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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Out of the darkness, into the light

Friday, October 28, 2011

(Photo)
Coming out of the darkness following a long bout with breast cancer, Shelby Linahan is now valiantly fighting bone, liver and brain cancer. Her oncologist at Kansas University, Dr. Priyanka Sharma, predicts a positive outcome and a bright future for Linahan. [Times Photo by Melonie Roberts]
She beat breast cancer and thought after a year-and-a-half, that she had a bright future ahead of her.

"It was shocking to have it come back," said Shelby Linahan, of Monett. "It was upsetting."

This elementary school teacher had been through the ravages of a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation already.

When she first discovered a lump in her breast four years ago, Linahan said she had never had a mammogram and wasn't too regular about self-exams.

"I was 33," she said. "The lump was five centimeters wide and seven centimeters long and was growing back into my chest wall. They did six months of chemo to reduce the size of the tumor before they operated.

"When I was diagnosed the first time, I laid on the couch and slept," Linahan said. "My son, Garrett, was 10 years old at the time. He said, 'Mom, you'd just lay there.' I would still try and work and get home and just be exhausted."

Linahan said her son, now a freshman at Monett High School, is dealing well with his mother's latest medical challenge.

Teaching fourth graders also added to the risk of picking up a virus or illness that tends to run rampant in schools. That would have been devastating to her already-compromised immune system.

"It was a scary thing to be around fourth graders," Linahan said. "We used a lot of sanitizer and cleaned a lot."

When she was diagnosed with liver and bone cancer in 2010, another round of chemotherapy was ordered.

"I got a call in January of 2010 that it had spread to my liver and bones," Linahan said. "In September, I learned that it had spread to my brain. That was the worst."

"Liver and bone cancer never go away," Linahan said. "They go into remission. I have been off and on chemo since January of 2010. I have had a couple of breaks when my system was too worn out to tolerate it."

The news of the brain cancer was especially frightening.

"My doctor at Kansas University is very positive," Linahan said. "She turned my attitude around."

Dr. Priyanka Sharma is one of the leading oncologists in the region. Dr. Sharma spends three out of five days a week researching cancer and new treatment methods. She was not surprised to hear Linahan's cancer had spread to the brain.

Linahan fought bouts of depression after learning the news.

"I had to wait about a week to see Dr. Sharma," she said. "She said traditional chemotherapy doesn't treat the brain, and that it is not unusual for someone who had breast cancer to find it had spread to other parts of the body, including the brain."

Linahan has just completed 14 rounds of radiation treatment for the new threat to her health.

"I have to start chemo again this week," Linahan said. "But the down side is that one of the drugs has weakened my heart. It's now only 30 percent functional."

Linahan was taken off chemo and given drugs to strengthen her heart.

"I'm managing to get through the day-to-day things," Linahan said. "But I had to submit my resignation to the school district last Thursday. My parents are here now to help out."

Her mother, Sandra Deines, just retired from working at an insurance agency about a week ago. Her father, Steve, is using up accumulated leave from the United States Department of Agriculture.

"They have been great," Linahan said of her family. "The members of St. John's Lutheran Church, the Monett School District and the community have also been incredibly supportive."

Linahan's best friend, Pika Harris, has organized a number of fundraising event to help Linahan with medical expenses not covered by insurance.

One fundraiser is scheduled for 5 until 9 p.m. on Nov. 5 at St. John's Lutheran Church. That event will feature a chili supper, a live auction and a silent auction.

The second event is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. at the Depot Bar and Grill, located on Third Street in Monett. Jimmie Vane Norris will serve as DJ for the evening. Entertainment will include live music by Tequila, Lime, No Salt. There will be a $5 cover charge for admittance.

"The community has shown an outpouring of support," Linahan said. They have donated so much for these fundraisers. It's unreal."

While neither of those events is likely to garner the thousands of dollars it will take to satisfy Linahan's medical bills, the proceeds will greatly assist the family in meeting her immediate needs, which include transportation expenses to Springfield for treatment.

"Some of this is in network with Cox Health Systems," Linahan said. "But KU isn't in my network. Between both of them, I don't even know how much I owe anymore."

"I will have to continue the chemo regimen indefinitely," Linahan said.

This experience has heightened Linahan's awareness of the importance of self-exams, and she has become a crusader among friends and family concerning the importance of regular health screenings.

"People know they can talk to me, cry on my shoulder, ask questions," she said. "I've been through it. Sometimes that helps."

Despite what some might consider to be a bleak outlook, Linahan remains hopeful that her future is bright.

"I'd like to beat cancer and go back to having a normal life and not have to think about cancer every single day," Linahan said. "There's not a day that goes by that you don't think about it.

"I love working for the Monett School District," Linahan said, "and I'm hoping to be able to get back to teaching one of these days."



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