Real Talk: Navigating A Diagnosis At The Holidays

[00:00:00] Adam Walker: From Susan G Komen, this is Real Pink, a podcast exploring real stories, struggles, and triumphs related to breast cancer. We’re taking the conversation from the doctor’s office to your living room.

This is Real Talk, a new podcast series where we’re going to break down the stigmas and feelings of embarrassment and talk openly and honestly about just how difficult breast cancer can be. From diagnosis to treatment, to living with metastatic breast cancer, to life after treatment ends. In today’s episode, we’ll hear from two women who were diagnosed with breast cancer during the holiday season.

Shannon Schumacher was diagnosed on December 6th, 2022, and had surgery the week after Christmas. She was hospitalized on New Year’s Eve with a collapsed lung. Shannon’s mom is a six time breast cancer survivor and her grandmother passed away from metastatic breast cancer before Shannon was born. Shannon’s stepdad is living with stage four bladder cancer and her brother is fighting lymphoma. Patricia Fox found a lump in her breast just days before Thanksgiving in 2013. She had a needle biopsy the day after Thanksgiving and received her breast cancer diagnosis on January 5th of that year. Their holidays were far from what they were expecting.

They managed their diagnosis and had conversations with health care providers and family members about their treatment plan. It wasn’t exactly the most wonderful time of the year. Shannon and Patricia Thank you for being here today and sharing what your experiences have been like. Hearing the words, you have cancer is never easy, but hearing them at a time that’s often reserved for family, friends, celebrations, and traditions can be so much harder.

So Patricia, let’s start with you. Tell us about your diagnosis and what your holiday season was like in 2013. And then Shannon, we’d like to hear from you about your diagnosis and the holiday season as well. 

[00:02:00] Patricia Fox: Well, thank you for having me. And yeah, just to get right into it. My birthday is October and in November I was taking a shower and I felt a lump in my breath suddenly. And I had just turned 26. So my natural thought was, “I’m too young for this. What is this?” but I’m a woman of faith. And so I, it’s like, I could feel the Holy Spirit saying, or I could hear the Holy Spirit saying like, we should get this checked out, even though you’re only 26 years old and so yeah, Black Friday.

I went, and even then when I went, they were like, “You’re just 26, you’re too young. Like, this could just be, a cyst.” And, for a younger woman, especially African American woman, you may have a tendency to have denser breasts. So this really just may not be what you think it is. And thankfully, that’s when advocacy began for me, because thankfully I was like, “Okay, well, I think I should still get this checked out.” So I had to do the biopsy. I had to wait for the doctor to get back to me because she was on vacation with her husband. And I remember thinking all while trying to make sure I got the biopsy, at the time I was an insurance professional and I just thought to myself, this is a waste of time.

I was like, “I don’t want to do this. This is a waste of time. I’m being a hypochondriac, all the things like I’m too young.” And so when I finally did see my doctor December 5th. she was like, “You’re going to be a breast cancer survivor.” That’s how she delivered the news to me. And that was comforting. It wasn’t just you have cancer or it was, it sets up the experience for me. I didn’t tell my family immediately. I wanted to sit with the news myself, and so slowly par for out and I, for the holidays, I was living on my own, so I wasn’t really up to visiting family at the time anyway and I surely didn’t want that to be the discussion over presents and dinner. So I just spent the holidays home by myself. And I just on my own pace told my siblings and my parents. And that’s how it was for me. 

[00:04:02] Shannon Schumacher: Wow. That must’ve been so devastating. And being 26 years old, like you just don’t think you’re not thinking of, cancer yet. Like you just don’t think it’s going to happen. 

[00:04:13] Patricia Fox: Not at all. Especially during the holidays, especially at 26, selling insurance, life insurance for people. So yeah. How about you Shannon? Like, how was your experience during the holidays? 

[00:04:24] Shannon Schumacher: Yeah. So my diagnosis was, last year. So due to my family history of breast cancer for many years, I’ve been rotating between a mammogram and an MRI every six months. So last year in 2022, I had my mammogram that February and it was clear. And because I’ve been doing this for so long, I just wasn’t really concerned about it. So I was due for my MRI in August and had kept putting it off. Finally, in November, I went in for my MRI and that’s where they found the tumor.

