Battling cancer: 'Taking charge, staying positive and having a really good sense of humor gives you strength'

“Having strength is all about attitude,” said Shirley Trainor-Thomas, a breast cancer survivor, who refers to her husband Jim (Thomas) as her “angel.”

"It's not good news, Princess."

"Those were the exact words the doctor used when calling to tell me about my breast biopsy results last year. There was no need for him to explain. My heart stopped for a moment and then I said, 'OK, what are we going to do about it?'"

That afternoon my husband and I were in the surgeon's office to discuss my options. First, a lumpectomy and we would go from there. The results of that were not great -- two lymph- nodes had cancer cells.

So, the plan was chemo then bi-lateral mastectomy. But the doctor just wasn't convinced that chemo was indicated. He asked me to take the Oncotype DX test, which is a big step toward personalized medicine. It tests tissue at the molecular level and gives you a score -- the lower the score, the less impact chemo will have on your outcome. Mine was extremely low.

After much research and consulting with several oncologists around the country, I opted to not have chemo. The next step was mastectomy and reconstruction. I saw this as the bright side. While I was losing my bosoms, I was going to get shiny new ones.

So, off to the plastic surgeon I went for reconstruction. I now have perfect new bosoms that he created using the fat from my tummy. I went into the operating room with bosoms and came out with bosoms -- and a flat tummy.

The thing I learned through all of this was taking charge is critical. Medicine is changing drastically. It's important for people to do their due diligence about treatment and reconstruction options. It's hard because when you have the diagnosis, your mind is in a fog -- it's all you can think about. You have so many questions and don't always understand the answers. There are so many resources. At one point, my husband restricted me from the Internet. He said I reached a point of diminishing returns. At the same time, those resources led me to my plan of action.

Breast cancer is awful. Not everyone wins the fight. But taking charge, staying positive and having a really good sense of humor gives you strength. That's the way my angel of a husband and I handled it and, at least for now, all is good.

Shirley Trainor-Thomas lives in Mount Pleasant and has written a lighthearted patient booklet to help others understand what they might go through during reconstruction.

To mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month, The Post and Courier will be taking a look at some of the issues related to the disease. Here are more of the stories you can look for:

Tuesday: What's it like to have breast cancer when you're under 40? In Your Health

Friday: Your first-person stories about battling breast cancer. In Moxie

Oct. 8: Race for the Cure special section.

Oct. 11: What's happening in Charleston regarding breast cancer research. In Your Health