Kelly Shanahan, MD, a former obstetrician/gynecologist, was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer in 2008 and then diagnosed with metastatic disease in 2013, on her birthday. Here she talks about how empowering it was to participate in the #ThisIsMBC Serenity Project, which gives women and men living with metastatic breast cancer an opportunity to tell their personal stories through a series of unique pictures and inspiring videos.
Running time: 4:01
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Kelly Shanahan: Hi, my name is Kelly Shanahan. I’m a wife, a mother, a daughter, a doctor, a woman living with metastatic breast cancer. I was diagnosed early stage in 2008, and 5 years later became metastatic, on my birthday in 2013.
I was given a death sentence that also gave me the opportunity to live. Metastatic breast cancer has stolen a lot from me. It has stolen my career as a doctor. I was an OBGYN. I have permanent neuropathy in my hands. Who wants a gynecologist who can’t feel the scalpel or an obstetrician who might fumble the baby?
It will steal my life, but in the meantime I have found my voice and my passion and my purpose in advocacy. I’ve been involved with organizations like MET UP, of which I am medical director, and METAvivor, which raises a lot of money for metastatic-specific breast cancer research. And through this affiliation with METAvivor I learned about the Serenity Project.
So having a little bit of chemo brain I read the application, I filled it out, and what I retained from it was it was an opportunity, almost like a little retreat for metastatic breast cancer patients to go to Johnson City, Tennessee and do some photography, and there was something about water, and I was accepted. And when I was accepted and Beth Fairchild, the president of METAvivor contacted me, I was like, “What was that?” She’s like, “You know, the thing with the underwater, naked, body-painted photo shoot,” and I went, “Okay.” Because guess what? Since I’ve been diagnosed with metastatic disease, I mean, I’m going to die, so what’s the worst that can happen, I embarrass myself? As I say, I no longer have any Fs to give.
So I took myself to Johnson City, Tennessee, where with photographer Keith Dixon and his wife, Ren Allen, the amazingly talented body paint artist, I was able to participate in this very transformative project. One of the unique things and the things that is so empowering about this is Keith’s first wife died from metastatic breast cancer. Her name was Serenity. Ren’s mother died from metastatic breast cancer. So even though I was standing there nakey in front of strangers, they were people who’ve been through the same things, and it was so comforting and such a sense of family.
Ren asked me if I had any ideas of what I’d like to be painted, and unfortunately I was 30 pounds heavier at the time, and I’m like, “Well, you can just do a whale.” And I just gave her free reign to do whatever she wanted. I’m like, “My skills and talents lie in medicine. I am not an artist, you’re an artist, do what you want.” And she painted me in this crazy abstract pattern that I think was based on the fact that I had a purple streak in my hair at the time. And I got in the water with Keith, in the water with his underwater camera, and it was so freeing and it was so amazing to be a part of this project that hopefully lets people know that we may have metastatic disease, we may be dying from this, but right now we’re living and we have a lot to offer.
And so maybe if people see this and they see the people we are, maybe it’ll encourage them to study the metastatic patient, maybe it’ll encourage more money for research, and I’ve left a legacy. Not to mention this is going to embarrass my 19-year-old daughter from now until kingdom come, so it is a total win.