So I received my diagnosis on December 6th. We almost have the same anniversary date. So mine was, one year ago. And I have, IDC. So, and I’m HER2 positive and estrogen positive. So my treatment plan started with surgery right away. Then I did three months of chemotherapy, one month of radiation, and I’m doing infusions of the HER2 therapy drug, Herceptin, which runs for a full year. So, this holiday season, I’m actually still in treatment. Last holiday season, I actually, I had my surgery just a couple days after Christmas. I wanted to wait until Christmas was over. So, I went in to have my surgery, which was a lumpectomy and the lymph node removal. And I had my port placed, in surgery.

Unfortunately, when my port was placed, They punctured my lung and it completely collapsed. It was very traumatic. I had woken up from surgery. I was in extreme pain. I knew something wasn’t right. I kept asking the nurses to please check my lungs. I just felt it was my breathing was off. They said they had done a scan in the operating room. It was fine. Sent me home. I went 24 hours with my lung being collapsed. I even called the doctor in the middle of the night. Finally in the morning I went in. So then I was hospitalized as they, reinflated and repaired my lung, and that fell over New Year’s Eve. So definitely the last, couple holiday seasons have not been normal for our family. So I’m happy to have this discussion and we can dive in a little bit more. 

[00:06:45] Patricia Fox: Yes. Oh, my goodness. Now, I’ve heard, like, the support, needing support. One, just like you said, we have similar anniversary dates. Your story is absolutely amazing. Just how you’ve persevered through it. And then even for you, that beginning of the advocacy piece, like, sometimes you have to tell them, like, “There’s something still not right. Can you look at this again? Can you review this again?” I’ve learned to ask, “What are all of my options?” So if I’m in pain, “Okay, what’s another way we could look at it?” Because, oh my goodness, going home after a whole 24 hours and having to go back, what was the support like for you getting from your family? And then, did your family have support or whoever was supporting you? 

[00:07:27] Shannon Schumacher: Yeah, well, and I’m like you too, where I overthink. So I was like, “Oh, I’m just being nervous and it’s probably just hurting because of the surgery. But I think you’re so right about like advocating for yourself and trusting yourself and just getting it checked out.

And, as far as my family, we, I did share with my family right away. So I told my husband first, of course, and then we told our daughters together and we told, most of our family right away. I feel like, the whole, like sharing the story is really up to each person and, And for some people, I think they need to process what’s happening before they share it. And for others, I think it’s just sharing it right away. And you have to let go of worrying about what everybody else is going to, be going through and really do what’s best for you in the moment. so, for my, support system, it was really what did I need each day? and also I had a really good therapist in place. So that was really super helpful for me, to get through it. What about you Patricia? 

[00:08:49] Patricia Fox: Yeah. So actually I love that you talked on therapy because I got a therapist, maybe after my second treatment of Taxol, because when it switched from AC to Taxol, there was just such a hormonal, psychological, like I was- I will never forget. I just fell into my face crying in the kitchen and I was like, “What’s happening?” I’m trying to take a scan, a mental scan, a physical scan. And I was like, “Oh, this is it. This is the switch.” So, seeing a counselor definitely supported me with just looking at what’s going on in my life, my communication skills. Because like I said, I didn’t tell everyone immediately. I think I needed to process it. I remember going home, I got a bottle of wine and I was like, “All right, this is it. This is what’s happening.” And like I said, I didn’t want it to be a discussion over dinner, my siblings at the time, they’re married with kids, my dad was local, my mom was in the South. And so it’s just like, I’ll piece it out as I’m able and then the whole waiting process, because, so even though December 5th is when I found out, I still had to wait for the results for whether you’re black or negative or positive. There was just so many other things that needed to be done. And so I just remember thinking, so I didn’t have a therapist at the time. And I remember thinking like, “Oh my gosh, just cut the breast end and just like to go back to work.” Like I wasn’t even, I didn’t really absorb that your life is really going to be on pause. Like I’m thinking, “Okay, I got this diagnosis. Okay, like what’s next?” As if I’m going to have once or something and then I’ll be fine in a week and I’ll, no. Complete destruction of my life. I’m going, I’m waiting for the results and then, I don’t think I got my results. Honestly, I don’t know why this took so long and maybe you could share it too. And then we can go into how we found joy for the holidays because this really tried to suck all the joy out. But I didn’t get my results about the BRCA and such until I was, until it was like close to February. So I went from like December, January, like it took months. And I remember my mom was like, “You left me hanging.” And I’m like, “No ma, I needed to learn more information. It took a while.” Did it take a while for you? 

