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Survivor Spotlight featuring Joyce Shambley

10.25.2013 / Blog Posts Breast Cancer Awareness Community

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Our next special WOW survivor spotlight features Joyce Shambley, 61, a patient advocacy advisor for the Surgeon General of the United States whose favorite Redskins player is RGIII.  

Shambley, a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army, had no family history of cancer. In January 2009, while watching television, she discovered a lump the size of an extra large egg protruding from her breast. After receiving a diagnosis of Stage 3A triple negative breast cancer at Walter Reed Hospital where she works, Shambley began chemotherapy to shrink the tumor. Once the tumor had been reduced, she had a mastectomy and doctors declared her cancer-free in August 2009. Shambley underwent radiation treatment until October 2009 as an extra precaution to ensure that all the cancer in her breast area was gone. She’s been cancer-free for four years and is a “proud survivor” and “ambassador for breast cancer awareness.” Shambley wears at least one pink item every day in the month of October and recently added a pink RGIII shirt to her wardrobe.

How long have you been a Redskins fan?
Joyce Shambley: We came to the area in 1986 and we became Redskins fans because we were in a city where there’s a football team. My husband’s been a season ticket holder since 1990. We were based in Texas so we used to be Cowboys fans because we were stationed at Ft. Hood. In Texas we were just transients for three years, but we moved to D.C. and we knew we wanted to retire here.

What is your game day ritual or superstition?
Joyce Shambley: I am a very superstitious person. I collect elephants. Every Sunday that I watch a game and when I go to the games, I always wear an elephant with a trunk up for good luck. I have about 200 different elephant pins and on Redskins day, I always wear my maroon elephant -- and this year and last year I always wear my RGIII jersey. When I’m at the game when it’s time for RGIII to throw the ball, I rub my elephant. And when they line up to kick a field goal, I rub my elephant.

Who was your support system?
Joyce Shambley: When I told my husband and sister about the diagnosis, I didn’t give them the opportunity to respond because I wanted to keep everything positive. When you say the word cancer, people think of death. And it’s not like that anymore.

My sister basically became my caretaker. She and my husband would alternate taking me to my chemo treatments. After my surgery, my sister was my number one caretaker. When I had to drain the tubes, she would do that. She would make sure that I would eat. My husband was good about getting me to get up and go outside and walk around and exercise. My husband would take all my phone calls and take messages for me and let them know if I was sleeping or too tired to talk. When my sorority sisters found out I had cancer and I’d be going through treatment, they knew that my husband and sister would be nursing me back to health. They had a roster and my sorority sisters brought dinner to my house every night for eight straight months.

I’m still a government employee. I didn’t have any sick leave so I had to ask for people on the job at the hospital if they would donate annual leave to me so I could get paid while I was out of work. In two weeks after the notice went out, the human resources woman said she’d never seen anything like this before. I had over 1,100 donated hours given to me! That was enough to cover my entire eight months while I was out and I still have 387 hours of donated leave still in my account if I need it again. Some people have a hard time getting enough leave to carry them through a month and here I was in two weeks to receive a full year!

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Shambley on the field at the Redskins-Bears game on Oct. 20, 2013

What have you learned about yourself?
Joyce Shambley: I learned just how strong of a person I am. Before my journey, I was kind of quiet, really not outgoing. I loved to do things with people but once I went through my journey, I realized how strong and how I could help other ladies to get through journeys without being scared.

How have you changed since your journey?
Joyce Shambley: Once god gave me that second time to live and enjoy life, I don’t stress over anything. Thank god I have a stress-free job and I’ve been telling my story since the first day I was diagnosed with it. There has not been a day that I don’t tell someone about my journey. And as a result I go to organization, to churches, to treatment facilities, to see ladies that are going through it to lift their spirits, make them laugh. My sister said, “Ever since Joyce got breast cancer, she can’t stop talking!” I was a real private person. I’m blessed and count my blessings every day. I try to share as much as I can. People are so so good to me as I went through my breast cancer journey. I’m very open.

I talk to young men. I’ll be in the grocery store. I say the reason why I share my story with young men because if you think about it you all touch our breasts more than we do. And I tell you this because if you feel something while you’re you know touching or rubbing, let her know. We are supposed to check but sometimes we don’t and we miss things. And lots of us don’t take the time to examine our breasts like we’re supposed to.

If there’s one thing you would share with women reading this story, what would it be?
Joyce Shambley: Whatever you have to go through, stay positive. You have to stay positive because if you become depressed again, you’re going to be miserable. You’re going to be scared all the time. It’s okay to be scared. We’re not superwomen. It’s okay to be scared. But do not let that fear take over your life. And keep your faith strong in god and you’ll be okay. The journey that you go though is going to be a testimony to help someone else go through their journey.

How did the Redskins fan community impact your journey?
Joyce Shambley:  During the time I was going through my treatment, when we would tailgate, I would go to a game after finishing up a treatment and they were all just so happy to see me. People are scared for you until they can see you and see what you look like. I never had a sick look. They all said I never looked sick, I never acted sick.

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During the month of October --  in conjunction with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the NFL’s “A Crucial Catch” initiative -- we are delighted to introduce a blog series spotlighting breast cancer survivors on WOWRedskins.com. This Breast Cancer Survivor Spotlight Series will share the inspiring stories of these extraordinary women and special WOW members with the Redskins community while continuing to raise breast cancer awareness and educate women about the importance of annual screenings

Amanda Rykoff is a New York City-based sports writer. She’s a proud Penn alum, recovering attorney, devoted aunt, and voracious consumer of media. She has contributed to espnW.com, The Outside Corner, ONE World Sports, Sports On Earth, The Football Girl and other media outlets. Follow her on Twitter (@amandarykoff).

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