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Helping Others Battle Cancer Gives Roanoker Focus to Fight Her Own Battle

Shannon Sparr (second from left) joined the “Red Devil Warriors” in January. The non-profit Roanoke Valley charity performs random acts of kindness for cancer patients. From Left: Halley Tomasello, Shannon, Warriors President Bonnie Blake, and Secretary Madeline Edwards.

by Cheryl Hodges

Helping others diagnosed with breast cancer is helping Shanon Sparr, 40, of Roanoke County to keep focused and fight her own ongoing battle with breast cancer that has resulted in a double mastectomy and removal of her ovaries.

“February 18, 2010 was the date I was diagnosed,” Shannon said with a determined lift to her voice. “It was all done by the end of March 2011. Now, I’m back to work and I’m starting college. I’ve just had my six-month checkup and I’m doing great.”

Shannon quickly recounted a whirlwind of stages and procedures that have consumed her life for the past 19 months. She says she found the lump herself, but she went to the doctor because she had lost 30 pounds in a couple of months and had gone down two bra sizes.  It took two days of tests to be diagnosed with Stage 2B cancer.

“There was no time to think hard about what was happening to me,” she said.

“But, I didn’t have to,” she said lightly

“I was lucky. Friends and family gathered around me and even people I’d never met before. There were so many people that helped me.  They supported me mentally, emotionally and financially.  It’s easy to be brave when you have someone to hold your hand and another to talk to the doctors and take notes and another to be there just to listen and another to cry with and another to drive me to appointments and another to help with cooking and laundry and others that never said they were too busy to help me.”

Shannon and her husband were separated shortly before her diagnosis and on hearing the news she said her first thoughts were: “What in the world will I do?  I don’t have a choice.  I have to fight because I have children to raise.”

At that time Shannon had a 16-year-old daughter, Kamie and a 14-year-old son, Keenan and a 26-year-old daughter, Kasey.

“We sat in the living room when I told them.  There were lots of tears.  Kamie would not leave my side.  She slept with me for five months and held my hand.  She dug into information anywhere she could get it. She read brochures, articles and searched the internet.  She knew more about what was happening that I did.”

“My son’s hockey team, The Roanoke Express, skated on the ice with pink ribbons, pink gloves and pink shoe laces the first game after we found out.  My step mother came immediately and stayed with us.  My best friends, whom I’ve known for 20 years, Martha Gulley and Lisa Bailey, were always there to help. It was amazing.”

And then it hit. “It wasn’t until I started back on my routine. Back to work, planning with the children and just getting back into the stream of things.”

“So many losses: my marriage, my hair, my breasts, my ovaries, my car.  The children are growing up.  I had never cried.  This August I cried . . .” Shannon was quiet a moment as she reflected on her journey.

“But it’s October now and I have more good days than bad days.  Life is so short.  Kids picking up their clothes off the floor and dishes in the sink – it doesn’t matter. I’d always wanted everything to be perfect, but there are more important matters now.  I’ll be there for my kids, my grandkids and my great grandkids.”

In January Shannon met face-to-face with some of the members of the Red Devil Warriors, a nonprofit charity that performs “random acts of kindness for cancer patients.” They had been quietly working in the background providing support in any way she needed them.

“Now I stand and I have no problem walking with anyone who needs my help. I’m here and I’ll be there for anyone who needs me.  I’ll tell them, let’s take it one step at a time,” she said cheerfully, adding that the most important thing to do when you first find out the diagnosis is to “Tell someone – tell everyone you know and always,” she stopped and laughed. “Take two people with you to the doctor’s office: One to hold your hand and one to talk to the doctors and nurses and take notes.  You’ll never remember everything that’s being said or what you need to do.”

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