Saturday, September 27, 2008

Karl's Paper

FRIDAY, APRIL 25, 2008 08:44 AM

Kevin and the guys got to play poker.

Here is a little treat for everyone. My Aunt, Beth's nephew, Karl, had to write a college paper about someone. Thing was he couldn't actually know the person, and he had to learn aout the person from a 3rd party. So, he interviewed my Aunt Beth and Uncle Rick about me and wrote the story. He also used the website to get some background on me. Not all the facts are spot on, but the was the idea, to get a representation of my story from a source other than me. I loved reading it and hearing my story told from someone I don't even know. Karl said I could put it up here for all of you to read, so thank you Karl!! It's awesome.
It's hard for me to not get a big head after reading this. : )
There is also a lot about you guys in there, and you should all be proud as well, because you all keep me going. So Yeah for all of you!!!
Here it is. Hope you enjoy!!

The sun glances over the snow-covered horizon as a woman gracefully carves her way down the double black diamond trail. She jumps and slides down a familiar rail landing perfectly between two old pine trees. While skidding her snowboard to a stop at the end of the trail she sprays fresh powder down the mountainside leaving only the peaceful sound of the wind and the falling snow to keep her company.

For Shannon, life is to be lived to the fullest and breath-taking experiences like these are quite common. Whether snowboarding or taking trapeze classes, she enjoys living a little more on the edge. I often wondered what makes her so adventuresome and daring and the answer I discovered was much more than I expected.

Shannon was diagnosed with breast cancer at the all too young age of 25 and re-diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer at 27. Stage IV breast cancer is as serious as it gets, there is no stage V. Knowing this, I began to wonder: could this looming feeling of mortality cause her to live the way she does? No one knows for sure, but with that question in mind, I set out to discover how a woman, sentenced to death, could fight on and enjoy life to a degree that most are never able to.
A significant amount of my gathered information came from an Internet blog that Shannon writes in on a regular basis. Before making any initial assumptions or judgments, I decided to start from the beginning and try to uncover how she initially took the news. I found that while she, understandably, was infuriated and shocked at the original diagnosis; she never let it bring her down. When her hair started to fall out (due to chemotherapy) she had her boyfriend shave a Mohawk into her head for fun. During her first chemotherapy treatment she even reported in her online blog that she laughed while reading a comedic novel. In an interview with her aunt and uncle, I was informed that “she has a way of turning a difficult situation into a fun one and that she is always very upbeat.” Shannon seems to be a very optimistic and lively person who accepts her problems and deals with them in a healthy manner.

Her spirits seemed higher than ever shortly after the diagnosis and she constantly thanks her family and friends for all their support. Right from the beginning she stated that, “I feel good about beating this cancer and I know it’s because of all of you.” In my first visit to her website, I noticed that it had nearly 8,000 visits and her guestbook contains over 350 messages from supporting family and friends; messages that say things such as “we are all here for you,” and “you are always in our prayers.” While reading comments like these it became evident to me that a part of Shannon’s outgoing and adventuresome personality may be due to the incredible amount of support that she has. Her supporting community promotes her already existing sense of confidence, which is seen through her audacious and informal personality.

I found that one supporter in particular has an immense impact on her. Her boyfriend and now husband Kevin “has been a rock for her” and has helped her tremendously throughout all of her treatment. Before their marriage, he even missed out on his own bachelor party to be with her once he found out she was re-diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. Whether making her fruit juice or just holding her hand, Kevin has been and continues to be a positive force in her life and has without a doubt influenced part of her personality through his own dedication and liveliness.
While Shannon’s outlook on life is influenced through those that support her, I also found that she considers herself to be a “tough cookie” all on her own. In one of her first blog entries she states, “No matter what I had to go through, I was going to make it and be just fine. One thing I made sure to do was to not even look at any survival rates. Survival is a given. My goal is to come out of this stronger than before my diagnosis. I'm keeping my head way up. Like I said before, this cancer doesn't stand a chance with me.”

