Hearing that you have cancer is enough of a shock as it is, but to hear that you have cancer and that you only have six months to live would be even more shocking. That's what Shelly Hanson of Lansford heard in June 2009, four days before her 50th birthday.
Currently, Hanson is cancer free, but at the time of her diagnosis when she was at the Mayo Clinic, the physicians told her she had Stage 4 breast cancer and had six months to live. There was no family history of breast cancer. "I just dropped to the floor," she added. "I was devastated."
When Hanson and her husband made the trip to the Mayo Clinic, she thought she was going to have surgery, but the doctors asked what she was doing there. The x-rays showed cancer in her bones and it was decided that she would not have any surgery since the cancer was too far gone. Hanson and her husband returned home. She made a decision, however.
Shelly Hanson, Lansford, stands next to the “Tree of Hope” at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Chicago. When a person has reached five years of survival, his or her name is engraved on one of the branches of the tree. Hanson has received treatment from the center and is currently cancer free. Her name is not engraved on a branch yet, but hopefully will be.
"I told my husband, 'I'm not going to die. There's more to life than a doctor giving you pills and sending you home,'" Hanson said.
Not long after returning home, Hanson and her husband saw a commercial for Cancer Treatment Centers of America on television. The Cancer Treatment Centers of America helps patients win the fight against cancer by using advanced technology and a personalized approach. There are branches in Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Phoenix and Tulsa, each one providing state-of-the-art cancer treatment by a dedicated team. Hanson and her husband decided to see what the Cancer Treatment Centers of America had to offer and flew to the branch in Chicago.
"They had 28 different medications and 11 different chemos to offer," she added. "They can't help everyone, but they'll help as much as they can. They do nothing but fight cancer. There isn't one person there who doesn't give you hope."
One of the features of the Cancer Treatment Centers of America is that on the first visit, they will fly the person who has cancer and his or her companion to one of the centers free of charge. There is also someone from the center to pick you up from the airport. On visits after that, the person who has cancer still gets to fly to the center for free.
Hanson's physician at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Chicago gave her chemotherapy pills that she takes for seven days and then is off the pills for seven days. She also takes lots of vitamins, she added.
"That has helped me stay cancer free," she said.
When this dose of chemo stops working, Hanson said the center has a different set of pills for her to take. Aside from a relapse a few years ago when she almost died, Hanson has been free of cancer.
There were no signs that something was wrong that Hanson noticed before her official diagnosis. She went in for a routine mammogram one day and the next day had an MRI and x-rays taken, her whole life turned upside-down. Since she sought treatment at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Hanson has not had surgery or radiation, just taken chemo pills. When the cancer came back during her relapse, it landed in the bone marrow. She took chemo pills for it that killed the cancer cells and rebuilt new cells, she said.
"I'm a miracle," Hanson added. "I'm very lucky. I thank God everyday and spend as much time as I can with my grandbabies."
The hardest part of her journey with cancer was having to come home and tell her family.
"Just knowing you're young and won't get to see your grandkids," she said.
However, the outpouring of support from family, friends and community members was surprising. The Cancer Treatment Centers of America was supportive too, Hanson said. Some members of the community helped put siding on the Hanson's house, she added, so she's reminded of their support every time she sees her house.
Another surprising aspect Hanson noted was how everyone would ask how she was doing. "You don't know how many people care until this happens," she added. "They still look out for me."
For people who are still battling cancer, Hanson has some advice.
"Think positive, keep a positive attitude, have faith, have hope and let people help and support you," she said.