BASTROP, Texas - Some say it's the hardest thing they have ever had to hear, but for Shelley Crenshaw, three-time breast cancer survivor and Bastrop resident, it was a blessing.
"You can lay down and die or you can get busy living," she said. "My fight has never been about my life, it's always been about finding a cure."
In light of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, Crenshaw shared her story about fighting back against the disease that is estimated to invade the lives of 17,000 women and men in Texas diagnosed with breast cancer this year, according to Susan G. Komen Austin.
Working as a waitress without health insurance, Crenshaw bypassed her annual female exams for a few years, but her sister's battle with cervical cancer quickly prompted her visit to a free clinic in Bastrop for a check-up.
During a breast exam in November 2011, the nurse discovered something in her right breast that concerned her. She was sent for a mammogram, ultrasound and eventually a biopsy.
Two-thirds of the women in Crenshaw's family have been diagnosed with breast cancer; besides her sister, two of her aunts and a female cousin. She also lost her father to lung cancer in 2009.
Crenshaw spent the next few weeks anxiously awaiting the results only to discover the worst or so she thought.
"As soon as I found out, I felt peace come over me," she said. "That's when the journey began."
Since the cancer was caught at stage 1, Crenshaw and her medical team felt confident of a full recovery.
"Early detection is the key," she said. "It's the difference between life and death."
Almost exactly a year later, the cancer had returned and Crenshaw underwent another lumpectomy.
"This time I knew what to expect so there was not as much fear," she said.
Along the way, Crenshaw picked up a couple of mentors, breast cancer survivors who could hold her hand. One of those was Jerry Wilhelm, who lost her battle with breast cancer when the cancer returned.
"That was hard," she said. "I've learned not to take life or people for granted."
For the third and final time, the cancer was back. In the fall of 2008, her doctors discovered another lump in the scar tissue from a previous lumpectomy.
Lumpectomy was no longer an option for Crenshaw. A mastectomy, the removal of one or both breasts, was the only choice.
"Together, both my doctors and I decided to take both," she said. "I was blessed because I was at that point in my journey where this is what I wanted."
Crenshaw now spends her time as a mentor for others, supporting them through this life changing experience that gave her an opportunity to live two lifetimes in one.
"When someone in Bastrop County is diagnosed with breast cancer, my phone often rings," she said. "I have met so many awesome friends as a result of being a survivor."