Shary Iobst - Life after "Cancer World"

October 15, 2007|By MARIE GILBERT

Sometimes, cancer likes to play games.

Just ask Shary Iobst.

For several years, Iobst was being treated for a cyst in her breast.

"I had found a lump, went to my doctor and tests showed that it was a cyst," the local resident says. "I would have it drained, it would fill up, and I would have to have it drained again."

Although she knew the growth was benign, it was still a source of worry.

"My mother and my grandmother both had breast cancer," she says, "so that was always in the back of my mind. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted the cyst removed."

It was during surgery that the unexpected occurred. A cancerous tumor was hiding behind the cyst.

"I had had mammograms and ultrasounds and the only thing that showed up was the cyst," Iobst says. "What we didn't see was the tumor behind it."


Iobst says she was in a state of shock.

It was a sizable tumor - about an inch in diameter and encapsulated in fibrous tissue. Iobst says it had probably been there for five years.

"If I wouldn't have insisted on having the cyst removed, I probably wouldn't be here today," she says. "I believe that it was my mom - my own personal angel - who got into my head and prompted me to have that cyst taken out."

Because of the size of the tumor, Iobst had a lumpectomy, four rounds of chemotherapy, axillary lymph node dissection and 34 radiation treatments.

"It was a lot to deal with, but I did OK," Iobst recalls. "I really had a thing about getting sick because my mom had become deathly ill with chemotherapy. But my oncologist was wonderful. I was given anti-nausea drugs and believe it or not, I didn't get sick."

Iobst, who at the time was 48, says she couldn't have gotten through her ordeal without the support of her family.

"Everyone was stunned, but they were wonderful," she says. "My dad lived 125 miles away and was in his 70s, but he drove down and stayed with me. 'I'll keep you company,' he told me."

She was especially touched by her son-in-law, who knowing Iobst was concerned about losing her hair, shaved his head as a show of support.

"I was worried how people would react when I started losing my hair," she says. "In the beginning, I would sneak up to the mirror and look and be devastated. But I got over it. My co-workers gave me a Mickey Mouse ball cap, my daughter gave me a pair of big hoop earrings and I'd put on a pair of sunglasses. I remember one of my first trips out of the house was to the Leitersburg Peach Festival. I was so scared that people would be looking at me. Nobody noticed. That gave me the courage to go out more often."

Iobst says it has been 11 years since her breast cancer surgery and every day she is proud of the battle she has fought and won.

"In the beginning, it was tough," she says. "But the one thing I learned is that you can't do this alone. Your own head can be your worst enemy. When you're by yourself, every terrible thought runs through your brain. That's why I was so happy to be part of the Breast Cancer Awareness groups. It's wonderful to be able to be with people who are thinking what you're thinking, having the same symptoms, the same questions. It's important to have someone who has been there and can hold your hand."

Talking with breast cancer survivors gave Iobst a lot of hope.

"I began telling myself that my symptoms were not going to last forever and that I probably wasn't going to die," she says.

Today, Iobst is a member of the BCA's board of directors.

"I love staying involved with the organization," she says. "If one good thing came out of having cancer it's the lifelong friends I have made who were part of the support groups. Now we vacation together, party together, do things that are not cancer-related."

Employed with the State of Maryland with the Developmental Disabilities Administration, Iobst is also thankful to her co-workers who were supportive throughout her diagnosis and recovery.

"They made it easy for me not to feel self-conscious," she says. "I wanted to remain active; so after my surgery I went right back to work. And everyone was great. I encourage people to stick to their regular routine because it can be an anchor."

Most importantly, Iobst encourages newly diagnosed breast cancer patients to stay positive.

"Keep telling yourself that things will get better," she says. "I'm proof that there is life after, what I call, 'cancer world'."

Marie Gilbert is a feature writer for The Herald-Mail Company. She can be reached at

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