In this Mission Moment, Breast Cancer Survivor Shanice Jones Cameron shares her story in her own words:
It was a brisk winter afternoon, and I was sitting on my balcony. My phone rang around 2:15 p.m. on Tuesday, February 22, 2022. I looked down at my phone, and I immediately froze. I had a biopsy the day before, but I wasn't expecting the results for another 3-5 days. However, when I saw a Charlotte area code that I didn't recognize, I immediately thought of the biopsy from the previous day. Something told me that this was not good.
NURSE: "Hi, I'm calling for Ms. Cameron?"
SHANICE: "Hi. Yes, this is Shanice."
NURSE: "I'm a nurse calling from [doctor's office] with your biopsy results. You may want to grab something to write with because I'm going to give you a lot of information."
Before she even finished the sentence, I knew that one of my worst fears was about to be confirmed. I was about to be diagnosed with breast cancer at age 32, while married with three kids under age 6, during my first year of teaching at a university, and as a graduate student at UNC Chapel Hill writing a dissertation about Black women's health and well-being networks on social media. Sure enough, by the end of the call I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma, the most common type of breast cancer.
At the time of my diagnosis, I had been eating a vegan diet for almost four years. I practiced yoga. I ran a half-marathon less than a year and a half before my diagnosis. No one in my close family had had breast cancer. I was shocked and devastated.
After I received the phone call that changed my life, I barely cried that first day. I barely cried when I told my husband that I had breast cancer three days after our tenth wedding anniversary. I barely cried when I told my parents over FaceTime that their youngest child had breast cancer. I barely cried when I told my sisters. I didn't even shed a tear when my inquisitive 5-year-old asked about all the hushed conversations of the day.
In hindsight, I was in shock.
In the wee hours of the following morning, the shock began to melt away and the reality that I had breast cancer set in. I was a mess.
All the worries, the what-ifs, and the fears flooded me. As someone who researches critical health communication and digital media, I desperately latched on to what I knew. I knew social support was crucial at a time like this, and I knew I could find resources for support online.
In tears, I went to Google and searched for "breast cancer organizations in Charlotte NC." I didn't know what exactly I was looking for, but I knew I needed hope. I needed hope that there could be life after this diagnosis. I needed hope that I could be here for my family. I needed hope that I may carry out the research that I knew could impact how society thinks about Black women's bodies, health, well-being, and social media. This Google search for hope led me to Carolina Breast Friends (CBF).
I called Carolina Breast Friends and left a tearful message. A few hours later, I received a voice message from Charmaine, Carolina Breast Friends' Operations Manager. She said she was sorry that we had to meet under these circumstances, but she was glad I called, and she encouraged me to call her back. Her voice felt familiar, and her words felt like the warmest hug I had ever received at a time when I desperately needed it. Pushing through droves of tears, I returned her call. I introduced myself, and she encouraged me to come to The Pink House.
An hour later, I was at The Pink House crying in Charmaine's arms. She shared her personal connection to breast cancer, and I also met Lynn, the former director of Carolina Breast Friends. They were strangers who I felt like I had known my whole life. They gave me hope and assured me that I would get through this. I will never forget the kindness they showed me when it seemed like my world was falling apart.
I continued to receive support from Carolina Breast Friends and visited The Pink House as I waited for surgery and grappled with the uncertainty of my treatment plan. Charmaine also connected me with a CBF mentor, Mai. Both Charmaine and Mai called and texted me throughout those difficult weeks before surgery, which were filled with numerous doctor's appointments and a rollercoaster of emotions. I also received a comfort bag shortly before my surgery that was filled with curated items for breast cancer patients.
I had surgery in April 2022, and I learned in May 2022 that my adjuvant treatment would be hormonal therapy. Since surgery, I have continued to seek support from Carolina Breast Friends and attended virtual events like Transformative Writing, Talking to Kids about Breast Cancer, and How to Look and Feel Beautiful After the Storm. I always leave CBF events feeling more hopeful and informed than when I arrived.
Since my diagnosis, I completed my Ph.D. in Communication at UNC Chapel Hill in August 2022. I could not have made it this far in my journey without the support of my family and friends, including my husband Chris, my mother Regina Jones, and my dad Tom Jones.
I'm now an assistant professor at UNC Charlotte in the Department of Communication Studies, and I am continuing my research studying Black women's health and well-being digital networks. I am also the founder of Her Guided Evolution, a digital brand where I create and share content about well-being, self-care, and time management for moms.
I am so grateful for Carolina Breast Friends, and I cannot thank them enough for all their support. My story shows how Carolina Breast Friends serves our community and thoughtfully carries out their mission of spreading hope and caring for those of us impacted by breast cancer.
--Shanice Jones Cameron, Ph.D.
Photos by Henry Jones Photography