Throughout her life, Shanna McCoy Reynolos Rollins’ many health conditions meant numerous trips to the ER. She was born with cerebral palsy, an inoperable brain tumor and survived two heart attacks by age 36. During doctor visits, she often complained of extreme pelvic and abdominal pain and heavy menstrual bleeding. She was diagnosed with endometriosis at age 18.
In 2006, her CA-125 was 800 and associated with ovarian cysts. Her physicians focused on monitoring the cysts, while other pressing ongoing health issues arose. In March 2019, her physician scheduled an appointment to address some of Shanna’s concerns regarding her health concerns. “I was scheduled to see the doctor a day before my 50th birthday. I made it clear that I did not want to discuss cancer a day before my birthday.” Family and friends begged her to keep the appointment.
“I had so many plans that day but knew in my gut something was not right and that I needed to keep this appointment.” She knew she needed to be strong and save her tears and birthday celebration for another time. She spent the eve of her birthday at the hospital and was diagnosed with multiple ovarian cysts. Shanna visited the ER several times when cysts. On Nov. 22, 2019, she had a radical hysterectomy. A biopsy of an ovarian tumor determined that Shanna had stage 3A2 high grade serous ovarian cancer. Shanna was shocked at the size of her tumor, which she likened to twin babies. A few weeks after surgery, chemo infusions began and continued for six grueling rounds.
“It was the hardest thing I ever had to do, even having been born with cerebral palsy, living with what doctors call an inoperable brain tumor, having several strokes and surviving two heart attacks.”
Shanna’s support from family, friends and her caregivers helped her through her journey. She often took the bus to her medical and chemotherapy appointments and found support in the most unusual place: the city bus. Shanna had been wearing scarves due to hair loss from chemo and was ashamed of how she looked. Her bus driver asked if she had seen the movie Black Panther and told her about the charismatic actor, the late Chadwick Boseman, who battled colon cancer while filming his award-winning performance. This strength bolstered her and she no longer felt shame. “That’s when I took pride in having no hair”.
Shanna has adopted the mindset of a boxer. “It’s not about how many times you get knocked down, but how many times you get back up.” She knows her mindset, faith, attitude and even past illnesses have helped her on her cancer journey.
“Surround yourself around positive people, develop a prayer team or people who truly love you.” She said. “Keep a positive mindset. Cancer taught me that no obstacle is beyond God’s ability to heal. Remember, cancer is not always a death sentence.”
Shanna is from a diverse background: West African, Irish and Native American. Her great grandmother, Mattie Reynolos Rollins was a traditional mixed-blood medicine woman in her community and women would visit her when experiencing health issues. Although she never knew her great-grandmother, she believes her strength is inherited from Mattie.
“My family is multi-ethnic and I do believe that having that diversity in my family has given me strength. I can feel my great grandmother’s spirit. I use my strength from my Native and African ancestors and that helps me endure.”