Cancer a Double Whammy for Leigeber

by | Oct 28, 2021 | Darke County News, Features, Greenville, Health

Shawna Leigeber said she is a huge Bengals fan.

Several women have been featured recently on Darke County Now during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, telling of their experiences with it. The subject featured here also had it and was hit with a double whammy when she also got brain cancer.

“I was diagnosed in March 2018 with what we thought was stage I but was in fact stage IIIB invasive ductal carcinoma of the right breast,” said Shawna Leigeber of Greenville. “There were two masses that I was told were millimeters in size that were truly five and seven centimeters. One mass was deeply planted in my dense breast tissue and the second was closer to my under arm area. I underwent surgery with the legendary surgeon, William Farrar, who was the understudy of the hospital’s namesake Arthur G James, at the OSU James Cancer Hospital.”

Leigeber said they had hoped for a mastectomy followed by reconstruction but ended up with what she described as the worst possible result…mastectomy of the right breast that would need to be followed up with chemotherapy and radiation before she could schedule reconstruction.

“Additionally, the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes in my right arm, so they removed all 39 and found that over 20 of the nodes were positive with cancer,” she said. “I underwent chemo from July to the end of August, had a hysterectomy in December and started radiation in January 2019 through February 2019. I battled kidney stones three times during chemo as well as many allergic reactions to my Neulasta treatment. My body did not take well to the treatments and fought back in every way possible. I was finally given the green light for my reconstruction surgery to get underway with Dr. Roman Skoraki at the James in August 2019. I completed my reconstruction in October 2021.”

She continued, “I anxiously waited for the words that I was cancer-free from my oncologist Dr. Manish Sheth from Dayton Physicians, but the words never really came. He continued to tell me that even after undergoing what is now more than 30 surgeries that I would have an 80 percent chance of recurrence. I hated him for telling me this when all I wanted to hear was that I was free. However, he was right.”

Leibereger said in August 2020, she began to feel that she was having memory problems, thinking maybe it was the effects from the chemo, often called chemo brain.
“I struggled to remember why I had driven places or how I had gotten there,” she recalled. “I felt as if I was outside looking in on my life and could not get the words to come out of my mouth that I felt were running through my mind with such clarity. I knew what I wanted to say but felt frozen in time. My family started to see that I was just not myself, instead just a shell of myself. My mother reached out to Dr Sheth’s PA Melissa Meyers and asked that she order me an MRI ASAP.”

The MRI was completed at Wayne HealthCare on March 17, this year, and within minutes of completion Leigeber had received the results.

“She tried to urgently reach me for the next two hours, but I did not answer my phone,” she remembers. “The problem was I didn’t even know where my phone was. I had left it in my home and driven to my parents who thankfully live close by. Melissa reached my mother’s phone and told us the news that I had a 6cmm very large left frontal brain mass with a 2 cm midline shift. The mass was pushing into my right hemisphere and my mother was told that they were waiting for my arrival at Miami Valley Hospital. When I saw the scan myself, I had no hope. I could see the severity of the results of the scan in my mother’s eyes. She had only just retired as a surgical nurse from Wayne HealthCare, and she could not hide her fear, even though she tried.”

Leigeber, a self-proclaimed “huge” Bengals fan, was under the care of her oncologist, Dr Manish Sheth, and her new doctor, highly sought-after Neurosurgeon Specialist, Dr. Anna Pollack.

“Dr. Pollack let me know that I had stage IIII brain cancer and that I would be having brain surgery to attempt to remove the tumor in a week,” she said. “They waited a week in order to have me consume large amounts of steroids in order to shrink the tumor. She didn’t tell me at the time, but my survival chances were less than 1 percent. I was expected to stroke out on the table or at the very least wake without the ability to walk, talk or perform daily functions.

I must have some amazing angels (my grandparents, Gayla Metzcar, Bill Metzcar and Dale Mitchell, who all passed from cancer) on my side because I did survive the surgery. I think I probably woke up talking too. I was cruising up and down the hallways that next day and pushing my therapists out of my way to go up and down the steps and jump over pillows (forwards and backwards) on the ground. These were the tasks I was given to be released. They said ‘jump’ and I said how high? I wanted out of the hospital after a very long month.

Looking back on it, I really should have stayed longer. I underwent extensive radiation treatments to my brain with Dr Chevuru and am currently on oral chemotherapy treatments. Along with the Covid-19 that I have been fortunate enough to stay clear of, I have had an interesting and miraculous four years.”

Age 42 at the time of her diagnosis, and now soon to be 45 in December, she described her symptoms: “With the breast cancer, I was thinking that I had felt a lump, but because I have very dense breast tissue it was very hard to tell. The brain cancer was taking away my personality and cognitive functions. I was losing balance and no longer could form sentences. My memory was on the decline, and I was a shell of myself.”

Leigeber said she will always have cancer, but noted that her body is currently free of any tumors or signs of recurrence.

“I am a two-time cancer survivor,” said Leigeber, who indicated that her breast cancer was found with a 3D mammogram and her brain cancer was found with an MRI, both at Wayne HealthCare.

