Longtime Steamboat resident receives help from family, friends during battle with breast cancer
When a friend battled breast cancer years ago, Steamboat Springs resident Bina Shah traveled with her to medical treatments on the Front Range.
Devastatingly, that friend in her early 30s eventually lost her battle when the cancer spread.
Since March 2021, Shah has counted on her good friends to help her fight her own battle against breast cancer. Her last chemotherapy appointment was in mid-May this year. She is recovering well now, but slowly. Shah spent eight months largely at home in bed due to months of multiple surgeries, procedures and complications. She spent about six months not being able to raise her elbows from her side to facilitate healing after the complications.
That decrease in activity was especially tough on the usually active, 30-year Routt County resident who loves to ski and bike. Friends were integral to her healing, she said. Friends came by to take her to sit by the river, to look at flowers together, take a 5-minute walk or watch silly television shows. Friends brought and made meals or sat with her with a cup of tea. She is incredibly grateful for the support.
“I just realize how many people I have in my life who care about me,” said Shah, 49. “You really truly know and see how many people support you.”
“I would encourage people to allow the people in their lives to be there for them because you are going to need the support,” added Shah, whose parents stayed in Steamboat for five weeks to help after her first surgery.
Shah also found support from her only sibling, her brother who is an internal medicine physician.
Shah said she was honored to share her story despite being somewhat withdrawn.
“I’m a very private person and don’t like to have attention, but I’m definitely one to put myself out there if it’s going to help people,” said Shah. “It’s nice to be able to provide a little guidance because I just went through it and remind people about all the resources. If I could even help one person be an advocate for their own health, I feel like that’s something.”
Shah encourages women to schedule regular mammogram screenings, listen to their bodies when something seems off and support other people with breast cancer.
“I really, really, really encourage mammograms,” said Shah. “We women go through plenty of uncomfortable exams, and a mammogram is not that bad in comparison. Just make the appointment and do it.”
Since her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 41, and Shah had numerous aunts and uncles with cancer, she knew she was at an increased lifetime risk of developing cancer. She started scheduling regular mammograms at age 38, three years before the age of her mom’s diagnosis.
“With my mom, if they had not found that early and been proactive, we could have lost her when I was 11,” Shah noted.
At age 40, Shah’s regular screenings identified lumps that were removed and non-cancerous. That put her on a schedule for mammogram, ultrasound and MRI screenings every six months. When she was diagnosed with HER2-positive breast cancer in one breast at age 47, she opted for double mastectomy surgery performed in Steamboat. She wanted to stay in her normal, beautiful surroundings.
She chose the more extensive surgical option due to her family history and to avoid the fears of cancer coming back in the other breast.
“I don’t want to live my life with a higher chance of getting cancer. I saw it as a preventative measure and quality of life. For me, worrying about getting cancer again was a bigger deal,” Shah said.
Similar to many other patients, Shah notes mental fog due to chemotherapy is a true challenge. She pulled from her experience as a writer and editor, plus her post-graduate work in psychoneuroimmunology, to become an extensive note-taker during her care. She encourages all ill patients to keep a medical journal to record questions and answers.
“Keep a notebook to write down how you felt, what foods you could and couldn’t eat, to get into a routine to take some of the stress off you,” Shah said. “If you can keep a journal, you can also ask your nurse or doctor ‘is this OK or something you can find relief to.’ This helps for your mental, chemo fog because you can’t always remember. Words don’t come to me as quickly still.”
Shah wants to recognize the support teams of technicians, nurses and doctors at both local medical services, the Gloria Gossard Breast Care Center and Jan Bishop Cancer Center.
“They really made my journey so much safer with team communication. They have a wonderful way they all treat patients, the care, love and support they give everybody,” Shah said. “I felt heard, and I’m very thankful.”
The post-surgery treatment Shah received through UCHealth SportsMed Clinic at Yampa Valley Medical Center was able to translate to new medical treatments for her mom, who still suffers from post-treatment lymphedema, or painful swelling in her arm.
Shah also had to deal with lymphedema, or swelling after damage to the lymphatic system, with help from a certified lymphedema therapist on staff at Sports Med and the use of a massage pump vest. Now she works to give back by serving on the UCHealth Lymphedema Network of Excellence Patient Advisory Board that started in 2021.
Growing up in many different states and countries because her dad was a petroleum engineer made Shah a tougher person with a broader perspective on life. She has learned, however, to appreciate and receive all the help and services she can get.
She also encourages patients to “let go of the financial stress until you heal because it’s not going to help you heal.”
“Don’t be afraid to accept support when you are going into this. There are going to be good days and awful days,” Shah said. “Be an advocate for yourself, or help your friends be an advocate. Ask lots of questions. There are so many resources to reach out to, nurses, doctors, friends, support groups. I feel lucky my supportive systems are incredible.”
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Steamboat and Routt County make the Steamboat Pilot & Today’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.