After a conversation about breast cancerwith a co-worker, Sharishta got a gut feeling that something was wrong. She checked herself in the shower that night and found a lump. This is how she got through it and what she learned.
What is your spirit animal?
The Dolphin. The most obvious reason is because they are ocean animals and I love and feel a strong connection with the ocean. However, I also believe that I have similar personality traits and qualities that dolphins have: peaceful, playful, free spirited, loving, strong, fearless, protector, confidence, and inner strength.
When was your diagnosis and how old were you?
I was diagnosed on 9/1/2009 and was 25 years old.
How did you find out you had breast cancer?
I had a conversation with a co-worker whose mom had been recently diagnosed. The conversation must have been on my mind because later that evening in the shower a little voice in my head told me to check. Even though I had never done my own self-breast exam before I knew right away that the lump I felt was not normal and immediately thought it was cancer. I called my doctor the next day and I am so thankful that I listened to my inner voice because I could have gone undiagnosed for a very long time. My doctor recommended an ultrasound that turned into a mammogram and finally a biopsy. The next day I got a call from my doctor’s office asking me to come in to see the doctor. When she gave me the news I thought, “Why me? I don’t know anything about breast cancer. Where do I go from here? How long do I have? I’m only 25!”
Who was the first person you confided in about your illness?
My boyfriend, at that time, and one of my best friends were both with me at the doctor’s office when I got the news. Then I had to make the call to my parents, which was one of the most difficult, and heart-breaking things I’ve had to do. I live in Los Angeles and they were in New Mexico, so it was difficult to have to share that news over the phone instead of in person.
Tell us something about yourself that people probably don’t know
I make a mean chocolate chip banana bread.
After your treatment, what do you now make time for in your day?
After I was done with treatment and surgeries I made the decision to live an active and healthy life style. I’ve always loved the beach and being outdoors so I finally learned how to surf and have been surfing for a year. I surf at least 4 times a week and absolutely love it! It has brought so much happiness into my life.
If you could be a superhero, what would your super powers be?
I would love to be able to duplicate myself so I could be in more than one place at the same time. There are so many places I want to visit! The power of flight too, so that I can get to and from all the places on my list.
What advice would you give to someone recently diagnosed?
I wish I had been told not to be shy about asking for help. I’ve always been independent and don’t like to ask for help, but looking back I realize that friends and family want to help but don’t know how. So don’t be afraid to ask for rides to appointments or for someone to bring you dinner or run errands for you! My other biggest advice is to meet with various doctors so you can build a team that you trust with your life because you will be working with them very closely for a long time.
If someone wrote a biography about you what would the title be?
Survivor to surfer: in search of a meaningful life.
What advice would you give your 16 year old self?
Don’t take life so seriously and have fun! Be grateful for your supportive, loving family and your close friends. And lastly, you only have one body in this life so take care of it and treat it like a temple.
What was the toughest challenge you faced?
Fear of recurrence is an on-going challenge I face. I’ve reached the 5-year mark, which is an important milestone for a breast cancer survivor and increased survival rate. However, since there isn’t a cure for breast cancer there is always a chance that it could come back, and I worry about that. When I was first diagnosed, calling my parents was really tough. I have a close relationship with them and it was difficult having that conversation over the phone instead of in person since we don’t live near each other. No one teaches you how to choose the right team of doctors. You have to trust that you are making the right decision in terms of your doctors and your course of treatment. Doctors will make recommendations, but a lot of times it’s up to you to make the ultimate decision about whether to have a lumpectomy or double mastectomy, or to undergo radiation or not. I learned that you have to be your own health care advocate and take a proactive role in decision making because no one will do it for you.
When do you laugh the most?
I’m always laughing when I’m surfing. It puts me in such a great mood and makes me feel alive.
If you could go back in time to any event, what would it be?
The construction of the Egyptian Pyramids! How did they get all those stones to the various locations and construct the pyramids with such precision?
If you could travel anywhere where would it be and why?
Australia so I can surf my heart out!