She compared her experience with cancer to Alice in Wonderland.

“I was falling down a deep dark hole and I didn’t know when or where it would end, I just kept falling,” she explained. “Then you feel terror. Am I strong enough to survive, do I deserve to survive, does anybody care if I survive? This turns to anger. How dare I get cancer; doesn’t God know my strength has been tested plenty already and I AM STRONG. Why me? Why now? What did I do to deserve this? Maybe there is NO GOD. Once the anger subsides, you feel depression and bargaining. I can’t do this. Let me see my son go to prom. Let me see my son graduate. Let me see my son get married. Let me hold my grandbabies and meet my daughter-in-law.

Let me outlive my parents, don’t make them plan my funeral. Your mind is a powerful animal and anyone that tells you that they stayed ‘positive’ the whole time is lying to you. Also do not tell someone to ‘stay positive’. I promise you that no one wants to think or be or feel negatively about what they are going through and hearing someone say ‘stay positive’ sounds so insensitive and condescending.

Give them a call, send them a card, pay them a visit, make them smile, hold their hand and support them, do not tell them how to feel. A cancer patient is mourning his/her life as they know it and they must grieve in steps. Just allow this to happen and be supportive; that is key. Always let them know how very loved they are and show up for them. This will help anyone remain positive.”

Leigeber, a single mother to her 20-year-old son, Branson, graduated Greenville High School in 1995 and attended Miami University and Hondros College.

“I worked/will work again in the insurance field for American Family Insurance,” she said. “I was a flight attendant in earlier years and have been considering visiting the friendly skies again. If they get back to being friendly skies again. I want to travel the world again. I am thankful to have done some healing traveling with my parents, Gary and Manina Leigeber, and son during my recoveries. We love to visit the mountains and ocean any chance we can. The healing powers of sand in your toes and wind in your newly regrown hair can never be underestimated.”

What was her secret to getting through something like this?

“What I live with now after surviving two cancer journeys is gratitude,” she responded. “I say ‘My Attitude is Gratitude.’ I am above ground and I cherish the moments, try not to sweat the small things and waste little time on anything else but gratitude. I understand that there is always someone else that has had it worse than I have it and there is someone happier with less then I currently have. My goal is to live every day with a grateful heart.”

She went on, “What I have learned through being a cancer patient is that no two people have the same cancer, cancer story or walk through the same cancer journey. We all walk unique paths. We all need support and love to make it through the fight. Quite frankly the word battle belittles the struggle that cancer presents. It allows a stigma to be placed on cancer. If you lose your battle to death does that mean that they were somehow failures in their battle? Were they not strong enough to win their war? Absolutely NOT. Journey makes a little more sense because it is a road, one that we did not choose to walk down, and we have no choice in the destination that it leads us to.”

Her biggest supporter in all of this was herself.

“I spent a great amount of time searching for someone to look up to or to count on to help me get through this only to be let down and disappointed,” she said. “I learned that I had to dig deep and realize that I was my own greatest hero and that that was okay. I was/am strong. I was/am grateful. I am/was and still get weak. I was and still get sad. I cry and I laugh, sometimes at the same time. I scream and I get angry. I am smart and I am still learning. I love deeply and I forgive easily, but I do not forget. I encourage others and completely give of myself. I want to help make the world a better place. I am not perfect and that is also okay because everyday I get up trying a little harder than I did the day before. I’m okay and when I’m not okay that is also okay.”

Her advice to others facing cancer?

“Allow yourself to go through it; you do not have a lot of options anyway. Allow yourself to feel all the feels that come with it. It won’t make you weak, it makes you real, it makes you human. Allow yourself to lean on others,” she said. “As women, we get so wrapped up in being so strong for everyone else; it is okay to allow them to be strong for you too.

Allow yourself and your journey to take center stage in your life, of all times now is the time that YOU come first and do not allow anyone including yourself to accept anything less. Keep a journal, write it all down, even the icky stuff. Take pictures, even the ugly ones for they will be the ones you look back on for growth and strength to see how far you have come.

Take the vacation. Wear the two-piece and be proud of the scars. Your hair will grow back. If it comes to it, you will miss your boobs. If you get reconstruction, you will miss not having the boob/boobs. Weird right? Most importantly never stop loving and believing in yourself.”

Leigeber, who said cancer – but not breast cancer – does run in the family, concluded, “If you are struggling to find your smile, when you need someone to talk to or listen to, I am always available to lend my smile, my ear or to share my journey. I am editing my new podcast videos and hope to be live by Nov. 1. It’s called ‘Blame It On The Tits‘”

Shawna Leigeber said she is a huge Bengals fan.
Shawna Leigeber and her son, Branson, are shown on a trip in their vehicle.
Shawna Leigeber, on the right, is shown with friend Kristen.

I am a Darke County native living in the Ansonia area with my son. I have been in journalism 50+ years and enjoy what I do.

Contact Darke County Now Media Correspondent Linda Moody @ lmoody@darkecountynow.com or 937-337-1955.

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