“ Reach out to others for support. Let them know what you need on all levels. When it comes to any serious illness or crisis, I have found that friends and family truly want to love you through your toughest times – they just need to be given the tools to do so.
Shaundra Hall is a busy mAss Kicker! Shaundra is a member of the National Cervical Cancer Coalition /American Sexual Health Association steering committee. She is also employed with Cancer Treatment Centers of America and sits on the board of directors for Arizona Assistance in Health Care, Inc. (AAHC). January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month She is VERY BUSY this month! We were lucky to find time to ask her a few questions.
mK: Hi Shaundra! Thanks for doing this! What/ when was your diagnosis? How did you find out about your diagnosis?
SH: I was diagnosed with squamous cell cervix cancer in 1999. My husband, Tom, and I were trying to start our family and after no pregnancy for nearly a year, I went in to my gyn and that’s when he found the tumor on my cervix. I was only 28 and my husband, Tom, was only 27.
mK: What were your symptoms?
SH: NONE at that time. On and off through my late teens and early 20’s I had some Pap exams that showed abnormal cells, but I always followed up and had the physician recommended procedures according to each situation. I had had four consistent years of completely clean Pap test results – and then within 10 months of my most recent clean Pap, this fairly sizable and apparently aggressive tumor came out of (seemingly) nowhere.
mK: Yikes! Glad you caught it! How and why did you get involved with Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA)? What do you do currently for Arizona Assistance in Healthcare?
SH: Although I was not treated at CTCA, I had heard about the organization and when I found out they had a position open for an executive assistant, I applied for and got the job. I was thrilled. I have worked for them for almost 4 years now and it’s a dream job on steroids. Amazing purpose driven employees that love our patients like their own family. I have never worked anywhere like this in my entire working career. It is through CTCA that I learned about Arizona Assistance in Health Care, Inc. AAHC exists for the sole purpose of raising funds for qualifying cancer patients actively undergoing treatment in the Phoenix metro area. We raise money to grant funds for the patient’s non-medical expenses such as food, gas, electricity etc. I am deeply honored to have been on their board of directors for the last two years. What I love most about that organization is that we grant funds to patients from all different cancer treatment facilities across the valley. Not just one in particular.
mK: That is pretty cool. Who are your heroes?
SH: My Gram is my #1 inspiration. She had to take care of her father in the 1920’s when her mother died. She had 2 dresses, and 1 pair of shoes during the depression. She lived through the depression, WWII, all sorts of amazing and historical events. She was only 6 years younger than Arizona has been a state! She put herself through secretarial school to make a living back in the 30s. She met and married my grandfather shortly after WWII and he passed in the mid-1970s. He was the only man for her and she never remarried. She was such a strong force and amazing matriarch. I learned to be frugal, not to complain or whine (too much), to appreciate family and respect those around me. She was quietly dynamic and lead by example and showed how someone can be philanthropic in many different ways. She passed away a year ago next week at the amazing age of 96. My mom, sister and I were all at her bedside and got to love on her as she passed in to heaven. It was phenomenal.
mK: What an amazing woman! So, what motivates you?
SH: The needs of others. My job is 100% based on taking care of those around me, so I suppose now that I am analyzing it, it’s probably no wonder that it has spilled over in to my private life. You need a babysitter, call me. You need a cheap hotel, let me jump online for you and find the best rates. You say the dog is misbehaving? Let me send you the name of my dog trainer… So – I enjoy when someone has expressed to me some sort of need that I am able to help with in some way, that I can either give it to them, or more importantly, show them where or how to get it for themselves. This is so true with my volunteer work with the National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC). There is such a huge need out there for HPV awareness and education. That is another one of my passions – to educate the public about HPV, cervical cancer and the FDA approved vaccines so that they can make an educated decision about their or their children’s health when it comes to HPV vaccines. I have access to information to share with them, so that they don’t have to worry or waste time trying to find reliable or accurate information.
mK: When was the first time you felt like yourself after your diagnosis?
