down time, too. I was given a chemo booster last week that should soar my blood counts into a tail spin over the next 3 weeks. I try to prepare myself. Always believing that the mind is a very powerful thing, I “stay above the line” and think of that song that makes me so happy. I trust in my faith and positive energy that my counts will stay up. Looking over the past 16 weeks, I am feeling kind of proud of myself. So many emotions, so many thoughts – both good and bad. So many things that I have personally had to come to terms with. I have a few really good friends who reached out to me when this all started. They too walked this breast cancer journey. One piece of advice they all had in common was telling me that this journey was mine and only mine. Each one of ours is very different. You will have many friends and family in the beginning by your side and offering help, then towards the end they fade away. Everything they told me has been true. The end of chemo is nearing, and a new unknown (my surgery) is approaching…
Shay recently shared with me some of the life lessons she has learned along this journey:
“Part of the journey with this cancer has been the fact that a close friend gave me permission to be vulnerable. She gave me permission to just let my hair down (if I had any) and to be OK with not being OK, and that is huge. I have made a [treatment] plan and am putting my faith in my decisions, in my Lord, and in myself and the fact that I know I can beat this.”
Shay’s Story will be a continuing column in Desert Health®. To leave messages for Shay, please leave a comment below. For more information on triple negative breast cancer, visit www.tnbcfoundation.org. Please note that the Shay’s Warriors Facebook page is a private page.