Thursday, October 22, 2020

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Breast cancer survivor: Shireen Wiedmer shares her story

My name is Shireen Wiedmer and I am an enrolled member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. My mother is Ramona Jewett McLane and my grandmother is Annabelle Morgan. 

I have lived on the Cheyenne River reservation since 1986. I grew up in Rapid City, then moved to White Horse. This is my journey with breast cancer.

In early December 2014, after laying down in bed, I ran my hand across my right breast and armpit area, that’s when I felt it — a lump. I told my husband, Jamie, right away and we were both shocked and scared. The next morning he called the clinic at the IHS Cheyenne River Health Center in Eagle Butte and tried to get me an appointment, but no appointments were available for a week. When I finally did get in, a doctor felt the lump and said, “You are going to Rapid City for a mammogram.”

I had never had a mammogram before.

My appointment was scheduled very quickly for December 23rd. At my appointment, the specialists performed a mammogram and informed me that they would have to do an ultrasound as well. While I was in the ultrasound room, the doctor came in and said, “Mrs. Wiedmer, we are going to have to do a biopsy.”

I knew it was bad. 

I had been alone in the room for quite a while, so I asked if my husband could come in with me. They brought him back in the room and with him by my side, the biopsy was performed. Afterward, they said they would call as soon as they received results. 

The next morning, on Christmas Eve, I got a call. I remember the doctor saying, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but you have cancer.”  


When the doctor told me the news I cried. Jamie cried. I said, “Merry Christmas to me!” We got our stuff ready for Christmas and went to spend it with family. I told my family when we got to my aunt’s house and we all cried, hugged and talked about it. And then, we moved on! There was nothing else we could do in that moment. We went to my aunt and uncles’ Henry and Willie Ducheneaux’s home for Christmas. There, we had a huge celebration with presents and dinner. We went on with the holiday, because we had to. 

When the celebrations were over, the reality hit me — it was time to get a plan going and to get ready for battle!

After the New Year, we went to see the surgeon in Rapid City. She took out some lymph nodes and did another biopsy. After examining the tissue, she explained what kind of cancer I had — it was triple-negative, which means it was not hormone induced.

The news was all Greek to us. I had no idea what she was talking about. My husband and my daughter were both with me for every appointment. They helped me remember and wrote everything down. As we talked about my diagnoses, I learned that triple-negative breast cancer is an aggressive form of breast cancer that does not respond to hormone therapy, and has a lower survival rate compared to other types of breast cancer. 

The surgeon then shared her recommendations with me — that I get a double mastectomy! 

I did not realize how much I liked my breasts until the doctor threatened to cut them both off! I cried, my husband cried, my daughter cried, we all had that moment. Then, I said, “Ok, I’m done crying. If this is what I have to do, then this is what I will do.” 

The next day I met up with my radiology oncologist. He asked, “So what is the plan?” I said, “Well the surgeon said I have to cut both of my boobs off!” I was so thankful when he looked at me and said, “Oh no, you do not have to do that. You can have a lumpectomy.” 

He explained that a lumpectomy is when cancerous tissue is removed from the breast. He also said that I would have to have eight rounds of intense chemotherapy, and 30 radiation treatments. This seemed like overkill to me, as I was not expecting to hear this, at all. But who was I to question what the doctor was telling me? 

Before I started any treatment, I first had to go through the lumpectomy. They took out the lump along with seven or eight lymph nodes to make sure the cancer had not spread to my lymph system. Thankfully, the test results showed that the cancer was only in the lump, not the tissue surrounding the lump or in the lymph nodes, which resulted in a new category for the cancer: Stage 1 triple-negative breast cancer. 

After about a week, a port was put in place on the upper left side of my chest. Getting the port was a breeze because I was knocked out for that, but taking the port out was another story. I was awake and I almost vomited, it is hard to explain the feeling. It was horrifying.

A week or two later, I started chemotherapy. I had chemo treatments every two weeks for four months. Talk about scary! Thank God for family — my cousin Christine Ducheneaux and Deb Herdina provided us with a place to stay. The first four rounds of chemo I had consisted of a bright red toxic solution called the “Red Devil”. Its side effects are known to be horrible.

The specialists had to manually put the “Red Devil” into my port. The nurse explained that they had to do this by hand because if the fluid accidently got on my skin, it could cause third degree burns. It was a very slow process. 

After my first chemo session, the doctor gave me a list of different things I would need while on chemo, which included Tylenol, mouthwash, hand sanitizer and so on. I also met with the breast cancer nurse navigator, who was an angel and helped me so much. She gave me money to help me buy a wig. In her office, she also had free wigs and hats that people made and donated for cancer patients. 

