A mother-of-two has revealed the heartbreaking process of preparing for her death after doctors told her she would be ‘lucky to be alive for Christmas’.
Victorian events planner, Shonel Bryant, 38, has triple-negative breast cancer – a rare and aggressive form of the disease often found in young women.
This is her third time battling the cancer in just two years – and doctors have told her it will be her last.
Mum-of-two Shonel Bryant, 38, has spoken about how she plans to spend her final weeks after being diagnosed with terminal breast cancer
Shonel and her husband recently renewed their 10 year wedding anniversary
Shonel has battled cancer three times in two years and says it has allowed her time to process the reality of dying
Shonel said she has spent the past weeks saying goodbye to her loved ones.
‘We are having some really difficult conversations, I am talking about myself in the past tense, and as f***ed as this is I am glad that I am able to do it (die) my way. I can get my husband and kids ready, so I am grateful I have that,’ she told FEMAIL.
‘My son asked me “Mummy, are you going to die?” which was really hard but we are just honest with him, so we had a cry and a cuddle and I felt a weight lift off my shoulders.’
Shonel said she shut herself away for a day to write letters to her husband, Luke, and their two children Smith, eight, and Vogue, six, so they can open them during important milestones such as graduations and 21st birthdays that she won’t be alive to see.
‘That was the most awful experience I have ever had. It brought on a massive panic attack,’ she said.
‘I called Luke, I couldn’t breathe, it was all too much to carry so he came and got me. I wanted and needed to do it, to write the letters but I didn’t anticipate the physical impact it would have on me. ‘
Five months ago scans showed Shonel was in remission – she had beaten cancer for the second time.
But then she contracted a cold and when she couldn’t shake the cough she pushed doctors for answers.
Shonel has written letters for her husband, Paul, and her children Smith, left, and Vogue, right, to open on important milestones such as graduations and their 21st birthdays
At first they told her that a lingering cough was a common side effect of a viral infection, but she continued to seek answers.
Then Shonel felt pain in her ribs, and she had an X-ray. Doctors quickly realised that the cancer had returned, this time ‘riddling’ her lungs.
‘It is such a big take home to push doctors for answers, I have heard so many stories from people who haven’t been pro-active. It is important to realise doctors can get things wrong too,’ she said.
Shonel was ‘given a week to accept her mortality’ and told she would be lucky to make it to Christmas.
The busy mum wants other young women to check their breasts, push doctors if something is wrong and open their hearts to the love that surrounds them
Shonel said she is ‘feeling OK’ at the moment, but admits it is getting harder to breathe.
Last weekend Shonel and Luke renewed their wedding vows after being married for nearly 10 years.
‘We were planning it for May but thought we should bring it forward, it was a beautiful party in the backyard,’ she said.
When Shonel, an events coordinator, told her friends and family to ‘bring a plate’ to the ‘low key’ nupitals, they knew things were serious.
The family moved to country Victoria before Shonel’s diagnosis – and have found a supportive community
SHonel is pictured on the day she renewed her wedding days. She said the party was also a chance for her loved ones to say goodbye
The took over the organisation of the event which ended up being a spectacular garden party.
For many it was a farewell party as much as a celebration of Shonel and Luke’s love.
‘It might be the last chance we have to see everyone together, and if this is the way they want to say goodbye, instead of coming to a funeral service later then I am happy with that,’ she said.
Most days Shonel can cope with the idea of death – her mother died of cancer, and she has made peace with her prognosis.
‘The fear is there, but I feel like I was able to work through my feelings the first and second time,’ she said.
But she still breaks down – especially when she thinks about her children growing up without her to cheer them on.
The mum said she is grateful she has been able to plan her final moments
Shonel says cuddling her children as much as possible has been a priority over the last two years
Shonel admitted she was glad in a way to have been given such a short time to live.
‘I have been able to plan so many things for my family and I wouldn’t have done that if I had been given longer – I would have put it off,’ she said.
Shonel has booked in manicures for her daughter, gifts for her son and family outings for the three people she loves most.
Her focus is now on the people she loves and raising awareness for cancer with her website ‘Support Your Girls’.
The website includes helpful ways to do breast checks as well as advice on what to do if something feels or looks out of the ordinary.
Shonel caught her cancer early on when she felt a hard pea-sized lump in her breast.
She now wants all women to know they need to demand follow-up tests if they feel something isn’t right, and to get all lumps investigated, regardless of the person’s age.
How can I check my breasts?
Self-checking the same time every month is a great habit, Shonel says
Things to look out for
Lumps in breast or armpit
Breast or nipple pain
Nipple retraction or inversion
Changes to the skins texture- redness, discolouring, scaling, shrinkage
Swelling in breast or arm
Localised feeling of warmth
Lymph node changes
What to feel for
While you’re standing put your left hand on your waist, now roll that shoulder forward and reach into your underarm area and check for enlarged lymph nodes. These are small glands that will fill with fluid when you have an infection. An enlarged node would feel something like a corn kernel. Make sure you check that area just above and below the collarbone too. Now repeat this on the other side.
Using the pads of 3 or 4 fingers, move them in a circular motion from the outside of your breast/pecs all the way in. Experiment with pressures until you find something that feels right. Be sure to cover the whole breast/pec until you have reached your nipple. Yes, you have to check your nipples too.
A trick I have found useful is not taking your hands off your breasts/pecs so you do not miss anywhere. Putting a naturally derived lotion on (chemicals are not our friends) will help your hand slide around.
Some people find it easiest lying down flat on their backs to feel for any changes as it flattens the breast. Personally I like to do it in front of the mirror standing up, though I frequently do it in the shower with my boob lube. Performing a self-check in the shower can help, as your hand tends to glide over your skin easier and you are already washing your body.
Experiment with what works best for you. Regardless of which position you choose the motion is the same.
Source: Support your girls
‘This cancer appears in young women, and young women are the ones who don’t often check their breasts,’ she said.
Mammograms aren’t as effective in women under 40 because their breast tissue is too dense – but it is never too early to feel around for lumps.
Shonel is aiming to spend Christmas with her family, despite grim predictions from her doctors. Then she hopes to celebrate the New Year and her daughter’s birthday.
‘One of the biggest take home for me is how much love is out there. We always have so much of it available to us but it can take something like this to open up to that,’ she said.
She is selling her business, and her husband has changed careers so that he can be more flexible as a solo parent to their young children.
Friends have organised a GoFundMe for the family to help relieve some of the financial burden once Shonel has gone.
Anyone interested in learning more about Shonel’s business can contact Emily at Bravery Co for details.