[00:11:08] Shannon Schumacher: Oh, absolutely. And I think, like you said, doctors do take time off over the holidays. You’re leaving a ton of messages and not getting calls back. Because I live in, so my family’s split between Seattle area and Montana, and since I live in Montana and it’s fairly remote, I really wanted to have a second opinion before moving forward with treatment here, but to get a second opinion, it was months.

It was, and it was so many voicemails. so I started some journals where I tracked like, my symptoms, I tracked all of my appointments and what I was learning in each one. But yeah, I think it wasn’t until February for me as well that I was able to get into Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and get that second opinion, which fortunately matched up with what was happening here. What was tricky with that is I had to decide between do I wait to have surgery until I have that opinion or do I move ahead with surgery? And I decided to move ahead because I was because it that tumor grew so fast. I was like, “In three months, the tumor could spread to my lymph nodes and I don’t want to take that chance.” So that was really like a tough decision over the holidays to me, and you’re doing it so quickly. but yeah, that holiday season can be really hard. And I think it’s important to just like really stay focused on each step that you want to get done and just keep trying, keep making calls.

[00:12:52] Patricia Fox: Yeah. So what did you do to find joy? Like, did you, and your family too? Like, what did you all do that there’s been this news impacting your holiday? 

[00:13:01] Shannon Schumacher: For us, it was, we were really still in shock and it’s really, I think you have to go through like a grieving period. and so we were really all going through that still. And what we did was, because we couldn’t really be with family like normal. We thought, “Okay, well, what are like some of those really simple things?” Like, how do you focus on just really simple things and small traditions that, that we can keep, even though we’re not with our larger family, and it was anything from finding a really good book to, we always have a puzzle out, during the holidays on a table that we will stop and like, take time together and do that, bake cookies. So just really focusing on those little things. and just accepting like this is what’s happening and working through that. what about you? 

[00:14:05] Patricia Fox: I, again, everyone have their own households and I’m like a bunch of a loner. So I’m not, I could be holiday filled, but I’m like older now. I don’t have kids. So there’s like, I don’t have a Christmas gift now. So for me, it was very simple. I know my prayer life definitely was something that kept me afloat. Like, okay, I remember this is temporary. That’s the mantra I kept hearing even before I had any, I also harvested my eggs, but even that part advocacy. But I remember thinking, okay, this is temporary. And every time I would get upset, I’d just say, “This is temporary.” So for me, I took it day by day. I remember on Christmas, I had my favorite wine at the time was Chardonnay. Now it’s Riesling, something a little sweeter. But I would have Chardonnay. I ordered Chinese takeout and I watched musicals. And literally, that was my holiday.

And that is now, it is still my holiday, like right now. I don’t need too much. I don’t want to do too much. I don’t want people coming to my house. I don’t want, because then you got to tell people to leave. I’ll just send a text, “Hey, happy holidays to you.” And I put my phone to do that disturb. And that was, that really brought me joy watching Rent over and over watching, I love martial arts flicks, I love mob movies. Like that’s just marathoning Chinese takeout. Like that is my new holiday tradition. 

[00:15:40] Shannon Schumacher: Yeah, I think it’s- we cannot underestimate music and in holiday movies and just having that time. I’m also something, a couple of things that you said that made me think about how important it is to really establish your boundaries. From the beginning with family and others, and I think that can look anything like telling your family, “I’m just not going to host this year” to telling a certain family member, “Hey, when we sit down at dinner, I just really don’t want to talk about my treatment.” To like you said, turning off your cell phone and watching a movie and just not even taking calls, I think just setting whatever you need in that moment, whatever boundaries you need is so important.

[00:16:27] Patricia Fox: Yeah, especially- and even for anyone who’s newly diagnosed and going through this experience of the holidays, going into the new year, because I know me, I’m a former people pleaser, so like I said, I’ll show up if you ask and I may want to be there, but I may not want to be there all night. I may want to just come and be there for an hour. So, for all of you who are maybe going through an experience of like, “How do I set boundaries?” We are coming on the precipice of the new year. So, new year, new me, we have lots of new normals that we experience as survivors. And so, like, what was it like for you going into the new year in addition to setting boundaries and saying, like, this is not something I want to discuss over dinner.

I may not be able to stay the whole time. I know for me, the boundary was, even though I don’t look sick, quote unquote, I’m still going through an experience. And so, even if you temporarily forget, because I look normal, I need you to honor the boundary that I cannot show up, and me not showing up is not personal. It’s not a personal attack against you. I just have to make myself as available as possible to you. Like, I am my priority right now. So I don’t have to carry that energy going through your ear. What about you? 