Exactly 14 days after the first chemo treatment, my hair, which was thick and curly and hung past the middle of my back, started to fall out. 

I cried. 

I went down to see Mandy in Timber Lake, to have her cut my hair short. She didn’t charge me for the service. (Thank you so much, Mandy). Although my hair was short, I was still losing hair in gobs — there was hair everywhere. I asked my husband shave my head, which he did.

He used a lint roller on my head because hair was still coming out. 

You see, when you lose your hair from chemo, you lose every single hair on your body — eyebrows, eyelashes, everything! Losing my hair so rapidly and drastically made me cry once again, but I only let myself cry two times before I forced myself to quickly get over it. 

I didn’t have time to pity myself. I had to be ready for battle. I had to stay positive and focused. I had to be strong for my children and my grandchildren.

In preparation for my next chemo treatment, the doctor’s orders were for me to eat, which Jamie made sure I did. When I weighed-in, I had gained three pounds, and the doctor said, “It won’t be so good next time.” 

However, the next treatment was the same — I had gained another three pounds, and again, the doctor said, “It won’t be so good next time.” But it was the same at the next weigh-in!

I gained nine pounds after three chemo treatments. I told the doctor, “I can’t keep eating like this. You told my husband to feed me so, as you can see, he is.” The doctor smiled and said, “You are our poster patient. This does not happen.” 

The next round of chemo was my last one with the Red Devil, which made me feel tired. Otherwise, I was okay, but I did have to go to the ER once for fluids. 

Then we started on the next four rounds of chemo treatment, which started with the letter “t” and took five hours to administer. Because the treatment took so long, the nurses gave me Benadryl through my IV to help me sleep. Halfway through my treatment, a nurse asked what kind of chemo I was taking. We told her, she said and I quote, “I have had patients code on this chemo!” 

My daughter Paige, about came unglued and asked why the nurse would say that. Another nurse, who was taking care of me, told the other nurse who spoke so carelessly, to leave the room. My nurse tried to calm us all down. Here I was, not all there from all the meds, and I heard what the careless nurse said. What an ordeal!

The side effects from this chemo were different than the Red Devil — it made me have so much pain and my whole body hurt so much. If it wasn’t for the pain meds, I would have given up! There was so much agony without the pain meds. Thank god I did not code and that I’m still here.

After I finished all my treatments, I got to ring a bell to announce the end of chemo. My whole family was there for that moment, which was amazing!

But I was not done completely — I got a two-week break before I had to start radiation treatment. In order to help guide the treatment, the radiation techs gave me tattoos that were of three dots. These were the first tattoos I ever got, and to this day, I forget I have them. 

For me, radiation was a breeze. It took longer to change into my little gown then it did for my treatment. I was in and out of treatment within ten minutes. I did get a light sunburn and it was just a little uncomfortable. 

While I was at radiation, I met a lady who had the exact same cancer as I did and she was having the same treatment, except she participated in a cancer study, so she had to do weekly visits, instead of biweekly, like I did. This poor lady had lost 40 pounds, and lost her fingernails, and toenails from the chemo, and had third degree burns from radiation. I was so very fortunate that none of this happened to me. 

I had so many wonderful friends and family who were praying for me. The power of prayer is so amazing — I am totally a believer in prayer. 

A week before my last week of radiation, my radiology oncologist, Dr. Schwartz, told me I was cancer free! Jamie, my sister Tracey, some friends and I all went out and celebrated the wonderful news!

After 30 rounds of radiation, I was done. I got to ring the bell again signaling that I was done with treatment. I was never so happy to get to the end of my treatments. I could go home and be with my family!

I did not have to go to another visit for six months. 

Neither my grandmother, mother, nor any of my six aunts were ever diagnosed with breast cancer. It never really crossed my mind that it would happen to me. It has almost been five years now and I can remember every detail like it was yesterday. I did leave a lot out of the story about my journey overcoming cancer, because I didn’t want to take up the whole newspaper. I am so grateful for the opportunity to share my story and I hope it helps someone else who is at the beginning of their journey. 

It helped me to talk to other cancer patients and gave me hope. It is my hope that my story can do the same for someone else.

I would like to say thank you to all of my supporters the community of Timber Lake and all who donated and gave to my cause. My family: Jamie, Tate, Paige, and Cody, Will, and Jenn and Adam, and of course my grandchildren Liam, Remi, Cora, Wilson, and my Mila, who were the best medicine. They were what I needed the most.

SUBMITTED PHOTO Above: Shireen poses with her granddaughter Mila Niegel.

SUBMITTED PHOTO Above: Shireen’s sister, Tracey Colhoff, recently attended a Steelers game and paid tribute to her cancer defeat.

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