Navigating a Cancer Diagnosis

Photo of Shanie Mason holding up a bell with one hand and using her other hand to point at it

Whether it’s a sixth sense or a gut feeling, sometimes we know when something just doesn’t add up. It can be a feeling that’s difficult to describe to others.

Something wasn’t right for Shanie Mason during the spring of 2019, and she knew it.

Shanie quickly made an appointment with her family physician, Dr. Roger Garvin, and was immediately referred for a colonoscopy – an exam used to detect abnormalities in the large intestine and rectum – which took place in June. To her surprise, the colonoscopy revealed a tumor, and she was referred for a CT scan. The following day, her doctor informed her cancer had metastasized to her liver.

Shanie Mason was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer.

It was a whirlwind 24 hours, but she still remained upbeat saying. “Even with such a scary and overwhelming diagnosis I know I am lucky,” she says. Within days of her diagnosis, a team was assembled that consisted of Dr. Dan Herzig, a colorectal surgeon, Dr. Skye Mayo, a liver and pancreas surgical oncologist, and medical oncologist, Dr. Charles Lopez.

With a goal to better understand the genesis of her cancer, Shanie decided to participate in genetic research at OHSU to determine if she had any genetic markers or risk factors.

The results came back negative; her cancer was not genetically-driven.

Four weeks after diagnosis, Shanie began her cancer treatment which she described as “a difficult combination of three chemotherapy drugs called mFOLFOX6.” Along with chemotherapy, she was treated on a novel multi-disciplinary clinical trial with immunotherapy and an anti-cancer vaccine.

The clinical trial, led by Dr. Mayo and, research coordinator, Erin Taber, seeks to better understand how immunotherapy treatment (with or without the cancer vaccine), along with chemotherapy, may improve outcomes for stage 4 colon cancer with metastasis to the liver.

Her journey began with a minimally invasive colon resection with Dr. Herzig, and then she started treatment under the direction of Dr. Lopez. A third of the way into treatment – 12 weeks in – Shanie underwent a liver resection with Dr. Mayo to remove the tumor from her liver, which was a success.

“Both surgeons, Dr. Herzig and Dr. Mayo, – who treated my colon and liver – are exceptional and well-recognized for their work,” she says. “Both surgeries were not only successful but exceeded expectations.”

Shanie resumed the chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and vaccine treatment the week before Christmas and received her final chemotherapy treatment on April 17th, 2020. Nearly a year after being diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer, Shanie received the news she longed to hear.

“A month later a CT scan showed that I did not have cancer, and Dr. Lopez and Mayo declared I was No Evidence of Disease (NED). I am still in the trial and will continue to receive a monthly infusion of immunotherapy and a vaccine every 12 weeks, but I am cancer free!”

Despite facing a cancer diagnosis and enduring treatment for well over a year, Shanie continued to maintain a perspective of her life.

“I don’t take anything for granted. I have been giving so many gifts,” she says. “I was very fortunate that all of my care, from my initial visit with my family physician to my ongoing treatment, has been through OHSU. Dr. Garvin, myfamily physician, actually came and visited me at the main hospital after my colon resection. Who does that?! Well, OHSU doctors do that.”

When Shanie reflects on everything it took to navigate this journey, she is reminded of how difficult a cancer diagnosis is – not only on the patient – but on their surrounding loved ones as well.

“As wonderful as my story has been and as grateful as I am, it hasn’t been easy,” she says. “I’m a single mom and my sons were 12 and 17 when I was diagnosed. Throughout my treatment my oldest has graduated high school, we’ve navigated the COVID-19 pandemic and restrictions it places, I managed to continue to work full-time remotely, and also oversee my youngest’s final months of schooling.

Cancer is HARD and when patients have the additional burden of coordinating providers, challenges with health insurance, and often travel to top-notch care centers it can undermine the process of healing.

Again, I count my blessings daily that I received world-class care and it was just 10 minutes from my home.”

Ultimately, what inspired Shanie to share her story?

“I share my story so that others might avoid a late-stage diagnosis. My goals are to use my background in public health and as a cancer survivor to educate others and promote colorectal screening, research, and financial support.”

Shanie says she’s back to her normal routine, consisting of morning runs, daily workouts, and tackling those home and garden projects that got put aside last year.

But she wanted to leave one lasting message.

“Hug the ones you love and tell them you love them, know your family history and risk, and get a colonoscopy!”