By Clayta Richards
Paula Shanks Myers is a downtown Crossville girl through and through. With a well-known Crossville name, she grew up in the heart of Crossville, where her dad worked on Main Street where her grandfather started the LP Shanks Company years ago.
“When my husband, Scott, and I got married, he was in the Air Force. We married in 1983, were gone for nine years, and moved back to Crossville in 1992. We’ve been here ever since.”
It was in the summer of 2011 that Paula, a married mother of two, was in the middle of her busy life when one of those sit-up-and-pay-attention interruptions happened — cancer came calling.
She was diagnosed with lobular breast cancer in July 2011. It was stage 2.
“I had a mammogram at Knoxville Breast Center, because you get results immediately. They hadn’t found anything at that point. But with further testing, they found something in both sides and wanted to do a biopsy. The left side came out negative in the biopsy and they then decided to not do a biopsy on the right side.
She notes that she was not in a high-risk category. “Two aunts on my dad’s side had breast cancer and Dad had colon cancer, but he passed away with a blood disorder. Really, there was very little.”
Four months later though, in a self-breast exam, Paula found the cancer on the right side. “I want to get across that you must do the self breast exams, because just four months later, I had a cancer that was 7 centimeters, which is quite large. It was growing very fast. It’s just that in my case, I found it myself just a few months after that [the mammogram],” she says.
Paula chose to have her treatments and surgery in Crossville. Treatment began in August with chemotherapy at the office of oncologist Dr. Dirk Davidson, of Tennessee Plateau Oncology. She was prescribed six treatments, 21 days apart. After the fifth treatment, Dr. Davidson decided it was time to do the surgery. Again locally, Dr. Mark Fox performed the surgery.
“I had a double mastectomy a week before Christmas. When they did the surgery, there was no tumor found; the chemo had taken care of it.”
Paula’s last chemo treatment was in January, and then she began six weeks of radiation at CMC Cancer Center.
“Of course, if I have reconstructive surgery, that will be somewhere else,” Paula adds.
Thinking back over the course of her recovery, she says, “I just kept going, I never missed a day of work at Amcon (formerly LP Shanks; it sold to Amcon last year). I may have come in a little late, I may have left a little early, but I was there every day. Obviously, the fatigue is the hardest part. Sometimes at work, I’d have to close the door, turn the light out, and take a 10-minute nap; sometimes I still have to do that.”
By having her treatments locally, she was able to keep working and keep her life as normal as possible.
“Everything, … my radiation treatments, I could leave (my work), have my radiation, and not be gone more than 30 minutes. Dr. Davidson and the nurses in the chemo department were wonderful. It never felt like a sad or depressing place — they were very cheerful and just took such good care of us. I felt very well taken care of and very loved. I knew if I needed anything I could call, so I can’t say enough about Dr. Davidson and the chemo nurses and everyone there.
“The Cancer Center and radiation, having it all here, I just took off a week of work before Christmas to have my surgery. I never had to take another sick day. I just don’t know if I could have done that and traveled (to Knoxville or Nashville). It would have been a lot harder.
“The fact that I was able to keep going — I wasn’t going to feel any better sitting at home, so I might as well get up and go to work. So, just get up and go. I’m very thankful I was able to have everything locally. If I sat at home, first of all, I would go crazy. I’m not a sit at home person.”
As far as nausea, the medications worked for Paula. She would take them for the first three days after a treatment, and recalls that she never threw up a single time. “I felt yucky, but I never threw up.”
The first four or five days after a chemo treatment, she would have a liquid diet — nutrition through a straw — because things didn’t taste right. Around the fifth day, she could return to solid foods and would feel “fairly normal” until the next treatment in a couple of weeks.
“I lost my hair after the first treatment, within a couple of weeks. Once it started going, it went really quickly. My husband’s cousin, a beautician, met me on Labor Day weekend to cut it off (really short). I wore the wig to work and church; other than that I didn’t care for the wig. Mostly I just wore a buff and a cap; I stayed comfortable.
Among the many things a bout with cancer can do is make a person realize how important family members are to them.
Married 29 years in October to Scott, who is an aircraft mechanic at the Crossville airport, Paula recalls their early days.