I believe that Shannon’s ‘tough girl’ persona adds to her optimism and stops her from getting too down on herself, however, it may also bring on false beliefs along with it. For example, Shannon refused to skip work after her second diagnosis and didn’t go on disability for over four months after she started treatment. Her tough girl attitude did hold true, and in fact, many co-workers did not even realize she had anything wrong with her and were shocked to find out that she had cancer. However, her increasing workload did not allow her to get the rest needed and she realized that she was sacrificing her health for her job and learned a valuable lesson which she shares with her readers: “What good is money, if [we are] not alive?”

Based on somewhat dangerous decisions like this I began to wonder if Shannon is becoming reckless with her life, and is losing hope. Through further research, I discovered that Shannon is in no way giving up. While Shannon does participate in some risky activities, she has an immeasurable appreciation for life and takes incredibly good care of herself. Besides working out on a daily basis and doing yoga, she also has an incredible diet that involves a number of nutritious juices that she makes herself. The most apparent display of her gratefulness is a journal entry in which she declares one week “Eyelash Appreciation Week.” In the journal, she explains how simple things like eyelashes affect our lives. Shannon points out that eyelashes keep moisture in our eyes from running down our face and that, during chemotherapy, she lost her eyelashes and this causes her to appear to be crying sometimes. Through experiences like these, Shannon has developed a deep appreciation of all that she has, whether it is her family or a seemingly unimportant thing like an eyelash.

I believe this same appreciation for life has increased her involvement in various cancer groups and fundraisers. These fundraisers, while raising money for cancer, also provide a fun and exciting environment where everyone can have a great time. In a recent fundraiser one of her groups, the Pink Ribbon Cowgirls, participated in a Graphic Art Bra show where they made artistic bra’s and then modeled them for a calendar which was sold to help fight cancer. Through events like these, she has made countless friends and experienced life in a way that she might not have if she didn’t have cancer. I am by no means saying that cancer has given her a better life, but it has allowed her to experience it in a vivid and exciting way.

Shannon’s experiences and fundraisers do not go unnoticed by others and her life views inspire more people than she will ever know, myself included. Shannon was even interviewed on various news shows last year for Breast Cancer Awareness Month in Austin, Texas. In the interviews, she talked about what it is like to be diagnosed with cancer at such a young age and how she and other people deal with it on a daily basis.

As mentioned earlier, her blog also attracts a great deal of attention and she commonly ends her journal entries with words of encouragement and wisdom. Whether telling people to “do something fun this week” or even to just “be happy,” Shannon has impacted a considerable amount of people. In one entry she explains the dangers of using prescribed drugs and how natural healing is a better way to recovery. In another she gives advice about healthy eating and nutrition and even holds a competition to discover what the best Juicer is. In her guestbook numerous people have thanked Shannon for introducing them to juicing and admit to being “proud owners” of new Juicers thanks to her advice. Many of her supporters have also recommended that she write a book (a recommendation that she is seriously considering according to her most recent journal entry). Comments like these show that her advice and knowledge are valued immensely and that many hold her insight in high regard.
Approximately one year ago Shannon was given 12-24 months to live by one of her doctors (whom she replaced with another doctor shortly thereafter). Since then, Shannon’s health has only improved and her cancer is becoming less and less of a threat. Today she is doing better than ever and has much fewer treatments to deal with.

Throughout my research of this young woman, I have come to a very important realization: there are a lot of decisions that aren’t up to us. We can’t decide who we love, when we die or even whether or not we develop cancer. We can’t always predict what is going to happen next, but regardless of this, we can decide one thing. We can decide how we love and how we live with the time that is given to us. For Shannon, whether she lives another day or another fifty years she will live and she will love with everything that she has and throughout her life she has convinced and will continue to convince many others to do the same. I believe that there is a stage V cancer and that this is it, but unlike the disease trying to spread to destroy her body, this cancer is spreading through her friends and family with a different objective in mind. This cancer instead of causing us to die, convinces us to do the opposite, live.

Now “go outside, laugh and promise yourself that you will do something fun today.”

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