Prevention Is Power: Through treatment, up mountains and toward a healthy future

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Shiera (right) and teammate Elly display a prayer flag on the summit of Mt. Shasta, June 2011 Shiera Brady Henderson climbed Mt. Shasta this June with the Breast Cancer Fund's 2011 Climb Against the Odds team. Shiera faced the mountain with immense strength, and today, as part of our October Prevention Is Power campaign, we're happy to share with you her reflections on the power of prevention:

The feeling of ultimate power swept over me as I took the final step to reach the 14,000-foot summit of Mt. Shasta. The thin air and grueling climb that began at 2 a.m. makes breathing difficult. Yet, as I stand roped together with my four fellow climbers on top of the world, I exhale with great pride and gratitude. On this 10th anniversary of being a breast cancer survivor, I celebrate not just a milestone, but also the return of once again being in charge of my life. 

That sense of power drains from your body when you are diagnosed with breast cancer—malignant cells destroying not only your breast tissue but also your confidence and self-esteem buried deep inside your heart. How does a 39-year-old healthy mom with no family history get breast cancer? What did I do wrong? Am I going to die?

I was diagnosed with aggressive invasive ductal carcinoma. No warning, no symptoms, just confirmation that this awful disease was already leaching into my lymphatic system. I had discovered a little bump during a self-exam and although that turned out to be a cyst, the mammogram showed those suspicious-looking spots on the other breast. Suddenly, a regimen of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation controlled my life. I was no longer in charge of potty-training my two-year-old; my only job was to win the cancer battle.

How does this happen? Why does our treatment for breast cancer include terms like toxins and radiation—the very things we believe cause cancer?  Why is everyone working on a cure? Don’t we want to know why more and more of us are getting breast cancer in the first place?

Although I realized the obvious value in finding the perfect cure, I knew in my heart that the real problem lied in the cause. I started paying more attention to what I ate, the ingredients in those foods, and most importantly, what I fed my children. I had an 8-year-old daughter who now had a family history of breast cancer. I needed to do all I could to prevent cancer from being a part of her life.

Desperate to find peace and healing and to restore my health, I developed a love for the outdoors and discovered the cathartic power of hiking. I started with day hikes in the hills behind my house; soon the trails became longer and the mountains higher. The physical accomplishment of climbing tall mountains slowly began rebuilding my self-confidence. 

Along the way, I discovered the work of the Breast Cancer Fund. I knew instantly I had found the perfect partner when I learned they advocate for the elimination of preventable causes of breast cancer and they build awareness by hiking and climbing tall mountains! Detection is critical—a self-exam and mammogram undoubtedly saved my life. Ultimately, however, I want to know what caused my breast cancer. I have learned so much from this great organization that works tirelessly to educate us and to demand better public policy.

That glorious day of rediscovering myself on the Breast Cancer Fund’s Climb Against the Odds lives vividly in my mind today. It is a constant reminder of the power we have to push forward on hard days during chemotherapy, up precipitous mountains, and in our unrelenting efforts to prevent breast cancer.

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2 thoughts on “Prevention Is Power: Through treatment, up mountains and toward a healthy future

  1. Hi:
    I’m just discovering or prehaps re-discoverying the Breast Cancer Fund on the web this evening.
    I’v got tears in my eyes (and I rarely cry) after reading your blog.
    The climb up a 14K mountain is intense! Good for you! I loved your story, thanks so much for sharing it:)!
    I’ve newly diagnosed with breast cancer just this past month. I’m stage II invasive ductual carcemona.
    I’m still in shock trying to understand this disease and why I have it. Why do I have to go through such radical life altering medical procedures to fight this disease? The unstated assumptions are that if I don’t undergo these treatments I’ll die.
    I’m a former backpacker, but due to a leg and recently a foot injury I mostly just do short nature walks in my neighborhood.
    There’s a Zen story about a Buddhist monk who climbed a range of mountains and was asked how he did it. He said that he did it one step at a time.
    I love this Zen story as it’s both real and inspirational – not unlike your overcoming breast cancer and your climb up Mt. Shasta.
    I think that’s all I can do is take things one step at a time, and yet we can climb mountains or whole mountain ranges if we do this.
    Taking the metaphor/story one step further -major climbs are best done with others and the professional research and education that Breast Cancer Fund is promoting is very powerful. It could be life changing for individuals, families and our communities if we spread the word, change our habits and protest against the harmful chemicals that are so prevasive.

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