December 8, 2016 marks one year since Little Rock native, Shantez Parker got the news of a lifetime. For her, this was more than just a one year anniversary, it was a celebration of life.
At age 34, Shantez was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. An aggressive form of the disease fueled by estrogen, Parker says that her doctors manipulated her hormones to trip her into an early menopause. This, after she decided against the first option of a total hysterectomy.
Shantez says that she noticed the “ball-type” knot on the side of her left breast for about a year before she went to have it checked. She says that since the disease is prevalent in her family, she had a mammogram at age 32 and received a clear report, so she skipped it at age 33. During this time, she noticed the lump in her breast and grew more concerned. It wasn’t until, Shantez admits, that she had gotten the opinions of her family and friends that she decided to keep the appointment, this time. After making several attempts, she says that she would never keep her appointment. “Basically what I was doing was thinking, ‘Okay, I’m going to plan my life, I’m not going to get tested.’ That’s the worst thing you can do,” declared Parker. She says it ultimately took her sister driving from Arkansas to her home in Texas to physically get her to the appointment.
It was June 22, 2015, Shantez went in for her mammogram. She remembers crying hysterically on this day. Her intuition sensing what the doctors didn’t even know at that time. The following Monday, she goes in for a biopsy. And four days later, she found out she had cancer.
“I kinda blacked out, I was screaming. It was…it was, just an awful feeling.”
I wanted to know the answer to what seemed like an obvious question about why she hesitated to get tested, once she found the lump, initially. “People always say that they felt something, and I understand that you may be scared of the results, but my question to you is, did you think that if you don’t know then it won’t kill you, or what,” I asked with a quick chuckle. Before I could finish my statement, she interjected matter of factly, with a nod, “That’s what it was. I thought, if I don’t then I’ll live longer and that is WRONG.” We both shared a laugh. Unfortunately, however, this mindset resounds in many of us. It’s the responsibility of knowing that we most fear. If you don’t know, then you can just live your life, unknowingly. But if you know, then you have to make, what some would say, is the hardest decision of your life: You have to choose to live.
As I spoke with Shantez on this beautiful sunny afternoon, she revealed to me that she feared the worst-case scenario because she’s seen a line of women in her immediate family deteriorate from this disease, including an aunt who had just recently passed. Her own mother, she disclosed, died of breast cancer at age 31. Finally, she tells me of her mother’s other sister, who came and visited her while she was in treatment who discovered four weeks after leaving that she, too, has the disease. One family. Four women. Two survivors. Fighting one incredible battle.
Pictured with her mother, Lasondra Gail
“Initially, you said that you weren’t going to get chemo treatments and that your plan was just to ‘live as long as you could’. What changed your mind,” I asked. Her eyes lit up as she answered, “My daughter”.
“She just knew something was wrong because that’s how close we are. Once I told her, she had a nervous breakdown. At that moment, when I saw my baby’s face and I knew, because I know how it is growing up without a mom. No one can love you like your mom loves you. So when I saw that, my only option was to fight. So I’m going to fight for my baby.”
Shantez declared that she went through 4 rounds of the Red Devil, a chemotherapy agent administered into the bloodstream to fight off the cancerous cells. This stage of therapy is often the worst for patients because it comes with side effects that include hair loss, extreme fatigue, nausea and vomiting, darkened nail beds, and metallic taste buds, to name a few.
“In a way, cancer has been a blessing because it woke me up to life.” –Shantez Marie Parker
“Losing my hair, it brought me to my lowest. That’s when I realized, I really have cancer. But I refused to look like what I’m going through. I want every woman to know that no matter if you’re bald or not, you’re still beautiful. This is a battle that you didn’t choose. It was given to you. And I always feel like God gives battles to his strongest soldiers. So it’s our time to fight.”
After Red Devil treatments, she endured Taxol treatments, which were worse than anything she could have imagined. Shantez described days when her entire body ached in pain and being physically incapable of simple tasks like walking, even standing. In addition to this, she says that some days, she would be awake for 24 hours straight because she couldn’t even find a comfortable position for sleeping.
Following chemo treatments, Shantez was closely monitored by her doctors to ensure that she had the proper blood levels prior to the surgery to have the cancer removed from her breast. From there, she underwent a double mastectomy and reconstruction surgery.
Since her ordeal began over a year ago, Shantez says that she’s made some lifestyle changes. She now tries to incorporate diet and exercise into her regimen. She also told me that she and her daughter rarely eat fast food. She incorporates lots of fresh fruits and vegetables into her diet.
Finally, she recounts the day she got the call from her doctor with her latest report.
“She called me and she said, I know you’re going through a lot right now, but I just want to let you know that you are officially cancer-free. My best friend was at home with me and she put on Never Would Have Made It by Marvin Sapp. I was crying and I told her to change the music. She put on “Celebration”. She instantly went into her song and dance right at the table, “Cel-ebrate good times, Come on,” with her hands raised in the air.
Shantez Parker is working to start a non-profit organization, in honor of her mother, to stand with women and help make them feel beautiful. If you are in need of support during your battle, feel free to contact Shantez Marie Parker via her Facebook page here.