There are three words that will stop you dead in your tracks and change your life forever. Likely, you or someone you know has heard these words.
You have cancer.
Approximately 38.4% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetime.
No statistic or ration will change the way it makes you feel when you or your loved one is given that diagnosis. But that moment, in the first few seconds, is when the battle begins. The fight. And that is exactly what it is. Mentally, physically and emotionally. Cancer doesn't discriminate because of your gender, age, nationality, income or profession.
The fight with cancer hit home for the Mississippi Braves in 2018, when office manager Christy Shaw realized something was wrong in mid-April. This is her story. Her fight.
"I don't know if I was moving my shirt or what, but I just felt something," said Shaw. "I didn't think anything about it. I thought something must have bitten me. That's when I started feeling for it and it was about the size of a quarter. I thought well, okay, I've had a benign tumor before. It's probably nothing. I won't worry about it. I'll wait and get it checked when I go for my annual checkup in September. A couple of days went by and I just thought I'd call my doctor and get it checked out."
Christy ended up putting the doctor's visit off a few days because the team was at home and in the middle of the homestand. During a homestand, work begins by 9 a.m. and wraps up sometime around midnight (or later). Being new to the organization and during a year where things were a bit chaotic, the only thing I really knew for sure about Christy, was she knew everyone and got things done. Finances, paperwork, being the liaison to the Pearl PD/Rankin SO, hiring people, opening doors that I never knew existed, etc. This woman was respected by everyone. You understood that she loved her job and she was dedicated to it.
Christy began as a receptionist for the M-Braves during the inaugural season in 2005 and enters her 15th season in 2019.
"I thought I'd give it a few days. It might be nothing or it could go away. We had a day game and I knew I wouldn't be where I could spend time on my phone because I'd be so tied up with the game. I just got on my clinic's patient portal and sent them an email."
Christy received an appointment that Wednesday with a nurse practitioner.
"She asked if I would mind having an ultrasound done just to get a better look and I said that was fine. They took the images to the doctor that was on call that day. They then wanted to do a mammogram and asked when my last one was, which was the previous September."
"After the mammogram, the nurse came back and said the doctor wants to know if you're okay with us doing a biopsy. And I was like, if you can do it today, let's do it. While I'm here, we can get it over with. As she started to walk away I said, is it safe to say at this point that I have nothing to not be worried about? Her response was just that they wanted to be sure."
Christy went back into the ultrasound room and had a biopsy done. The doctor told her that it would be a few days before the results would be available. Since this was in the afternoon on a Wednesday, it would be, at the earliest, Friday, but more likely on Monday.
Christy was driving into work on that following Monday, May 7, and had stopped to get one of her tires fixed that had a leak. She received a call at 8:15 from her OBGYN, and stepped outside to take the call. Her doctor had just gotten off the phone with the lab and was still waiting on the full report, but knew enough information that she wanted to go ahead and call.
"She knew that I wouldn't be okay with waiting to come in and see her, so she decided to call and tell me. She said I'm so sorry, but you have breast cancer."
Her doctor was a bit confused because she had just seen her in September and her mammogram was clear.
"She was upset. I got her caught up on everything that was going on and she said I really don't know what to say. My reply was that we just have to do what we need to do."
Her doctor was advised that they needed to be aggressive with the treatment because of the type she had. If it were to start spreading it could spread quickly. Her OBGYN began to make phone calls to schedule an appointment with a surgeon.
Minutes later, having not fully processed the information she had just been given, Christy fielded a phone call from her mother.
"I was sitting there thinking what has just happened? And my mom called and asked if I had heard from the doctor yet? And I said no. I lied to my Mom," Christy said with a slight smile. "Sorry, mom. My goal at that point was to make sure that when I told her that I didn't have any concern or worry in my voice because I didn't want her to worry."
Christy then called her best friend April and lost it. Her main worry was that she didn't know how she would tell her mother because she had been so concerned.
Astonishingly her doctor got her in to see a surgeon just a few hours later.
After getting her tire fixed and back on her way to Trustmark Park, she got up the courage to call and tell her mom.
"I told her that I had an appointment at noon. She said, with who? I said a surgeon. She said, well they must have gotten your test results. And I said, yeah. She said, well, what is it? I said it's breast cancer. And she (was silent) there for a second and said, WHAT?! I could tell in her voice that she was mortified. I tried to just carry on the conversation and not give her time to get upset on me. And I said, when I get done there, I'll let you know what they say. And she said, okay."
When Christy got to work that day, she alerted upper management of the news and that she had an appointment that day.