“We met at Main Street Church of Christ. He is younger than me — he was a senior in high school and I was a freshman in college. He joined the Air Force, and I said if you’re leaving, I’m going with you, so we got married. We ended up in England for three years (near Cambridgeshire at RAF Alconbury). When we came back, we moved to Lubbock’s Reese AFB. Our son, Luke, was born there. He’s a Texan and proud of it. After that, we moved around a little bit, Lynsey was born during all that moving. When she was six months old, she had lived in three states, Tennessee, Alabama, and Florida. We moved home October of 1992, right at nine years we were gone. We were so happy to be back home and near the grandparents; it’s been wonderful.
“Scott has been there for me every step of the way. He took me to all my treatments and has just been amazing. I couldn’t have done it without him.”
After the first treatment, when Scott stayed for the entire time, Paula decided he should go back to work and then let her text him when it was time to come pick her up.
“My daughter would usually be there entire time. But he was right there, he wouldn’t let me drive on those days; with the Benadryl, I didn’t need to drive. To me, that was the worst part of the treatments, that the Benadryl would just knock me out.
“For me, one of the other things was to exercise. I’d walk, I’d just get out and walk. My husband encouraged me. I tried to exercise some every day — … that helped me a lot. Getting outside, the fresh air, the nature, and the physical exercise helped me physically and mental. Even with fatigue, it gives you energy and makes you feel so much better.”
Possibly one of the best things that can happen to a cancer patient is the need to plan for wonderful life events — like two weddings. Paula affirms.
“On top of everything else, Luke got engaged last March, the day I had the mammogram in Knoxville; and Lynsey was engaged in May. So when I was diagnosed, both of my children were engaged and we had weddings to plan. We had two weddings in the fall.
“Lynsey would sit with me during the chemo treatments and we would do wedding stuff on the iPad, until the benadryl hit and I would pass out.
“The weddings were four weeks apart. Lynsey’s was Oct. 15 and Luke’s was Nov. 12. It was good and kept me busy. I didn’t have time to feel sorry for Paula and get all that done.
Both of the weddings were at Linary Church of Christ, where both of the couples met.
“Luke married Alexis Spieles. They live in Mt. Juliet now, and he works for an accounting firm. Alexis is a teacher in Mt. Juliet.
“Lynsey married Chad Crawford, who is from here. They both go to school at Tennessee Tech, but Chad has a co-op, so they’re taking a year off and he is working in Huntsville, AL for a year. They’re basically still in school. He will have one year to finish in electrical engineering, and she will have two years to finish and is getting a degree in elementary education. She’s going to be a teacher as well.”
Paula appreciates the local cancer organizations. The American Cancer Society’s Reach for Recovery Program representative came to see her in the hospital bearing gifts. “It was very nice, and they sent another lady, Dori Wetzlich. She brought some goodies for me and a book about breast cancer, which has been very helpful, and two heart-shaped pillows that I could put under each arm for leaving the hospital after having the lymph node surgery on both sides. That was how I slept, just propped up on both sides with those pillows. After I left the hospital, they called and checked on me; they still do now and then. Hopefully, I’d like to be a volunteer and help them out.
“On Sept. 29, my husband, son and son-in-law participated in the Komen Upper Cumberland golf tournament.” The tournament was held at Bear Trace to benefit Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
“My family, let me especially mention my Uncle Dick Hatler, who owns Hatler Florist here in town. I have two aunts that work there too, Nancy Hoover and Sharon Cook. They were so good to me during my illness. They sent me flowers after every single treatment and surgery. They also sent food— lots of homemade goodies almost every week. To be honest, they spoiled me rotten.
“There was also my church family — the ladies out there have just been amazing. They gave me money for the wigs and made me a quilt. They were wonderful with food and cards. I don’t know how people get by without a church family. My friends, my coworkers, I never wanted for anything. I was so well taken care of.
“It’s true what they say, ‘You know you’re loved, but you don’t know how much until you’re sick.’ It is, by far, the most humbling experience of my life. I feel like I’m a better person for having been through this. I don’t know, just more compassion, and the blue sky is just bluer, the green grass is greener, and I’m just thankful for each day.”