Looking at Shaun Mattix, you would never know she’s fought breast cancer. In fact, Mattix said she never imagined she would be diagnosed with the disease.
Coming from a family where there was no worry and no utterance of the “c” word, Mattix said she grew up completely unafraid of ever being one of the 12 percent of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer.
According to cancer.gov, as many as 226,870 women and 2,190 men are expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer this year; of those, 39,510 women and 410 men could die, according to statistical trends.
Mattix, the Cleburne ISD special education resource clerk, said she feels as if she “cheated” on her road to recovery from breast cancer, having caught it early enough to avoid chemotherapy and radiation.
“My healing process began right away,” she said. “This sounds crazy, but it’s a great time to have breast cancer.”
Mattix is cancer-free and is doing so well that she wants to pay her blessings forward through a cancer support group she’s starting at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Cleburne.
It’s only fitting that the group has its first meeting in October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
She said she wants others to know they are not alone, that it’s OK to be afraid and that a diagnosis is not a death sentence.
“I went to the doctor every year, and used my Christmas break to get all of that stuff done,” Mattix said of the discovery in late 2010. “When I went that time, the technician said, ‘We’ve got a little calcification there, and it’s more than we normally see.’
“The technician was very informative about what everything was. We pulled up the screening from the year before and saw there was just a few dots. So I wasn’t surprised when they called a few days later and said I had cancer. I was prepared.”
When Mattix was diagnosed, her doctors told her she was lucky: at Stage one, she had a high chance of recovering quickly and beating the disease. However, after a lumpectomy surgeons had bad news. The margins weren’t clear and surgeons would need to take more breast tissue, as they hadn’t cut out all of the cancer.
That’s when Mattix made the decision to have a bilateral mastectomy, despite her doctor’s thinking there was no cancer in her other breast.
“To me, if I had it in one, odds are ... ” Mattix said. “After they biopsied the other breast, they found it had cancer also. Of all the crazy things to happen.”
Mattix lost her brother, Richard, to colon cancer in 2003, making her the second person in her family to fight a form of the disease. In 2005, the then-smoker decided to apply for cancer insurance on the advise of her husband, Cleve. She said she also had to think about her two sons, Clif, now 35, and Stephen, 27.
“[Cleve] said, ‘Maybe you ought to think about getting more insurance,’” Mattix said. “So I did, and then I just never got rid of the insurance even though I stopped smoking that year.”
Nearly forgetting about the policy, Mattix said she was surprised and relieved when she received her first insurance check in the mail for several thousand dollars.
Paying it forward
“I just feel like I have to give back,” Mattix said. “I need to pay it forward, even if I have to wear pink.”
Despite her dislike for rose-colored hues, Mattix makes it a point to show off the fact that she’s survived cancer, even having contemplated tattooing a tiny pink ribbon on her wrist — maybe.
“I don’t know if I want to go through any more pain,” she said with a laugh.
After the mastectomy and long healing process, Mattix made the decision to go forward with reconstructive surgery in August 2011, less than a year after her diagnosis.
“It’s a very visual issue, when your breasts are gone,” Mattix said. “I thought about not even having them done, but I felt like I had lost a part of myself, like I wasn’t a whole person anymore.”
Now that she’s had a year to heal and overcome the biggest obstacles of the disease, Mattix has found passion for something she wished she had — locally — while going through the various stages of treatment.
“The first thing I did when I was diagnosed was look for a support group,” she said. “There’s not really any that are close. Luckily, my sister and brother-in-law live in Fort Worth and I got my treatment there, where there were support groups.”
Lori Putansu, a radiologic mammographer at Texas Health Cleburne, said any help women can get when going through treatment is not only beneficial mentally, but also to the overall self. She said she believes women who carry positive thoughts and self esteem heal faster than those who do not.
That’s why THC is happy to back Mattix, Putansu said.
THC’s mammography technicians hold more than 75 years of experience as a team, but Patansu said talking to someone who has actually walked through the disease themselves is entirely different than talking to medical personnel.
The idea Mattix came up with is simple: a group of people talking about the good, bad and ugly of cancer, as well as the funny, not-so-funny and blessings it brings. Family members, friends and anyone curious about the disease are welcome to attend.
“It fits in with the mission of Texas Health Cleburne, that we believe we need to improve the overall health of people in the community,” Putansu said.
Mattix’s group meets in the boardroom of the hospital from 6-7:30 p.m. Monday with light refreshments available.
For more information, call THC at 817-566-2551.