Christy had been diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma and would need chemotherapy. IDC is the most common form of breast cancer, representing 80 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses.
"They blasted out a bunch of foreign languages that I didn't understand at the time," in regard to her diagnosis and treatment. "One of the nurses said we're going to take good care of you. We'll be there with you. We'll get you through it. And I said, you know, we're going to do what we need to do."
"Is this what I wanted to hear? No. Is this something I want to be dealing with this summer? No. But it could've been worse. I was thinking there is probably somebody somewhere getting a lot worse news than I am."
In general terms, there are different stages and levels of severity in cancers.
Christy was sent to the Hederman Cancer Center at Baptist Health for her oncology appointment. Her brother John went along and further testing was done. At a separate site, she had an MRI, CT, and bone scan, which included the use of radioactive medicine. In the span of a week, Christy had been to four different clinics before any treatments were given. The good news was that her cancer had not spread, and a treatment plan had been put into place.
Two weeks after learning that she had cancer, Christy was told that it was Stage 1 and Grade 3. A higher number (3) means a faster-growing cancer that is more likely to spread. The grade is used to help predict your outcome (prognosis) and help figure out what treatments might work best. She was also Triple Positive. When the HER2 gene is abnormal, it causes the cells to divide and grow at an uncontrolled rate. HER2-positive breast cancer is a more aggressive type of breast cancer compared with HER2-negative types.
According to the American Cancer Society, 10-year survival improved from 75.2 percent with chemotherapy alone to 84 percent with the addition of trastuzumab.
Monday, May 21 she had her treatment port surgically placed. This process was one of the toughest of her journey. The port is to be placed right below the collarbone on the opposite side of where the cancer is located, which in Christy's case was her left side. This allows the treatment to go straight into a vein that leads directly to the heart. Patients are placed under general anesthesia to have this process done.
"For some reason, the vein they normally use was behind my collar bone and the doctor was afraid that he would puncture my lung trying to thread it through. So, they had to come back out and run down through my jugular to connect it. When I woke up from that, my whole side of my neck was on fire. A couple of days later it looked like an elephant had stepped on me."
Throughout all of this, Christy is still working. In fact, the night before her first treatment the M-Braves had a game against Jacksonville at Trustmark Park.
Christy received her first chemotherapy treatment on Friday, May 25. Her cocktail consisted of Texotere, Carboplatin, Perjeta, and Herceptin. Of course, her younger brother, John, (as promised) was with her for all her treatments.
"Going into my first treatment, one of my biggest fears was the port not working because it was such an ordeal to get the thing put in. So, the nurse gets ready to start, she's like, you ready? And I was like, no," Christy said with a laugh.
"She gives me a minute and she's like, okay, you ready? I was like, no... She's like, are you ever going to be ready! She started laughing. I told her I guess I can't get it over with unless I get it started. She promised that it wasn't going to be that bad. I said, okay. So, she accessed the port to start the flush and it wouldn't go through. I'm just about in tears, thinking here we go. She is just absolutely mortified because it had been such a big deal for me. She said not to worry and went to get another nurse. The area was still a bit swollen from the port being placed and they ended up getting it working. We all let out a huge sigh of relief. The nurse said here I was telling you it would be fine, and it didn't work."
They shared a moment of levity in the middle of the ordeal. Going back to the chemo itself, Christy shared what her feelings were while going through that first treatment.
"I remember sitting in that chair and looking at the bag hanging and thinking that is what's going to kill my cancer. But I have no idea of what it's going to do to me."
There are so many unknowns with treatments.
"People react differently to the same medicine. So that made me a little nervous."
Christy was prepared for these side effects because the doctors and nurses provided her with information. But, how can you truly be prepared for toxins to be placed into your body? Millions of people go through this each year and it truly is mind-blowing. It kills your immune system and puts your body through things that it shouldn't have to deal with. All in the purposes of killing the cancer.
"That first appointment took about six hours. They give you certain medicines because it's the first time and it's the only time you receive them. I also received a double dose of one of the chemo meds."
"They said it would be a couple of days before I started feeling (the effects of the treatment). I woke up that Saturday morning and I didn't feel good. I think just about every side effect you can have, I had it. Nausea, stomach problems, the thrush. "I stayed on my couch all through that weekend. I would have moments where I thought I'd feel a little better, but I'd get up and walk around the house and go right back to the couch. It was about 10 days before I felt like I could leave the house."
The main side effect she felt the most was being tired. Then she felt the thrush. I hadn't heard of this and asked if it was akin to strep throat.
