Bethany Shantz is the owner of Gigi’s Cucpcakes in Savannah. She was diagnosed with Leukemia in March of 2012. Her business never wavered, the support from the community was overwhelming. Today she is in remission. I asked her to share her story with me for the Savannah Morning News. Here, however, is her entire story. In her words. Inspiring to say the least.
1. Describe your Occupation or Lifestyle before you were diagnosed with cancer.
Looking back now, my life was absolute perfection before diagnosed with cancer! Married to the man of my dreams for 2 years, we had recently moved to Savannah and were enjoying each second of our lives. I had just celebrated my first year as owner of Gigi’s
Cupcakes, a wonderful and successful new business I opened. It was my baby, and I was there from when the doors opened at 5 a.m. to start baking, to when we closed the door each night at 6 p.m. I never stopped or slowed down or tired. I also was enjoying all the many fun things to do in and around Savannah, traveling with my sweet hubby, enjoying our life as young newlyweds. There are SO many things I took for granted before…seemingly perfect health, energy and strength to last throughout the day, no fear of tomorrow, no constant worry of “what ifs.” I often wonder what we had to complain about or worry about then, because when living with cancer every small worry or complaint just seems so trivial.
2. When/How were you diagnosed?
I was diagnosed March 30, 2012. And what a day that was! I had gone to see my primary care physician for bruising I was having on my legs. I have always been borderline anemic, and usually taking iron pills for a few weeks fixes the problem. My doctor assumed that was the problem, or worst case scenario Lupus. They called me the next morning at 8 a.m. to tell me my labs were way off and there must have been some sort of lab error and to please come back in for a re-check. Terrified, I returned for them to re-test. My doctor said in all his years of medicine, schooling, residency, and in his practice, he had never seen a white blood cell count that high. He couldn’t fathom it was correct, but if it indeed was I either had Leukemia or Lymphoma. I will never forget the numbness I felt when those words came out of his mouth and then the hours following waiting on my lab results to come back. He called back that afternoon with confirmation of our worst fears and that I was to go see a hematologist/oncologist the next morning. Having to call my husband home from work to tell him the news was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. How do you tell your husband that you have cancer at 28 years old?! After the longest night of my life, we went to see Dr. Lewis at Summit Cancer Care for my appointment. After lots of bloodwork and bone marrow test, I was admitted to the hospital. They confirmed it was indeed Leukemia, but they weren’t sure what kind.
As I was waiting to be assigned a room, my doctor came back for yet another bombshell. “Good news is it looks like Chronic Leukemia which is the best possible kind to have; bad news is that you are pregnant.” I couldn’t fathom at this point how my life would continue on from that moment. We had been trying for a baby for only a few months, but had no idea I was pregnant. We were told our sweet angel wouldn’t make it through my treatments and I would never be able to carry a child. So now, not only was I having to deal with the shock of Leukemia, but also with the sadness of losing our sweet baby due to this awful cancer.
After the weekend at the hospital, the bone marrow came back and I was officially diagnosed with Chronic Myloid Leukemia (CML) in the Chronic phase. If you have to be diagnosed with Leukemia, this was the best type to have and I was in the best phase possible. However, still a long way to go. I was started on an oral chemo pill, Tasigna, which I would expect (fingers crossed) to be on for the rest of my life.
3. How did you feel when you were diagnosed?
I don’t think there are words to describe the feelings or emotions you feel when diagnosed. You never dream it will be you. Never in my worst nightmares did I dream I would be here, diagnosed with cancer, Leukemia. And certainly not at 28, average age of diagnosis for CML is 67. I remember it like it was yesterday and those days, although seemingly all a blur, will never be far from my mind. There isn’t an hour that goes by each day that I don’t replay those moments or my new reality over and over in my head. Not an hour that goes by that I don’t question or wonder Why? Why now? Why me? What next? I think my husband put it well, it feels like our whole world was put into a blender and mixed on high. Our world, overnight, was completely turned upside down forever.
Pulling into that parking lot of Lewis Cancer Center that first morning…not enough pills or prayers in the world could numb that sensation or fear or pain that I felt, the realization that it really is happening, this is it…it is happening to me. So many moments in that day were just surreal…signing in at the doctor’s office, them asking me to smile for my picture and thinking how in the world can you expect me to even be able to fake a smile at this moment, hearing my name being called to go back and see the doctor. It was, and always will be, a total shock and something you never truly can grasp or understand.
4. Who was the person (or people) that made the most difference in your diagnosis, treatment and/or recovery?
I don’t think there is enough paper or room to thank all the people that have made a difference in my diagnosis and recovery. My life has forever been saved and blessed by so many, even total strangers. I don’t think anyone can fully know what you are going through, unless they are a cancer patient themselves…how lonely your days can be, how scary, how hard it is to put on your big girl panties some days walking into your 5th doctor appointment for the day or know how MUCH a smile, a hug , a call, a card or a visit means.
My husband has been my ROCK, my sunshine, my world. No way could I have made it through without him holding my hand every step of the way. He is one strong, amazing man! I’ll cry too much to attempt to write anymore about his amazing love and support.
My family has also not left my side. They were here, just by God’s perfect timing, for a visit the week I was diagnosed and have been a constant strength and presence ever since. My sweet Mom has been phenomenal. She certainly deserves Mom of the year…cooking, cleaning, bathing me, crying with me, sitting by my bed for hours and hours…simply couldn’t have made it without her and my dad’s help.
And most importantly, my doctors. My primary care physician, Dr. Cohen, for saving my life, literally. Had they caught my Leukemia a day or two later, I wouldn’t be here today. Dr. Lewis, my amazing beyond words, Oncologist. He has gone above and beyond what any doctor should do. I’m amazed at the passion and compassion he has for his patients and I’m so grateful to him every single day for also saving my life and continuing with me on this journey towards remission. My ob-gyn Dr. Pettigrew for holding my hand through some of my darkest hardest days and giving me hope that one day we will still have a sweet baby despite my Leukemia. The list goes on and on for the amazing doctors and nurses I have had here in Savannah. I think I have cell phone numbers of almost all the doctors and surgeons I have had (and it has been a lot over the past 7 months!), which says a lot for the type of relationships and compassion they have for their patients. They have made this journey so much easier for me.
5. Personal message to share with others about your cancer journey:
My world, my husband’s world, our world together, our families’ world, has all been completely changed because of this diagnosis. But here I am…still alive…with SO many things to be grateful and thankful for. Some days are hard and I’ve sure cried my fair share of tears, but I have SO many things to smile about and be grateful for. I have my moments that I am upset or discouraged, but I just remind myself how blessed I am to still be alive, still be able to enjoy the sunset, the smell of roses, a cupcake or two. I am alive and here today because of wonderful organizations like the American Cancer Society and amazing, generous people who dedicate time and money to finding a cure. My treatment is so “easy,” a simple pill each day, thanks to the research funded by wonderful organizations like ACS. I can never do enough to help raise money because I know, as silly as it may sound, each penny is helping to, literally, save my life!
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