Shawna Finds Strength In Her Blessings

Soon after her diagnosis with breast cancer at age 35, Shawna Manetta made a decision: she shook off the fear and chose to focus on the blessings in her life. She cherished time with her family, was thankful for the doctors she calls her “guardian angels,” and embraced cancer’s lessons.

“None of us have the date of our death written anywhere, so cancer or not, we should be grateful for every day,” says Shawna, who continued to homeschool her three children while undergoing treatment at the MemorialCare Breast Center at Orange Coast Medical Center.

Four years ago, Shawna wasn’t feeling well and blamed allergies. While she was napping on the floor as her children watched a movie, a spider bit her on the breast. Shawna sought treatment but when her breast still didn’t look right, her doctor referred her to the MemorialCare Breast Center at Orange Coast Medical Center.

After the breast imaging team performed a mammogram, a breast ultrasound and breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), two tumors were found in her right breast. Shawna was diagnosed with Stage III HER-2-Positive breast cancer, an aggressive form of the disease. She was devastated. Her first thought was, “I don’t want to leave my kids.”

The Genetic Link

Although most breast cancers are diagnosed in women after age 50, up to 10 percent of cases have a known genetic link and may be diagnosed at younger ages. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, a woman has a greater chance of developing breast cancer if she has a family history, especially a mother, sister and/or daughters who’ve had the disease.

According to Richard Reitherman, MD, PhD, medical director of breast imaging at the MemorialCare Breast Center at Orange Coast Medical Center, women are often surprised to learn they carry genes linked to breast cancer. “We provide genetic risk assessment for every woman,” says Dr. Reitherman.

After receiving genetic testing and counseling, Shawna learned her cancer was hereditary. “I didn’t know cancer ran in my family, but I discovered my aunts from both my mother’s and father’s sides had dealt with it,” she says.

Did you know one in eight women will develop breast cancer over the course of a lifetime? The American Cancer Society recommends yearly mammograms starting at age 40.

Lessons in Compassion

After diagnosing Shawna, her Orange Coast Medical Center physician team including breast surgeon Jane Kakkis, MD, and oncologist Bichlien Nguyen, MD, stayed with her into the evening, detailing treatment options. Dr. Nguyen even drew pictures, which she shared with her family. Her children, then 5, 8, and 10, had a lot of questions. “They asked me, ‘Are you going to die?’ and I told them, ‘Not today,’” says Shawna.

Shawna and her husband, Bruno, decided to be open with Nicolas, Jacob and Emma. She recalls how Dr. Nguyen and her chemotherapy nurse even allowed the children to come to appointments. From these visits and experiences, the children began making gift bags for other patients undergoing chemotherapy for the first time. “I am thankful for the lessons in compassion my children have received from my breast cancer,” says Shawna.

A Tender Team Approach

Through it all, Shawna has relied on the empathy and wisdom of the comprehensive team of experts at the MemorialCare Breast Center at Orange Coast Medical Center. Each week, the multidisciplinary team of physicians meets to discuss the best therapies for each patient. One of the first centers in the county to earn accreditation by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC), the MemorialCare Breast Center at Orange Coast Medical Center is an American College of Radiology Breast Center of Excellence and offers comprehensive diagnostic care, including digital mammography and genetic counseling.

Homayoon Sanati, MD, medical director of the MemorialCare Breast Center at Orange Coast Medical Center, says patients appreciate the team’s personal approach. “We believe in evaluating and quickly implementing the best combination of treatment options,” explains Dr. Sanati. “It’s how we would treat our own family members.”

Shawna found that comforting. “Instead of a second opinion, it’s like having 17 expert opinions,” she says. Dr. Reitherman firmly believes there is a substantial benefit to bringing a team together to discuss treatment. “Having a cadre of subspecialists collaborating is invaluable, optimizing care far beyond what a second opinion ever could,” he adds.

“Instead of a second opinion, it’s like having 17 expert opinions!” – Shawna Manetta

Shawna now goes to Orange Coast Medical Center on Fridays for chemotherapy, laughing with and hugging other patients, doctors and staff. “I feel lucky that I can come here,” she says. “My life is better because I have them.”

Learn more and become proactive about breast care or to take a virtual tour of the MemorialCare Breast Center at Orange Coast Medical Center.