"I honestly don't think I ever had strep throat, but I'll say this, just munching on a little piece of bread was like swallowing a brillo pad. Drinking something carbonated was out of the question because it was like swallowing a fireball."
Christy would go in every 21 days and have six rounds of that cocktail. Because of being HER2 positive, she would have to have a total of 17 doses of Herceptin. Thankfully those first six doses counted so she had to have 11 more after the first.
When those 10 to 11 days passed, Christy wanted to get back to some normalcy. The first week in June, she came back into the office and would work for a few hours at the time. If she began to get tired she would go home. The Braves were rightfully understanding and allowed her to do what she could when she could. Most of what she had was paperwork, and most of that only she knew how to do. She was able to stay caught up on most things.
"Everybody was telling me you don't need to be going to work. You need to be rested and you don't need to do this or that. And I'm like, look, if I feel okay and I feel comfortable enough to get out of the house, I might as well go to work because sitting at the house is going to drive me crazy. Things will start running through my head and I don't want to do that. I'm layed up in the house enough. So, if I don't have to be, I don't want to be."
Christy was concerned about how her situation would affect her job. That's a natural thing to feel. But those thoughts were put to rest quickly.
"(The Braves) were great. They were sympathetic. They said we got you. They would check in on me, ask how I was feeling. Everything from cards, little gifts. I got cards from the accounting department, the payroll department, signed by everyone. Individuals sent emails and texts checking on me. They were very supportive, very understanding, very accommodating to everything. Which helped a lot. They wanted me to focus on getting better."
More about the Braves' response to Christy's tough summer will come later in the story.
Another side effect of chemotherapy is hair loss. For a woman, this must be one of the worst. I had to ask and see how she felt about that.
"They told me that I would lose my hair."
In pure Christy form, she acted like it was no big deal.
"I was about three weeks in when I noticed while brushing my hair that more than normal came out. I could take my fingers and run them through my hair and (hair fell out). So, after my second treatment, the next week when I was at home, my mom had an appointment down here and her sister brought her. After they came to the house to visit, I told mom that I wanted her to shave my head. She's like already? I just stood there and ran my fingers through my hair and pulled out hair and my Aunt was like, oh yeah, it's time. I didn't want hair to be everywhere. I don't want to wake up and have hair all over my pillow. So, she shaved my head and the temperature of my head dropped about 20 degrees. I think my first words were, holy smokes, that's a lot cooler!"
"Mom and Aunt Chris were a little upset and emotional, but I'm like, it's just hair and it will come back. Don't be upset."
With a long pause, knowing this was a big milestone in her battle, Christy said quietly, "I shaved my head and got that out of the way. I've always been someone that goes more for comfort than I do anything. Whatever made me comfortable. If people didn't want to look at me without hair, they could just look somewhere else."
You're dang right!
"When I went for my pre-op stuff, the breast health nurse at the hospital gave me a counseling session and information. In a booklet somewhere it said that you can get wigs and stuff like that. I told the nurse I'm not wearing a wig. It's too hot to wear a wig on my head. She said, oh, I don't blame you there. And I told her I'm not sure if I'm even going to cover my head. My thing is, if I'm comfortable walking around with nothing on my head and a little fuzz sticking out here and there - if you want to look at me and judge me for it - I'll just say a prayer for you. Because you need them more than I do! I'm not out here trying to impress anybody. I'm here to survive and if I want to walk around with a bald head, that's my business. That's just how I went through with it."
She did end up wearing a bandana part of the summer just to avoid sunburn but that got to be too hot for her.
Later in June, Christy and her family would receive more bad news.
Her mom, Donna, had felt a lump about the same time that Christy did.
Her process was slower in getting her appointments and tests done. It was about a month and a half after Christy's diagnosis that she called and told her that she had breast cancer. That news was devastating but she had to maintain a positive outlook.
"We're just going to do what we need to do. I didn't want her to know I was worried. But when I got off the phone with her, I broke down."
Hearing that her mom had cancer was even worse than when she was diagnosed.
"I knew what I had dealt with at that point and I didn't want mom to have to go through it. Let me have it twice as bad and not have to have her deal with it. I just didn't want that for her."
Her mom had never had cancer before.
So, Christy had to go through what she had been dealing with again, just a month and a half later. The appointments, the tests, meeting with a surgeon, etc.
"Thank goodness I was at a point where I was feeling good. When it got time to meet with the surgeon I said, I'll meet you over there. I wanted to be there. And she said, yeah because I'll have to get you to translate what all this means."
