In September of 2008, at age 56, Wanda Shearin was diagnosed with Stage 4 Ovarian Cancer. Two surgeries and nearly 20 chemotherapy treatments later, Wanda has been cancer-free since August 2010.
Wanda’s first symptom appeared in the fall of 2007 with a sharp pain in her right side. Her pain persisted on and off for several weeks, so she made an appointment to see her general practitioner. With a family history of colon cancer, Wanda’s doctor was careful not to rule anything out too quickly and ordered an ultrasound. Though the results were normal, she began experiencing new symptoms, including chest pains and fatigue, months later. But a new round of tests completed by a heart specialist showed no signs of serious heart issues. Without any concrete reasons for her symptoms, Wanda carried on with her daily life.
Weeks later, new symptoms emerged—this time signaling new concern with Wanda’s nurse and general practitioner. She had a chest x-ray and CAT scan taken that afternoon. The scans showed fluid on Wanda’s abdomen and left lung. Later that week Wanda’s doctor delivered the devastating news: cancer cells had been found and were likely ovarian cancer. The definitive diagnosis of ovarian cancer was made by a cancer specialist at Levine Cancer Institute, Dr. Naumann. Wanda underwent two surgical procedures and 19 chemotherapy treatments in total over the next two years, including a clinical trial being offered at Levine Cancer Institute (LCI).
Despite the battle she endured, Wanda shows endless gratitude for the life-saving resources and medical staff she found at Levine Cancer Institute, remarking, “My medical team has been outstanding. I cannot say enough good things about the doctors, nurses, and administrative staff at LCI and Carolinas Healthcare.”
From her first day of treatment at Levine Cancer Institute, a dedicated team of physicians were involved with Wanda’s care and follow-up surgery, working diligently to ensure that every issue that emerged—such as her compromised lung function—was carefully addressed. Wanda describes an extended network of staff at LCI who made a tremendous impact on her care:
“These doctors, the nurses on 11B, nurses in the offices, nurses in the infusion room…Meg Turner, our support group therapist…Debra, Katie, Rodney, and Amy at the front desk…[they] have all gone above and beyond their job duties and handled me with such care and compassion; that was an integral part of my healing.”
There was the radiology staff who took great care with Wanda when draining fluid from her lungs, making sure she was comfortable every step of the way; then there was the nurse who gave her words of encouragement while replacing her IV tube in the middle of the night; and it was the cafeteria staff who offered a listening ear and visited Wanda with special treats to lift her spirits. Each interaction she had with Carolinas HealthCare System teammates gave Wanda comfort and strength throughout her journey.
“Each and every encounter I have had at LCI has been positive”, says Wanda. “All of these health professionals have been talented caregivers, but also kind and compassionate in their duties. I will always be indebted to these people for giving me these years with my family. I cannot say enough good things about [Levine Cancer Institute].”
Wanda describes how ovarian cancer transformed her life, saying, “it changed my orderly, planned life and that of my family forever. I feel as though the rug has been jerked out from under me and I landed very hard. My relationship with God, family, and friends are the sweetest and most cherished part of life. Material possessions are not as important and can be a burden. The idiosyncrasies that were part of my daily life are now laughable memories. The term ‘journey’ describing cancer is accurate. It takes time to let go of what life was before the diagnosis and time to embrace physical changes and emotional and spiritual growth. However, through all of this journey, I feel Blessed.”
Wanda was also transformed by a group of dedicated ovarian cancer survivors and advocates, known as the Teal Magnolias, who continue to raise funds for ovarian cancer research at Levine Cancer Institute through the Stiletto Sprint. She recalls, “I came into the Teal Magnolias Support Group after the [Stiletto Sprint] had been set up and was asked if I wanted to participate. I, of course, said yes, not fully understanding what the event would be…I did not know what I could contribute.” So weak that Wanda says she could barely finish the Survivor’s Walk (shown above) that first year, she found strength in her fellow survivors and supporters.
She remembers, “For a few short hours, it was a lot of laughter and hugs and ‘You look so great’ seeing other survivors…the passion of that group of women to see that ovarian cancer does not happen to another woman of any age is what spurs us on. The support of our doctors, support staff, and [Carolinas HealthCare] Foundation staff, who bring attention to the symptoms and raise money for a diagnostic tool for early detection, is what keeps us going.”
Wanda’s heartfelt words inspire us to remain steadfast in our pursuit to positively impact the course of ovarian cancer care in our community. Wanda is joined by hundreds of dedicated ovarian cancer advocates and survivors, as well as generous donors and community sponsors, who support the Stiletto Sprint year after year. Learn more below about how you can get involved in the 5th annual Stiletto Sprint on September 19.
To register or donate visit: www.TealHeels.org
Join Wanda and hundreds of women (and men!) on September 19 for the 5th Annual Stiletto Sprint benefiting the Carolinas Ovarian Cancer Fund at Levine Cancer Institute. One hundred percent of the Stiletto Sprint donations stay local benefiting research, community awareness initiatives, and patient programs at Levine Cancer Institute. Please visit www.tealheels.org to register or learn more about this stylish event.
Since its inception, Stiletto Sprint has continued to receive tremendous support from its presenting sponsor, the Bissell Companies. All funds raised at the event are directed toward research to improve early detection and treatment options for ovarian cancer; patient support programs and educational offerings; and community awareness initiatives.
The Stiletto Sprint is a grassroots fundraising initiative that has cumulatively raised over $350,000. Every dollar counts – join us this year and help make a difference in the lives of women fighting ovarian cancer.