We caught up with Ms. Shapiro to talk with her about what winning the award meant to her, and to find out what she's been working on since.
What did you do with the $1,000 award money?
I gave the award money to the Cancer Therapy and Research Center (CTRC), part of UT Health San Antonio, for its Patient and Family Services. The Sarcoma Support Group I facilitate is part of these services’ Wellness Program. Mary Jackson, director of the CTRC Patient and Family Services, attended the ASTRO ceremony.
What was it like to win?
Winning the award felt like a celebration of winning my battle with cancer and a tribute to all of those in our Sarcoma Support Group at the CTRC who have had the battle – whether they were still alive or had passed.
I remembered our charter members who had lost their cancer fight but were role models in the way they embraced living by participating in the CTRC’s clinical trials and staying positive and faithful. I remembered our group members who are doing well and share their stories, love and support so freely with new members. I remembered my dear friends, family, co-workers, CTRC family and church members who gave me so much support during my year of radiation, surgery and chemotherapy. I was blessed to be celebrating my five-year anniversary of being cancer-free when I won the award so it was the catalyst for my closest supporters to come and celebrate with me.
How did you enjoy the Annual Meeting? What were your big takeaways from it?
I had a dozen people at the ceremony cheering me on. I was so touched by the appreciation and respect I received from Dr. Minsky, then-president of ASTRO. I had the honor of sitting next to him and I felt so special when he said my representing cancer patients is why everyone was here—working to beat cancer. It was a significant moment for me to be a part of the awards ceremony.
As a graduate of the University of Texas with generations of family members as UT alumni, ASTRO could not have picked a better person than Dr. Cigarroa [past president and chancellor of University of Texas] to present me with the award. His contributions to the University of Texas system and locally to UT Health San Antonio made the award presentation so special. It was amazing to be hearing Dr. Cigarroa talking about me!
Catch us up—what have you been up to since winning the award?
I have continued to stay very busy with our Sarcoma Support Group and cancer awareness since winning the award in October 2015.
Personally, for me, I am especially proud of my daughter applying for and being selected to be part of Texas 4000, a 4,000-plus mile bike ride from Austin, Texas, to Anchorage, Alaska, over 70 days to raise funds for cancer research and share hope and knowledge for cancer awareness. She is in training for the 2018 team ride and is dedicating her ride to me and my cancer survivorship. I am so touched and proud of her to volunteer to be part of this cause.
Lastly, I am adding a new dimension to my volunteer activities. My sister-in-law’s mother passed away on Christmas Eve 2016 from pancreatic cancer. When learning about the family’s difficulties in finding a musician, I volunteered to play my flute. I realized from the experience that I had another gift I could easily give to those in need and help ease their burden when a cancer patient has passed away. This volunteer activity also allows me to combine something I enjoy doing, playing the flute, with a cause that means so much to me, helping those affected by cancer. Now I am offering to play my flute at the services for those who have lost their battle with cancer, free of charge. As a cancer survivor, I think I can help provide a connection as well as ease the burden for a family who has lost a loved one to cancer.
I already had the opportunity to do this once. When I spoke about the desire to do this during my annual checkup at the CTRC, my PA mentioned that the CTRC staff had recently lost one of its own nurses to cancer. I coordinated with Mary Jackson and played my flute at the memorial. It was an honor to be part of the remembrance, especially for my CTRC family.
Would you advise other cancer survivors to apply for the Survivor Circle Award? Why or Why not?
There are several reasons I would advise cancer survivors to apply. As a volunteer, you are dedicating time and money for a cause important to you. I am so blessed the CTRC family of doctors, PAs, nurses, staff and our support group members continuously share how they appreciate my work. Being recognized by ASTRO for the volunteerism I choose to pursue is a huge boost of energy motivating me to want to do even more. During the lows of my cancer journey, I realized the legacy we leave is the positive impact we have in other’s lives and the memories we make with our family.
Another, more tangible reason to apply is that the recognition helps get publicity for your volunteer cause and the monetary award helps with the expenses that always appear. It felt great to be able to contribute the monetary award to the CTRC because it does so much for our Sarcoma Support Group and all cancer survivors.
I felt so blessed to have survived cancer and to be able to help so many others now as a credible cancer survivor. My husband and I like to remark how we can say what the football commentator is about to say during a game but we don’t have the credibility—because we didn’t play football like the ex-quarterback announcer. Now I know I can help others, especially because I have the credibility of going through the full regimen of radiation, surgery and chemotherapy.