SH: It was a solid year before I felt like was close to my old self. But most of that was because of my previous routine had been so disrupted. Once things settled down, and I was able to get close to the same routine I had before cancer, I felt like things were getting back on track. That was when I decided to become Shaundra 2.0. Tom and I realized things would never be exactly the same so we made a conscious decision to have a greater and better life. And I am happy to say, that we do. We did not adopt and don’t have kids of our own but that has afforded us the opportunity to do things we probably would never get to do, had we had a family of our own. Like help out and mentor our friend’s kids.
mK: What makes you laugh, cry, angry?
SH: As much as I hate to admit this, I love inappropriate humor. It’s such a huge coping mechanism for me. During that first year after surgery, my husband Tom and I shared some of the most horrible jokes, mostly about cancer, and I just remember people around us being absolutely mortified. But for us, it helped us heal and move forward. It was essential. Not only did I have a pretty serious illness (cervical cancers in younger women tend to be pretty aggressive and deadlier than in older women), but we had to cope with the fact we’d never have kids of our own as a result – so it was a lot for two c.28 year olds to deal with all at once. I’m sure that I’m like most everyone that doesn’t like anyone or anything to suffer. Especially the kids that lose their parents too young. Reading the applications we get for Assistance in Health Care always makes me cry. The stories are so over the top, you just wonder how someone’s heart can take that much sorrow. Participatory ignorance and laziness make me angry.
mK: What would you say is the most interesting thing you’ve done?
SH: As a part of the 2012 AACR annual progress report, I got to go to Washington D.C. and meet with members of the Senate to encourage them to prevent the impending sequestration and was able to advocate for continued cancer research funding for the NIH and the NCI et al. Never in a million years would I have thought someday I would be lobbying the senate or for cancer research funding. That was a highlight of my life because I really felt I was talking to those who really are in charge of making these dynamic changes in cancer research because they hold the purse strings.
mK: Patient advocates talking to the decision makers is so important. What was the toughest challenge you faced as a survivor? How did you overcome it?
SH: My toughest challenge to date, as a survivor, was trying to educate a member of my own family about the FDA approved HPV vaccines and how she should speak with their children’s pediatrician if vaccination was the right course for their kids. That way they didn’t have to go through what I went through. She said “well, my kids are not having sex until they are married, so they don’t need to have the shots.” I tried to explain that HPV vaccination is not about sex, it’s about HEALTH. But she was steadfast. That REALLY took the wind out of my sails. It has affected me to this day, but Tom reminds me that we do have many successes where people took information we gave them, to their family doctors and had in depth discussions as to what was right for their children. So that helps counterbalance that big challenge.
mK: Education is a very important activity! Changing gears… What is your guilty pleasure?
SH: Wine by the fire outside on the patio. I love our little patio, and during the winter months when it’s chilly outside, we will build a fire in our dilapidated old fire kettle and sit and talk about the events of the day while the dogs lay at our feet all snuggled up on their blankies.
mK: “Maxin’ and relaxin'”… If you were a superhero, what would your superhero name be? What would be your super powers? Who would be your sidekick?
SH: I would be “The Mighty Shaundor” and I would be able to make people feel warm and fuzzy all over just by thinking about them. My sidekick would be “DuraTom” who could fix anything using only duct tape and a Q-Tip. And would only smell like clean laundry.
mK: HAHAHA! What do you like to do in your spare time?
SH: I really enjoy exploring the national forests of Arizona with Tom and our two dogs on the weekends. We are avid outdoors people and spend our weekends in northern AZ during the hot summer months.
mK: What are you up to now?
SH: Getting ready to have a fire out on the patio with a glass of my favorite (aka cheap) pinot noir.
mK: “Judge it not by the price. Judge it by how it makes you feel.” I think Yoda said that… JK! Any of your own words of wisdom for people or loved ones that get daunting diagnoses?
SH: Reach out to others for support. Let them know what you need on all levels. When it comes to any serious illness or crisis, I have found that friends and family truly want to love you through your toughest times – they just need to be given the tools to do so.
mK: Tell us something about yourself that people probably didn’t know… anything.
SH: I don’t particularly like green and orange foods mixed together. It bothers me. I’m not sure why. I just don’t like it. It makes me uncomfortable.
Shaundra Hall: “The Mighty Shandor”, patio deck dweller, peas-n’-carrots hater, and tireless cervical cancer advocate. Thanks for hanging out with us. Check out Arizona Assistance in Health Care, Inc when you get the chance.