Her sister Chris had brought her down from her home in Lexington, MS. There was some confusion with her test results and initially she was diagnosed with the same cancer Christy had, invasive ductal carcinoma. But it turned out that she had ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) which means that it is the last stage before it becomes cancerous. So, she didn't have cancer.
"At first I was mad. Poor momma. Then I was glad. Thank God she doesn't have it. We'll just have this taken out and be done with it."
Another week or so goes by and all her other test results start coming in. Her mother's MRI had picked up something on the other side and turns out she had invasive lobular cancer.
"The first thing was when she called me and told me that, I asked, are they sure this time? She said, yeah. The more I got to thinking about it, had she not been misdiagnosed the first time, they may have never done those scans and wouldn't have found that cancer. And there is a high probability that by the time it would have been detected it could have spread because the one she has is so small and deep that they couldn't be felt. They were picked up on the scan."
So, emotions went from bad, to mad, to good, too bad again. Which goes back to those three words.
You have cancer.
"It's just one of those things where when you get that call and they tell you - things seem different - things don't seem real. You feel different in some way. It just kind of throws everything off."
Her mother was receptor positive and HER2 negative.
"They determined that if she decided to just have the mastectomy, they wouldn't need to do anything else. Then they would start her on some meds. If she decided to not do that and just have the lumpectomy, then they would have to give her radiation. She didn't want to do that."
Her mom had the mastectomy on Friday, September 7. That was also the day of Christy's last cocktail of chemo.
"Number six. My brother and I left the clinic after my treatment and went to the hospital and was there when she got out of surgery. She spent that night at the hospital and stayed until the next afternoon."
The M-Braves season had ended, and the front office staff has been invited to Atlanta for a minor league summit the week after the season ended. Since Christy was recovering from her final treatment, she had to miss it.
Members of the Atlanta Braves' front office invited Christy to Atlanta later in the month.
Saturday, September 22 was breast cancer awareness day at Sun Trust Park, "Pink Out the Park." The annual day is presented by the Braves, WellStar Cancer Network, Kroger, and the American Cancer Society's Making Strides Against Breast Cancer. Those groups partner to continue to raise awareness and honor the courageous journeys of breast cancer fighters and survivors.
Who better to exemplify the fight and journey than one of their own? Celebrate her final treatment in style.
That day also happened to be the day that her cousin Teresa would be there with her family for an annual trip to a Braves game.
"I thought it was so cool to have them there, and none of it was planned."
"I knew a little bit about what our itinerary would be, but I found out (the Braves) didn't tell me everything," Christy said with a laugh. "They told me there was going to be something in the plaza where they would do this presentation about breast cancer. They would gather and have a ceremony and do all this stuff. And she said, I think it'd be cool if you want to go. So, I went down there at 10 that morning. It was shortly after that I was told that I'd be getting an award."
Christy along with four others received the Atlanta Braves Diamond of Hope Award.
"They had written a bio and I didn't even know Atlanta did that. But every year they do this and they have five people they present with that award. I was also asked to participate in the walk prior to the game on the field, which includes about 300 women. They gave everyone participating in a pink balloon, and we were able to walk around the infield, which was cool, and release them."
Then Christy was asked, or more told that she would be riding a pink Camaro with two others, around the warning track during the game.
"They gave us a little sign that says, "I go pink for..." and gave me a marker. I wrote MOM on mine and as I rode around on the back of that car, I just proudly held up my sign for my Mom and tried not to fall out. We got over to the third base side and one of the visiting team players was standing in the on-deck circle and didn't move. You only have so long to do this. So, one of the police officers next to the dugout noticed and finally got him to move so we could come by and the driver had to try to make up a little time, so he started scooting around the warning track and hit a little curve and almost sent me flying. I was like, oh boy. But it was fun. It was cool to do that. I didn't expect any of that. I had no idea that some of that stuff was even done."
Something else significant happened on this day. The Braves clinched the National League East title. Her seat was located by the third base dugout and she had a front row seat to the celebration. A fitting end to a fantastic day.
The Mississippi Braves also had a breast cancer day planned on July 26. It became more special and meaningful with Christy's diagnosis.
I remember walking in the office that day and somebody yelled, Christy's here! And I'm like, okay… and then everyone started walking towards the lobby and they all had on their (pink) shirts, and I, of course, lost it.
Pink shirts were made with "Her Fight Is Our Fight" on the front and C-Strong on the sleeve. Not only did the front office staff wear these shirts, but so did the players and part-time staff.
There was also a pink ribbon painted behind home plate.
