Cancer Crusader

Breast Cancer, Healthy Living, Women's Health
on February 10, 2011
Ann Wade Parrish

Haley Shannon was only 25 when her doctor found the lump. Fortunately, three years and a double mastectomy later, her doctors pronounced her cancer free. Determined to help fight the disease, Haley signed up for the Conquer Cancer Run, an 8k/1-mile event in her hometown of Birmingham, Ala., founded by fellow cancer survivor Brenda Ladun. "Brenda's not sitting around having a pity party," Haley says. "She's out there raising awareness."

Married with three small boys, Brenda was juggling home life with a demanding job as a local TV news anchor when, in 2001 at age 39, she noticed a lump in her right breast.

"Everything came to a halt," Brenda, now 48, recalls. Her husband, Doug, urged her to see her doctor that day. In less than two weeks she was having surgery, during which doctors removed both breasts. Brenda was back to work just a few weeks later, and following chemotherapy it seemed that cancer was behind her. In fact, Brenda even joked after breast reconstruction that with her perky new chest, she'd someday go to a nursing home "still looking like a teenager."

But six years later, Brenda was soaping up in the shower when she found another lump in the same spot. Instinctively, she knew the cancer was back. This time she needed more aggressive treatment: four months of chemo, plus 33 radiation treatments.

"At first I was mad," Brenda says. "I thought, 'I don't want to do this again!'" The treatments made her sick; her hair fell out in clumps. But along the way she found sweet surprises, like when Doug gently offered to shave her head for her. "I felt an overwhelming sense of love," Brenda says.

Along with family support, exercise helped her cope. After her mastectomy, Brenda started running; she worked up to a marathon less than a year after her surgery, and she's since run several more. 

From the time she was diagnosed, Brenda made up her mind to share her story with others. "I felt like I needed to warn people about cancer," she says. She's the author of two books, writes "Brenda's Blog," and speaks at hospitals and community centers. And in 2005, she launched the Conquer Cancer Run, an event that's grown to include more than 1,000 participants. Held every February, the race raises funds for cancer advocacy, education, research and patient services.

Now, Brenda is healthy. But the lessons she's learned have stuck. "Cancer changed my direction," she says. "Years ago it was all about decorating the house, but now it's about the spiritual things. If you look, you will find your blessings."

Haley Shannon found a new direction, too, as a runner. She plans to be back at the race again next year. "If I can help raise one dollar toward finding a cure, I'm there."

Start your own mini-movement today!
You don't have to think big to make a healthy difference. Use Facebook or a simple e-mail list to gather friends for fitness activities, volunteer opportunities, even to schedule mammograms or blood donations (host a post-party to celebrate your healthier selves).