Shannon didn’t see it coming. Life was rolling along in Fort McMurray – a rewarding job, devoted husband, two teenage boys – and then, during a routine mammogram her doctor noticed a spot that warranted a second look. Just like that. One minute you’re focused on all the little details that make up a life and then suddenly nothing matters but the big picture: Survival. Two quick surgeries and Shannon was booking in for radiation therapy in Edmonton.
“The first thought in my head was where am I going to stay, hotels are $150/night, I’m going to have to rent a vehicle, I’ll be alone,” remembers the educational assistant who’s made a career working to support pre-schoolers with special needs. “But a nurse navigator mentioned Sorrentino’s Compassion House and I googled it. I called the house and said I don’t know when I’m coming but what do I have to do to get a room?”
Like the hundreds of women who have graced our walls with their strength and courage, Shannon found more than just a room. She found a home away from home, a place of healing where she could buckle down for the fight. In her fellow houseguests she found a ready-made support network, a group of women who needed no explanation to understand the physical and emotional toll breast cancer therapy can take. And as they moved on, one by one, Shannon took on the role of welcoming new guests into her adopted home.
“I learned so much from these amazing women who were so positive. We could sit and gab about anything, watch Grey’s Anatomy or just go for a walk,” says Shannon, her voice cracking with emotion, “And when you’re scared or you doubt your symptoms, when you feel like you are alone there’s always someone there to say ‘Yes, you’re okay, you’re doing alright.’” Having that support network wasn’t only a relief to Shannon; it helped her husband and two sons deal with the fear of leaving mom alone in the big city. After helping her settle in and seeing how beautiful the house was, Shannon took strength from her boys knowing exactly where she was. It doesn’t take research studies or statistics to know how much of a difference that peace of mind makes to the cancer journey. With her family, a close group of friends and the incredible support of her co-workers, Shannon had no doubt just how badly the people who love her needed her to fight the disease.
“A group of my friends came to visit and we all bought pink bras at Victoria’s Secret. The people I work with were so amazing – they pooled together $500 for travel costs and one teacher even used her air miles so I could fly home twice to see my family.”
Sometimes it takes something scary to show you what’s important in life. For Shannon, her experience at Sorrentino’s Compassion House awoke a desire to make sure other women have the same opportunities for support, strength and comfort during the fight. Since returning to Fort McMurray and getting back to work, Shannon has been visiting local organizations and companies to help raise funds to double the capacity of the house. “If I had the money I would give whatever I could. This is my way of contributing, to share my experience and help raise awareness so other women have the same chance I did,” says Shannon, her voice gaining strength as she goes, “When people ask me ‘how are you feeling?’ I tell them I’m tired. I tell them I’m sore. But I tell them that emotionally I am stronger than ever because of what happened to me at Compassion House.”