The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

CNHI Special Projects

October 2, 2013

Woman grateful for early diagnosis

EVERETT — When a doctor told Penny Shaw she had breast cancer this spring, her mind immediately shifted to her two newborn grandchildren.

“The doctor started telling me about the options for fighting it ... I didn’t hear a thing,” Shaw said.

“I just remember sitting there, thinking ‘I’m not going to see my grandchildren go off to school. I’m not going to see them get married.’ ”

Six months later, Shaw, 51, is in remission and four months removed from a surgery that removed a tiny tumor the size of a pencil tip from her chest.

“I was lucky,” she said.

Her mindset was far different in February after a mammogram at UPMC Bedford showed a small spot on one of her breasts.

It prompted her doctors to schedule a follow-up ultrasound and then a biopsy at the Joyce Murtha Breast Care Center in Windber in the weeks to follow, Shaw said.

That is when she got the news.

“Dr. (Dianna) Craig said, ‘It’s not good’ – and after she mentioned cancer, nothing else sunk in,” Shaw said. “My whole life flashed before my eyes.”

What Craig told Shaw was that she had “Stage 1” cancer.

The tumor was small but showed the potential to be a fast-grower, Shaw said.

“If it weren’t for UPMC Bedford’s 3D mammography machine, they probably wouldn’t have caught it. It might have been another year before I knew I had cancer, and it could have been too late,” she said.

Instead, Shaw had options, and she quickly chose to have the lump removed and then have direct, concentrated doses of radiation on the area where the tumor was growing.

 The doses were an alternative to more traditional and intensive radiation and chemotherapy regimens, she said.

Shaw had surgery May 20.  

She was given small doses of radiation through a port twice a day for five straight days the following week.

A follow-up exam in August showed no sign of the disease, she said.

Shaw said she will return for check-ups every three months to see if anything changes.

In the meantime, she’s taking Tamoxifen, a drug used to fight breast cancer. Shaw says it has its side effects.

She’s often more tired than usual, but she hasn’t let that slow her much.

“Life is too short,” she said, saying time spent with family – especially her grandchildren Aurora and Lucy – means more than ever now.

Her husband, Rick, said he’s been proud how Penny has fought through the ordeal.

“She’s held up really well,” he said.

The couple described Shaw’s diagnosis as an eye-opening education process.

And Shaw, said she hopes women in the area will benefit from her story.

“I caught it early, before it got worse,” she said. “Get your mammograms. Get them regularly. Don’t wait until it’s too late.”

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @tddavidhurst.


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