In the middle of the deepest valleys of life, it is hard to see the emerging blessings, hard to see how the very circumstances that are contributing to the hardest days are the same circumstances that are unfolding to save your life.
Yet, Shannon Johanning saw the blessings while standing directly in the valley. She has mountain top vision.
On August 22, 2018, Shannon was diagnosed with stage 1b invasive breast cancer at 38 years old. Mother of two school-aged children, she and her husband had just moved over 800 miles from their family and friends to make a new “home” in North Carolina exactly 6 weeks before her diagnosis. Had she any thought that cancer would be a part of her story within a matter of weeks, she and her family would not have made the move.
The move provided an unexpected, but much needed opportunity for collaboration. Shannon gathered information from both Duke Cancer Institute and UNC Rex prior to making the decision to follow a measured course of action. She would ultimately have a bilateral mastectomy at Duke and receive chemotherapy and radiation at UNC Rex. For all the diehard fans out there – further proof that cancer transcends all rivalries.
It was her oncologist that recognized her deepest fears, her feeling of isolation, and first told her “you will survive this” – words she had been waiting to hear; words that enabled her to keep moving forward.
And the blessings?
- The best Christmas ever – a Christmas were being truly “present” was the best “present.” As a nurse, she had always worked shifts around Christmas, but Christmas 2018 she was able to focus only on her health and the gift of family.
- Friendships forged in the hottest of fires – a cancer diagnosis often creates a feeling of isolation, even in the midst of family and friends nearby, having just moved, Shannon initially felt alienated. Amazingly, by God’s grace, strangers became friends, and neighbors family.
- She had been offered a job at UNC Rex Healthcare the day after her diagnosis. Learning of her diagnosis, UNC Rex encouraged Shannon to focus on her health. She started the same job a year to the date later, never having to re-interview.
- In the second round of chemotherapy, Shannon experienced an allergic reaction. She was thankful to be living in a place where treatment is not only world-class, but also collaborative among multiple world-class cancer centers.
Cancer is a long uphill climb. Today, Shannon is finished with active treatment, but continues endocrine therapy and faces an extensive reconstructive surgery in 2020. The community, the relationships, the care team she has assembled will continue to play a significant and much appreciated role in her life.
Make no mistake, life comes with deep, dark valleys. Often times those valleys coincide with job changes, moves, the loss of loved ones, and certainly cancer. Finding the blessings, the fingerprints of Care that give hope for better days, these are the moments that give us a glimpse of the mountain top.
There are mountain top visions from almost every valley. In the valley of cancer, we are looking forward to the view from atop where the battle is won, and cancer is no more.