[00:17:35] Shannon Schumacher: Yeah, I think the your relationships really change and, it’s people that you used to go and do things with, you realize, wait, “Am I doing that for myself? Or was I doing that to just for the person or for some, other reason?” And because you, you don’t, you’re so limited on how much you can give that you have to really fine tune who you’re going to spend that time with and going into New Year’s, for me, we were just again, we were really still processing and still in shock and, while other people were making their resolutions to lose weight or those things started to not feel as important. And for me, I was like, “My goal this year is to, I know it’s going to be really hard. I just want to simply get through it.” 

[00:18:35] Patricia Fox: So, yeah, definitely. Just getting through it, it literally was a day by day experience. And for the most part, I don’t know about for you, but after I received treatment, I felt like I didn’t have control over my body or resting for like the first week. And then that following week, because mine were biweekly, my treatments initially biweekly. So then leading up to my next one, it’s like, I just start to feel normal and now I’m back in treatment. But like those two days where I’m starting to feel normal, I rest up a little bit or, go out for lunch or something like that. So, I definitely understand that you just wanted to get through a part.

Was there anybody that stood out for you during the holidays? Or like an experience that, again, like it felt good and it was like, although we’re facing these new normals, we just want to live and survive this experience; was there something joyful, like maybe something that someone did?

[00:19:32] Shannon Schumacher: Yeah, so as Adam mentioned, when I received my diagnosis within that same two weeks, my stepfather received his diagnosis and my brother as well. So, we really leaned on each other. And, I also found other breast cancer survivors to connect with, also my mom being a survivor. So, because of that, it kind of changed my relationship with those family members and I would say my community of people as probably you like, it very, there’s so many various types of personalities and there’s some people that love to give advice and some that are really good listeners and some who just want to talk and sometimes that’s a good distraction. So, every day, I would say, “What do I need today? Do I need to just be alone? Or do I need, which of this, these people do I need today?” And that’s what I would just focus on. I’m curious with you and now that it’s been a number of years, did you find like one person in particular that’s really been by your side or, how have you navigated the relationships?

[00:20:57] Patricia Fox: Well, I’m the oldest sibling, so I’m naturally private. Like, I was more concerned with how it was going to impact the family, which is why it took me some time and it didn’t take me forever. Just maybe if I found out I didn’t tell people so like, three or four days after I found out. And I was like, “Okay, this is real.” And I would say my biggest supporter, was my brother, when I told him, he was like, “Okay, we’re going to get through it. We’re only a year and a half apart. We’re going to get through it. And that’s it.” Where it’s like one of my sister, she cried a little bit. But I think for the most part, people tries to show up strong, but my brother was like the biggest. He, as soon as he found out, he dyed his locks pink. He had locks at the time, so he dyed his locks pink. And he was like, “I found out that men get breast cancer too,” so it just created this big wave of awareness. My dad bringing home different stickers and information for like his wife and the kids. Because I’m like a sibling oldest of six. I have another sibling. Because you can get at any age. but my brother was like the best. He was like, “Oh, do you need money?” and he lived in North Carolina at the time, too. So, and he was putting, like, stickers on people’s car. And I was like, “You cannot, like, Darren, you cannot do that. You cannot put a sticker in someone’s car.” He’s like, “But why? It’s cancer, awareness.” And I’m like, “Because it may not come off. And, like, that’s very upsetting. Somebody just may not want that sticker on their car.” so he would then put it in their windshield. But he was just the best, and I say was because he passed away this past August. But he was the absolute best, always made me smile, and it wasn’t until after I finished my treatment with radiation. And he was like, “Okay, I feel like I could take a breath now.” And that’s when the first time he cried, he’s like, “I just couldn’t cry when you were moving through the experience. I felt like I had to be strong for you.” So then fast forward, I decide, I leave insurance. I decide that advocacy was definitely going to be like part of my life’s purpose.

