May 04, 2023

What I’ve Learned – “A cancer diagnosis is not a cookie cutter experience”

Although there are millions of people currently facing cancer, it can be a lonely experience. Not only is each cancer case different, but each patient's life beyond the waiting room is filled with unique strengths, challenges, goals, and relationships. In this series, we celebrate the people who are our patients and share what they've learned while charting their own path.

In August 2021, Shelly W. felt a lump in her breast when getting out of the shower. She booked an appointment with her doctor for the following week. There, a biopsy indicated that she had invasive mucinous (colloid) breast cancer. As a survivor and Oncotype DX® Patient Ambassador, Shelly now shares her story in the hope of inspiring others to explore their own treatment options.

What did life look like for you before the diagnosis?

I was very busy. I worked full-time. I had been with the same company for over 20 years and was starting to plan for retirement. I exercised five days a week and spent my spare time cooking and baking, which is what I love to do.

Building your healthcare team is an important step with a cancer diagnosis. What is one tip you would give someone?

I would recommend that patients do their due diligence. Talk to others about their experiences and be open about your diagnosis.  Breast cancer is nothing to be ashamed of. Realize that a cancer diagnosis is not a cookie cutter experience, each journey is different. The ideas and tips you get from others are helpful but also make sure you decide on what is right for you.

You were initially worried when your doctor recommended the Oncotype DX Breast Recurrence Score® test to help inform the best course of treatment. What concerns did you have and what eventually changed your mind?

The first thought I had was, “Why now?” This was brought to my attention after the results of the tumor were delivered to me. Since there was nothing in my lymph nodes, I thought that I would be clear for getting started with radiation. Now I had to wait another two weeks to get results. My doctor discussed with me that the size of the tumor is why she wanted this test done. She helped put my mind at ease. When the score came back, it was higher than what she was expecting but still within the range that meant my breast cancer was unlikely to benefit from chemotherapy.

Was there a time you advocated for yourself during your diagnosis or treatment?

A friend of mine who also had breast cancer, suggested that I request an MRI to make sure all tumors were found. This is because I have dense breast tissue and sometimes a mammogram does not pick up everything. I really pushed to have it done without delaying my surgical date. My doctor agreed it would be a good idea since I have dense breast tissue, and she worked her schedule to make it all happen. There were additional tumors found and biopsies were done to determine they were benign. I was glad that I brought it up and I felt my physician heard me.  I also made sure to do all of this respectfully, knowing how much she had on her plate.

Was there anything that helped you maintain a sense of normalcy following your diagnosis or treatment?

My treatment involved receiving radiation five days a week for four weeks. During this time, I kept going to my exercise class. It was an important part of my normal routine that I didn’t want to lose. I also learned that continuing my class helped me reduce fatigue from the radiation.

What support did you need? What did you tell people when they wanted to help?

I found it difficult to ask for help. I tend to be a do-it-yourself type of person but was also worried about wasting others’ time. I really appreciated that my loved ones let me talk through the issues without trying to fix things. They didn’t jump in and say what they thought I needed, they just listened.

How do you relate to your experience now?

It is still part of my journey and I want to take care of myself even more so now. 

What would you say to someone that was recently diagnosed? 

Bring a support person to your appointments so they can take notes. It is a scary time and you may not hear everything the doctors say, so having someone there with you is helpful. I would also recommend reaching out to others that have had a similar cancer diagnosis to hear about their experience and journey. Do not keep it hidden.

Why do you think it's important to share your experience?

The more we spread awareness about this cancer and the number of people impacted by it, the more help and support we can provide. Also, hearing from others on their journey helped me not feel so alone. I want to share my story so I can help others in the same way. 


This story reflects one individual’s experience and is not clinical, diagnostic, or treatment advice for any particular patient. Not every person will have the same treatment, experience, outcome, or result.

The Oncotype DX Breast Recurrence Score® test is ordered by your health care provider. Talk to your health care provider about whether the Breast Recurrence Score® test may be right for you. To learn more, visit

If you've used an Oncotype DX® test and are interested in sharing your story with our team, please get in touch here: We'd love to hear from you!