Cancer does not discriminate. It affects people of all ages, races, backgrounds and lifestyles. And sometimes it finds those you’d least expect – those who have lived the healthy, balanced life that we all strive to achieve.
This year, breast cancer found Shay Moraga at 39 years old.
A yogi who lived a clean, balanced life full of organic foods, close friends and a deep faith, Shay had relatives affected by the disease, but thought she was beating the odds. Her triple negative breast cancer diagnosis came as a complete shock. Soon she would be counting on that nutritious food, those close friends and her deep faith to get her through the greatest challenge of her life: fighting this relentless disease.
Shay has always been a private person and was hesitant when a good friend offered to start a private Facebook page to lend support and to unite those who offer positive energy and prayer along her journey. It wasn’t long before Shay began to understand how the generous support from others can be transforming and healing, or just how many people she would impact with her heartfelt posts and sincere gratitude for the support of others, for life, and all it has to offer.
I was humbled when asked to join the Shay’s Warriors page and deeply moved by the inspiring words Shay was sharing. Her strength and positive attitude were uplifting. I further encouraged her to share her journey, and we are honored to feature Shay’s Story (in her own words) in Desert Health®.
And so it begins…
Have you ever used the phrases “Everything happens for a reason?” or “Your life can change in an instant?” I am living proof that both of these statements are true.
February 11th, 2016, is a day I will never forget as long as I live. With that being said, I now live every day being more thankful than I was the last. Every new day I have is now a gift. February 11th is the day that, at 39 years old, I sat in a doctor’s office while she told me I had breast cancer. Not just any breast cancer – I had triple negative breast cancer. It is the day my heart stopped beating. As words mumbled out of her mouth (like in a Peanuts special) she informed me that it was an infiltrating Invasive Ductal Cancer (IDCA), but we could not out rule out a sarcoma. The doctor said it was highly aggressive and there were limited ways to treat it. All I could get out of my mouth was, “Am I going to die?” She did not respond as I would expect. She didn’t say much of anything.
After the pause, she went on to tell me that there was a good possibility that it had spread throughout my body into my lymphatic system. That is when I got scared. That is when, yes, my life flashed before my eyes. All I could think about was my family – especially my 12 year-old daughter. I could feel my stomach drop and the blood rush out of my body as the doctor asked me to take a deep breath in and hold it. She was giving the nurse in the room weird looks as she checked my lungs. What was going on, what did these looks back and forth mean? How could this be happening? I am a yogi. I eat organic. I use non harmful products for cleaning. I recycle, for God’s sake.
Then something clicked inside of me like it had many times before. I was propelled into action. Thinking to myself, I put it all into perspective…Ok, so I have cancer. I can beat this. Let’s get a game plan together NOW.
Shay in a surgical cap hand made and gifted by her attending nurse.
I asked the doctor what was next. When will we know if it is a sarcoma or not? What is a sarcoma? How can we find out if the cancer has spread? Based on my breathing did you hear anything? Again, she did not act in a way that I expected her to, nor did she respond with anything that led me to believe that I wasn’t going to die. She kept telling me it was ‘highly aggressive.’ She never once told me I could be cured. She pulled out a diagram to show me what I had and to explain the options. She spent the first 20 minutes telling me all about what would not work. I finally got impatient and asked her what would work. She said if anything, it would be chemotherapy followed by radiation, and a possible mastectomy or lumpectomy. I thought, ‘Ok. Great. When do we get started?’ I was ready. I was ready to get this aggressive tumor out of me ASAP and move on with life.
I asked her…What do we do next? She said I would need a CT scan, MRI and possibly a few more tests. So let’s go! Can I get it today? That is when she looked at me with cold eyes and said, ‘We need to preapprove your insurance and tests could take 7-10 days or more to schedule.’ Now I know insurance has a lot of red tape, but 7-10 days? You just got done telling me I have a very aggressive tumor that is highly likely to have spread throughout my body and you want me to sit and wait 7-10 days to see if I get approved for these scans and or treatment? Are you kidding me?
It was then I felt in my gut something was not right. I knew I needed a second opinion and quick. My life was in my hands and the seconds were beating in my heart. It was the Friday before President’s Day, and I knew I needed answers before Tuesday. I gathered all of my things and left. As I walked out the door, I could feel my legs shaking. I was going numb. I got into the elevator and broke down. One big loud cry. Then it was over. I knew I needed help. I knew I needed prayer to find the right doctor. So I picked up the phone….
That President’s Day, Shay spent every moment convinced that she was going to die. Fortunately, with the help of good friends and teachers at her daughter’s school, she found a doctor who embraced her fears and concerns and got her in on Tuesday. He changed her world around by reassuring her that she was going to be ok. “We are going to have to make some tough decisions today, but I want to make it clear that we are going for a cure.” He explained in detail what was happening and what needed to be done. Her biggest hurdle, he said, would be to stay positive. Shay liked him right away.
Follow-up tests the next day concluded that her cancer was not a sarcoma and had not spread to the lymph nodes. Next on the list was a consultation with a surgical oncologist. If she liked him, he would be taking her through surgery following her chemo treatments. “Right away, I knew I liked him – a good ol’ mid-western guy from Chicago. My dad grew up in Chicago and I immediately felt a calming connection,” she said. “He was my guy, and in awe that I had even found this tumor. He said, ‘Kid, you have an angel sitting on your shoulder. That is one very difficult tumor to find. If you hadn’t found it when you did, we might be talking about a very different outcome.’”
Shay’s fight began on February 23 with surgery to have a port inserted into her chest to prepare for 20 weeks of chemotherapy followed by the removal surgery. Shay’s first Facebook message to friends read: “Two weeks after starting treatment I expect to start losing my hair. I have always wondered what it would be like not to have a lot of hair…now I will know. Next week after my port surgery I will be cutting my hair very short to prepare for the transition. Soon I’ll be shopping for wigs, beautiful scarves and a slew of baseball caps (that my head will finally fit into). 🙂 Thank you so much for the love, encouragement, support – and especially the prayers.”