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Henrico School Board Member Marcie Shea on breast cancer battle: 'I have so much that's unfinished'

Posted at 5:25 PM, Mar 07, 2022

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- During a January Facebook update on what's happening in Henrico County, School Board Member Marcie Shea shifted the topic and got personal.

"For the last six years, I've been in remission for breast cancer. But the week before winter break, I found out the cancer has returned in an inoperable manner," Shea said.

Shea's been diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer.

"I think as a survivor you always have in the back of your mind that it could happen," Shea said.

Six years ago, at 36-years old and with two toddlers, Shea knew something didn't feel right.

"I was still nursing my youngest and that comes with all kinds of lumps and bumps. But something in the back of my head said you know what I'll have this checked out just in case," Shea said.

With no family history of breast cancer, an ultrasound and biopsy revealed stage one breast cancer. Two tumors with very aggressive cells.

"Our family motto we chose is 'choose joy.' Every step of the way and get this done and move on," Shea said.

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Shea eventually beat breast cancer.

During her six years in remission, she left her full-time teaching job at Freeman High School. However, Shea remained in the classroom helping both students and teachers. Shea also ran for the school board representing the Tuckahoe district.

Recently, it happened again. Something didn't feel right.

"I've been having some back pain. It actually took a couple of months of scans and specialists to figure out that it was actually the cancer that returned," Shea said.

This time, the news hit differently.

"I think one thing that really hit me this time I felt like that I have so much that's unfinished. I don't want to leave things unfinished. So, how do I prioritize my time and my energy where it really matters?" Shea said.

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"One in three patients might experience a recurrence in their lifetime after having an original cancer," Dr. Hetal Vachhani, medical oncologist at VCU Massey Cancer Center, said.

Dr. Vachhani said metastatic cancer can be localized near the original site or the cancer cells can move to a different organ or place that is distant from the breast.

Vachhani said after the first diagnosis, patients go into surveillance mode. They'll undergo physical exams for months for at least five years. She also said doctors rely on patients to pay attention to their bodies.

'Being vigilant about what is normal for them and what's abnormal," Vachhani said.

This month, Shea will begin the most aggressive form of her treatment.

She vows to continue her work on the school board.

"I anticipate being able to finish my term for as long as I can. I feel like I'm in this position for a reason," Shea said.

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Surgery is not an option this time for Shea. Chemotherapy, radiation, and other therapies are treatment options. Dr. Vachanni said those treatment options are much better compared to just 10 years ago.