ORLANDO, Fla. – October is breast cancer awareness month, honoring survivors and warriors like this four time cancer survivor and mother in Central Florida.
Terlisa Sheppard laughed and smiled as she talked about her nearly 20-year battle with metastatic breast cancer.
“If you can’t tell, I love life,” Sheppard said.
Her diagnosis came just as Sheppard was preparing for the birth of her second daughter. A lump that she noticed during her first pregnancy had started noticeably growing.
“My OB GYN didn’t want to do a mammogram, I saw signs, but didn’t realize that was what it was,” Sheppard said.
She was given a mammogram at eight and a half months pregnant which confirmed she had stage three breast cancer.
“I was floored,” Sheppard said. “And my type of breast cancer it was fed through estrogen positive, so the pregnancy was just feeding into that.”
As soon as her daughter was born, Sheppard was rushed into chemotherapy and radiation treatment. She said she had an outpouring of support from her family members, but still missed out on many happy moments with her newborn.
“Those times are supposed to be some of your most happiest moments,” Sheppard said.
Just two years after she was considered cancer free, it returned, and was much more aggressive than her initial diagnosis.
“The cancer reappeared in my bones, lungs, and liver, in November 2001, and I was in the fight of my life,” Sheppard said.
Sheppard said being diagnosed with a metastatic cancer comes with a completely different set of fears. “Because we know there’s no cure, you know, once our treatments run out, we run out,” Sheppard said.
She spends much of her time now advocating for metastatic breast cancer patients, and said it’s clear more needs to be done to fund research especially for minorities.
“I know it to be true that minorities sometimes do not get that same healthcare treatment, and it takes effect, by the time that they do find out about a diagnosis, it’s more advanced and their chance of surviving it is slim to none,” Sheppard said.
When asked what advice she had for young women, Sheppard said she would have insisted that her doctor perform a mammogram or ultrasound on her breast during pregnancy.
“Now looking back I wouldn’t be afraid of those rays, from those additional scans, because now knowing I wouldn’t be going through as many scans as I am now,” Sheppard said. “Right now I’m in the fight of my life, had I found this at an earlier stage I feel that my chances would have been so much better.”
To follow Sheppard’s journey, you can follow her on Instagram or Twitter @TerlisaFights.
“We need research to combat this illness, you know, that’s point blank. We need more research, we’re going to keep dying at an alarming rate if we don’t get more research,” Sheppard said.