Shumanay Lowry, 45, has stage IV cancer. The triple-negative breast cancer that she was diagnosed with in 2017 spread to her lungs and liver last year, and now to her bones and brain. She will leave behind a husband and three sons. Read to the bottom for information on how you can help.
I’d gone through a long bout with Lyme disease and had a lot of experience being blown off by doctors. I had even gotten into the habit of blowing things off. I’d say, “It’s probably nothing.”
Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I thought a lump I had found was part of my Lyme disease. I thought, “Okay, let me just watch this and see if it goes away over the next month.” Then one night my husband said to me, “You need to make an appointment.”
Even if you’re worried about being wrong, see a doctor. I’d put it off for such a long time, thinking that people would think I was being silly. The physician was a little unsure, but she said, “When somebody feels something, we send them for imaging.”
The ultrasound found a five-centimeter mass. When I told my husband, he gave me the biggest hug he’s ever given me. He wrapped his arms around my head and my body at the same time.
My first diagnosis was stage IIIC breast cancer, which is as close as you can get to stage IV without actually being stage IV, which is terminal. At that point, IIIC, you’re still considered curable.
My oncologist told me that I had triple-negative breast cancer, which can be more aggressive and more difficult to treat than other forms of breast cancer. (Triple-negative breast cancer doesn’t respond to some common breast-cancer treatments, such as hormone therapy.)
I went through chemotherapy and then had a double mastectomy in May of 2018. The lump was in one breast, but I felt like I would always worry that we’d missed something if I hadn’t had both removed. I have three sons—now 12, 13, and 16—and every step of the way, I’ve wanted to do whatever I could to heal myself and be here for them.
The mastectomy was followed by a second round of chemotherapy, which was followed by radiation. And then my oncologist said, “You’ve done all the treatment that’s reasonable at this point. Now you need to go back to your normal life and watch for any symptoms. We’ll check you out every three to six months.”
After recovering from the radiation, I went back to work the first week in December. I worked for a month and then was diagnosed with stage IV cancer the first week of January.
The cancer had metastasized to my liver and lungs. I did even more chemotherapy, but a follow-up scan showed that the tumor in my liver had doubled in size in the three months since my last scan. Following treatment, some tumors will shrink or disappear. The 14-centimeter tumor in my liver didn’t react that way; it’s there, not getting smaller. There really isn’t much room left in my liver. For now, my best-case scenario is that the cancer doesn’t spread further.
It was really hard to tell my kids. I’ve always wanted to be really honest with them. I was honest about what I had and that it was serious. They’re old enough that they can do their own research. There was no point in trying to mislead them from the beginning. Also, I tried to be lighthearted.
“I want my sons to know and remember how much I love them. I’m glad that they’re at a point where they’ll remember me. And my husband can remind them.”
My eldest son has thanked me a couple of times for handling things so well. He feels like the fact that I’m not complaining a lot or acting down or sad or depressed has been really helpful. I really try to stay positive and make the most out of all the moments that I still do have with them.
It was hard for them to see me go bald again. Having my hair grow back was a big milestone for my kids. My youngest, especially, was so excited when my hair started to grow back. He would measure it and rub my head—he really celebrated me starting to look more normal again.
I have thought about all the things that I’ve seen people do in movies or books when they have cancer, like writing a birthday card for their kids every year until they’re 30. But my family is really challenging and unique. My boys have a range of issues, including depression, anxiety, autism. They’ve had a hard time navigating life to this point. One of my sons has Asperger’s.
It’s been hard to figure out what’s appropriate for our challenges. They’re growing so fast. It just reminds me how little I know about the future and what might be helpful.
I don’t want to assume that they’re going to get married or go to college. In order to write those cards, I’d have to speculate about what might be going on in their lives. What if I wrote cards to celebrate milestones they missed? What if they’re struggling? I don’t want to make it harder on them.
I finally decided to get a journal for each of them. It’s been hard because, at this point, I also have bone and brain tumors. The brain tumors make it really hard to read and write. But I want to write for them. My oldest did something the other day, and I was like, “I want to write about what he just did and how much I love him.” I want to leave them reflections.
It’s been such a mental journey. I want my sons to know and remember how much I love them. I’m glad that they’re at a point where they’ll remember me. And my husband can remind them.
It’s painful to leave my kids behind. I love my husband, and I’ll be leaving him too, but he doesn’t need me as much as they do. It’s a different relationship. The hardest thing is having to leave them. I’m peaceful about leaving because of my faith. I’m not afraid to die. I’m just sad.
Lowry and a friend have launched a Go Fund Me page to ease her family’s financial burden when she’s gone, and allow her husband to spend time with their boys. (Together Rising has donated to Lowry’s cause.) You can learn more and donate here.
Originally Appeared on Glamour