"I had actually been out on the concourse the night before and didn't even notice the ribbon on the field. I guess I had a one-track mind because our groundskeeper said I saw you out there. I thought you were going to see that and know something was going on. Nope, I didn't - completely oblivious."
"Just looking at those pictures - it makes me smile."
Christy wanted to personally thank M-Braves manager Chris Maloney for getting involved and letting the players participate. This was a conversation that was memorable for her.
"I told him I appreciate it; and that I was very thankful for it and he said, absolutely, we got ya. I knew who he was, but we had never interacted, so just for all of them to want to do that and 90% of them not having a clue who I am, I just thought it was neat."
At this point, after a few treatments, this was a big emotional lift for her.
"I really don't know how to describe it because to know that they had done all of this on the down low, so to speak...I had a lot of support. I was very shocked because during the game I walk outside, and most of the part-time staffers were wearing the shirt. I wasn't expecting that. I just thought it was us, and they were all wearing them too, and it just - it got me. That night I probably would have left right after the game started."
The front office staff forced Christy to stay though, having to be somewhat persuasive at times. She was convinced to stick around until the fifth inning.
"I go out and sit in one of the seats right outside the back door on the first base side and they played the Susan G. Komen Group video. When it ended, I hear over the PA system my name and they start talking about me and I see our group picture on the video board and it was announced that Atlanta was donating $1,000 to Susan G. Komen in my honor."
The Braves also sent down several items that were worn on Mother's Day to auction off to raise more money.
"Just to know that with everything going on (in the middle of the season) they thought about that? They thought about me."
In the fall, Christy had to make a difficult decision. She decided with her mother's diagnosis and the likelihood of a reoccurrence, she would have a double mastectomy.
"After some thought, some research and some praying, I made that decision. I thought I don't want to take the chance. I'll just have both done and have reconstruction. So, (I had the procedure done) on the morning of October 16, which was a Tuesday, and I wasn't upset, but I remember thinking my body is not going to look like this ever again. My appearance is about to change. Am I okay with that? Do I really want to do this? Am I going to be able to handle this? Once they got me hooked up and I am waiting for my turn; I remember laying in that little room with the curtain closed. I remember thinking a lot. Part of me wanted to cry. Part of me was excited. It was just surreal. It's almost like I couldn't really process that I was doing it; but I also knew that when I woke up, things will be different. I was in there by myself - my head spinning with different scenarios - I just didn't want to regret anything."
Two doctors performed her surgery and it took around four hours. Once in recovery, Christy was awoken but had vague memories of this. She had extra bleeding and remembered the nurses summoning the doctors and them getting her back into the operating room. Her family and friends were waiting for her, but she didn't get back into her room until much later in the afternoon. She went in for surgery about nine that morning.
"When I woke up, I was in severe pain."
That's all she remembered in that time.
Christy's hospital stay was four days and recovery time lasted several weeks. The recovery was extremely slow, which required weekly visits to her plastic surgeon.
"It was extremely painful."
The process was grueling and extended through the holidays and into the new year. During this time Christy made another difficult decision. Because of being triple positive (ER, PR, HER2), her cancer cells would grow to the hormone estrogen. Because of a likelihood of cancer appearing in her ovaries, she had them removed in December.
Christy had dealt with surgeries before. She had fibroid tumors about 13 years prior in her uterus, eventually leading to it being removed.
Another step in the reconstruction process required additional surgery on March 5. Minor procedures remain, but they tell her the difficult ones are behind her. Assuming the definition of "difficult" hasn't dramatically changed with the ordeals she has experienced.
"I am just happy to be getting toward the end of it. I am tired of doctor's visits, needle sticks and having to worry about my schedule of appointments. I'm ready to feel good and enjoy the little things again. I missed hunting season this year and haven't been able to go fishing. I'm ready!"
She, or anyone, can never expect this to happen. From every life-changing experience, a lesson is usually learned.
"Things could always be worse, and you never know what you're capable of until you're forced to do it."
I asked Christy what advice she would give someone that received a diagnosis like hers.
"Tackle it head-on. You can't let it get to you and get you down because when you do, it makes it harder than it already is."
Women are doing amazing things right now. Baseball is taking a leading role in promoting the successes of women in the industry. Christy is a vital part of the Mississippi Braves. She doesn't swing a bat or throw a pitch, but her contributions are no less important.
"I don't think there are any limitations on what women can do in this industry."
She has proven that anything is possible over the past year. You can endure hardships and even more hardships, but keep a positive attitude and keep living. Christy Shaw's journey is not over - not by a long shot - but no matter what happens, her journey will continue to inspire people.
HER FIGHT IS OUR FIGHT!