I published a book for a women that are going through cancer and different diseases and a hyphenate because a disease could literally be just whatever disruption in your mind, in your spirit. It doesn’t have to be a diagnosis from the doctor. however, we create a community in this space. We link up with so many different people. And so a lot of my survivor sisters and survivor friends, they got this book, called Declaration Statements of Healing for Women Braving Disease. And you can journal. So like you said, you would write, you would journal. “What do I need today?” So there’s a prompt and, he supported me through that, going to Sephora, again, I just changed my whole life wanting it to be about advocacy with beauty. Get a modeling opportunity with them. He was so happy. So this is over the years. This is it like overnight, the one time, with every milestone from diagnosis up until like very recently, my brother has just been like, “Oh my God. Her books on Amazon. Oh my God. She’s in a Sephora.” He’s always taking his wife and the kids to take pictures. And yeah, so that this, I would say, honestly, maybe this holiday coming and him not being here, I’m kind of like, “What’s that going to feel like?” Because he was the greatest, even this past Thanksgiving, like not talking to him it was just like, so I’m going to do my treatment again. We’re going to see, I’m going to get some wine, probably something really sweet. I’m going to order my Chinese takeout again and we’ll just- maybe I won’t be such a, like, isolated, aloof big sister in our big time family this year to bring an extra joy. But he was like, that was my, best for the holidays as a person who made my experience, my journey, the most joyful was my brother.

[00:24:56] Shannon Schumacher: Well, and how amazing that is that you have that memory with him, and that you were able to spend that time getting closer. But I’m so sorry to hear that. You’ve lost him and this will be your first holiday season it sounds like without him. So I understand how hard that will be and I think goes in line with what we’ve been talking about and going through all of that grieving and the processing.

[00:25:27] Patricia Fox: So yeah, and like you have shared too with different family members being, because like life is still happening just because we’ve been diagnosed with something doesn’t mean that someone else isn’t being diagnosed or there’s not something that’s happening. I remember feeling like, all these great things are happening and suddenly this experience has come like the branch to still my joy. And so it’s very, it’s up to us to really be intentional about what joy looks like, what it feels like. Sometimes it really is just laying in bed all day. Or it could be going outside and taking a walk and feeling the sun. it could be journaling. For me right now, it’s been lighting incense, lighting candles, and listening to soft music.

I’ve listened to Andre 3000’s new album since it dropped. It’s just him playing the flute. 432 hertz, which is a nice healing energy and vibration. So you know, whatever it’s going to look like, I think it’s important as other survivors listen to it. Like there is- healing isn’t linear, joy isn’t linear, whatever it looks like to you, because it’s going to change.

[00:26:32] Shannon Schumacher: I agree. Yeah. 

[00:26:35] Adam Walker: So, this has been a really great discussion, to just listen in on. I really appreciate both of you taking the time to share your lives with us. I wonder, the holidays are, they’re not always holly and jolly. it’s important to recognize that sometimes during this time of year, it can be especially difficult for people that are newly diagnosed.

So, what would you say to someone listening who finds themselves in a tough spot this holiday season? 

[00:27:10] Shannon Schumacher: I would say, do what you can to really find peace. Stay in the moment, stay really present. Little things, looking at beautiful Christmas lights, taste how amazing that hot chocolate is, laugh at your friend’s jokes. It’s so easy to focus on what scary things could happen. And I think just really stay in the moment of what are the facts? What do you know today? And what is around you in this moment? What are those little simple things that you can find joy in? And again, it’s okay to say no and really setting your boundaries from the beginning is really important.

[00:27:52] Patricia Fox: Yeah, I think that’s awesome. And I’ll just add, it’s okay as you’re going through this experience, you’re going to have new normals. So there may be things that you cannot do that you were able to do before and just approach it with curiosity. Approach it with curiosity of what you can do to make your season more joyful, because most survivors do experience new normals and so take this, if you can, just look at it as, one, it’s temporary, two, if you’re a believer, just take it with some kind of faith, with whatever God of your understanding. But that definitely may also support you with appreciating, like you were saying, Shannon, that sip of hot chocolate. Just being grateful for the ever present. But yeah, a portion of curiosity. I played a lot in beauty and the smallest things are the biggest thing, whatever it was.

It’s a personal perspective. But you’ll have so many new things that are going to happen. Over the years, you’re a survivor for the time you’re diagnosed not just after treatment because it’s a whole life journey after that. Something new for you would be like, I don’t know, picking armors instead of having cake with family, try that.

[00:29:06] Adam Walker: Shannon and Patricia, thank you so much for sharing your lives, for sharing your stories and your struggles and just allowing us to be a part of your lives for this moment in time. I really appreciate your time on the show today. 

[00:29:19] Shannon Schumacher: Thank you. 

[00:29:20] Patricia Fox: Yeah. Thank you for having us.

[00:29:27] Adam Walker: Thanks for listening to Real Pink, a weekly podcast by Susan G Komen. For more episodes, visit and for more on breast cancer, visit Make sure to check out @SusanGKomen on social media. I’m your host, Adam. You can find me on Twitter @AJWalker or on my blog,