Shannon Guerin Van Deusen is a 42 year old wife, mother, business owner, CrossFitter, runner, friend, community member, and in general a go-getter.
In September 2018, while doing a routine self breast examine Shannon noticed a hard, pea sized lump near her left armpit. In October She scheduled an appointment with her obstetrician-gynecologist. Immediately a mammogram and ultrasound were scheduled. During the ultrasound on Tuesday, October 23rd, the radiologist noted that the mass was not fluid and scheduled a needle biopsy. Shannon’s sister, Dawn Knoll was with her when she found out the ultrasound results indicated a grade 5 on the BI-RADS scale, meaning a 95% likelihood of cancer, but a biopsy was still in order and scheduled. She remembers Shannon holding her head high, keeping her composure as she excused herself and walked into the restroom for a moment alone. She came out and the two sisters didn’t say a word. They hugged and they cried together. Knowing there was a strong possibility she would be diagnosed with breast cancer Shannon focused, she stayed steady. She ran in the Autumn Leaves 50 miler on October 27th. Embracing the moment and her love of running. Knowing it might be her last chance for a while, Shannon crushed her previous 50 mile race time by 45 minutes. Five days later Shannon walked back into a doctor’s office “scared and worried” for the biopsy. The weekend after her biopsy while waiting for the results, Shannon joined her friend Heather Sitton for a ½ marathon. She told Heather she wouldn't let her run alone. This sentiment has been mirrored back at Shannon since. The results were scheduled to come in on the Monday after the ½ marathon. Shannon remained calm through the weekend and on Monday, but slowly, as the day progressed into evening her nerves began to fray. On Tuesday morning she had just finished a color and wash when the call came in. Shannon’s mother took over with blow drying while Shannon held the phone to her ear and learned she had a form of highly aggressive cancer. Diagnosed on November 6th 2018 with invasive ductal carcinoma triple negative.
So many thoughts and questions were racing through her mind during the first hours. “How bad is it? How will I explain this to my girls? What does aggressive mean? How fast is fast?” The doctor said the tumor was small (ultimately measuring at 13mm) and that was good news. It had not spread into her lymph nodes, as they understood. As a mother of two daughters, 11 and 13, her thoughts continually went to them. Considering what the diagnosis meant for them and their futures on a number of levels. After receiving the results an appointment with an oncologist was scheduled. In the two short days between the initial call from her doctor and seeing the oncologist, Shannon had began to wrap her head around a new reality. Quickly adjusting, “I knew I would face this head on and do whatever it took to eradicate it from my body.” Heather Sitton, owner of Hub CrossFit says Shannon is the definition of determination. CrossFit friend, Stacey Morrical notes that Shannon is one of the toughest, hardest working people she has ever known. Adding that while she’s a great athlete, she’s also a great mother and friend. Dawn, Shannon’s sister, speaks with affection about their experiences together. “She is so full of life and determination. When she sets her mind to something she dives right in with both feet and gives it all she’s got. She’ll most likely have a planner or calendar with her as she goes. She’ll smile and laugh along the way.”
Shannon and Dawn have a close bond. They signed up for their first run together in 2010. The Susan G Komen 5k. Dawn was skeptical if Shannon would really do the training and race, but after finishing that first 5k, the two continued to run together. Increasing distance as they went. “Shannon’s determination and drive are infectious.” Dawn says “which is why I participated in all the running events with her. It’s a way for us to step away from our busy lives and put in countless hours training and spend quality time as sisters. We are extremely close and our training brought us even closer.” Both running and CrossFit have been a catalyst for Shannon in creating and deepening relationships. Whether it’s the “5 am-ers” she CrossFits with in the early morning or her running buddies, the people who know Shannon speak about her with love and enthusiasm. After being diagnosed with breast cancer, her support network showed up big time. Cooking meals, grocery shopping, offering to clean, providing emotional support, rides for her girls to get to sports and music. Her mom and dad have helped in a multitude of ways, Shannon’s mom attending to business matters and rescheduling hair appointment she can’t make due to doctor appointments of the side affects of treatment. Her husband James hard at work, helping support the family at No Rails Ale House, which they own with his cousin in downtown Albany. Men and women that know Shannon and her story came together at the salon one day and also from afar and shaved their heads in solidarity. James had shaved his before chemotherapy even started. She knows absolutely that she’s not alone as she faces cancer.
There was no hesitation about the treatment plan. Shannon opted for chemotherapy first and a double mastectomy. Her diet is on point, healthy and clean, no sugar. Shannon is accustomed to being on the go. With CrossFit, running, her job as a hairdresser, selling Norwex at home parties and family life, a typical day would start at 4:20am and end around 9:30pm. She was accustomed to long hours on her feet as a hairdresser. She rarely took a lunch break. After the recent 50 mile race Shannon still had the energy to attend an event the same night at Santiam CrossFit. She dressed up as a zombie for the “Night of the Deads” competition and cheered on her friends. The fatigue that has set in from treatment is much different from the tiredness she felt as a busy mom and business woman. More extreme, leaving no choice but to stay on the couch and rest. Her whole body and brain feel the fatigue. Her work life has changed because avoiding germs, especially during cold and flu season is important with compromised immunity. “When I think about the cancer now I am sometimes angry that it has caused such a disruption in our life. I do have times I am scared or worried… After I am cancer free will it come back? If it does where and how bad? I really try to push those thoughts out of my head. I can’t control the what ifs. I can only control my attitude now. So now I am positive and have a fighting attitude. I am doing what I can to take back the control that a cancer diagnosis has takes away.” With treatment came a forced slowdown, which ended up being a gift in ways unexpected. Shannon spends time with the girls watching moving and playing games. They go on walks with her. They’re together more than ever.
For anyone facing a cancer or serious health diagnosis Shannon shares a few pieces of advice. Ask as many questions as you have. Brings people to the appointments with you. A lot of information will come at you. Take notes. Get second, third and fourth opinions if needed. Choose a medical team you feel comfortable with and confident in. Let people help and surround yourself with positive people who make you feel good.
Shannon started CrossFit 4 ½ years ago with her sister because healthy living is important to her and to become a stronger runner. In that time she talked her her dad into joining as well. Currently Shannon is not at her box much as she receives chemotherapy, protects her health and prepares for upcoming surgery. Still she roots on her community and they root her on. Dawn explains that their CrossFit community has been generous in the amount of support they’ve given. Shannon is now half way through treatment and has shown so much strength her sister says. She’s open to talking about her symptoms and what it’s like fighting cancer, but stops short of complaining, saying “it could be worse”, understanding it’s simply part of her journey.