MaryEllen’s Journey: Coping with a New Reality (Episode 3)


When you last saw MaryEllen Sheppard in Episode 2, she spoke about how she was beginning to lose her hair. 

After two rounds of chemotherapy, MaryEllen said  she was beginning to lose clumps at a time. She knew the day was coming.  But the awkwardness of going bald wasn’t what was engulfing her. As her husband Chuck began to shave her head as the Melissa Etheridge song “I Run For Life” was playing in the background, the loss of hair was making the cancer diagnosis hit home even harder.

“…From the very core of me came these emotions – something about all the women, the daughters, the mothers, the grandmothers that are now going through breast cancer and have to go through chemo and then have to go through the loss of hair and potentially the loss of life – it just got to me,” recalled MaryEllen. “The tears just flowed.”

In this latest installment of Mayo Clinic’s multi-part video series, MaryEllen and her sister Eileen speak about the hair loss and  how a breast cancer diagnosis impacts a family.

Below is bonus footage of MaryEllen discussing why she decided to enroll in a clinical trial at Mayo Clinic.

Click here if you missed Episode 1

As always, please feel free to post a comment about the series or leave a message for MaryEllen after each episode.

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7 Responses to “MaryEllen’s Journey: Coping with a New Reality (Episode 3)”

  1. Naola Conner Says:

    The example of Mary Ellen Sheppard’s choice to overcome cancer with a joyful courage is life-changing.

    Her roots go deep –she has nourished them well.

    We are blessed to have her as our daughter.

    Mom and Dad.

  2. Chrissie Schwan Says:

    Your words, poise, eloquence and message, MaryEllen, are that of an enlightened Yogini…one who pursues a higher power and opening within our heart and Self! Interesting how your current “journey” has opened your Heart and Soul to your Self. Women, in particular, care for others first, your words ring TRUE for all of us…STOP, take the time for You! It is your lifeline, your energy source, your connection to the Divine, God!

    Thank you for sharing your heart and soul to us MaryEllen! I am listening, I am heeding your words and I am, we all are, connected to you in LOVE!


  3. Karlene Parish Says:

    You are beautiful and inspiring! Thank you so much for sharing your story… I was diagnosed yesterday with TNBC. I am still waiting for an appointment to be arranged with an Oncologist. Your decision to participate in a clinical trial was very inspiring to me. There have been so many women before us who have fought for the advancements we have today in breast cancer and I know I have received some of the benefits they gave their lives for…I too would like to help….so if more are needed for your clincial trial email me the information.
    By the way…you’re going to love being a grandma. I have seven beautiful grandchildren and they truly are a blessing! Thank you and remember, This to shall pass.

    • MaryEllen Says:

      You have just been diagnosed. Yet, your first thoughts are to help others and to acknowledge those who came before and made it possible for women today to experience cancer with hope. I am in awe of your courage. I am inspired by your unselfishness. I am so sorry you are faced with a triple negative breast cancer diagnosis, but maybe, just maybe, us grandmas can help them find a way to better treatments or even a cure! You are right, Karlene, this too shall pass. But the blessings that come from people like you reaching out in support and concern, they are forever. May you know many such blessings throughout your own journey.

  4. Caroline Reynolds Says:

    Mary Ellen, I understand particularly your “hair” story. My cancer is gyn cancer, not breast, but my hair fell out, too. I was in the shower when big chunks came out in my hand. I just sat down and cried as hard as I’d ever cried. I know in a rational way that my hair is not who I am. It’s absence became, however, a constant reminder that I have cancer. I could not turn my head on my pillow at night, see my reflection in a window, a mirror, even in my friends’ eyes without being reminded by the absence of my hair that cancer was growing in my body. I am treated at Mayo, Rochester, even through I live in Texas. It is worth every minute I spend on a plane to experience the care I get there. We are still battling gyn cancer, hoping for more effective treatments.

    • MaryEllen Says:

      Caroline, despite your difficult situation, compounded by the need to travel, you took the time to reach out to me. Thank you! That just shows what a deeply compassionate woman you are. I am grateful for your willingness to share a part of yourself. Although, I must admit, the heartache that is cancer is multiplied each time you think of others going through the same or even worse experiences.

      With respect to the hair, I remember the tears that flowed in the shower. Don’t you love showers? That is where you can give yourself permission to let the emotions flow. The spirit is cleansed along with the body.

      With respect to the baldhead, here is what helped me…my baldhead wasn’t a symbol of my cancer. In reality, cancer didn’t cause the loss of hair. So, I chose to see it for what it was. My baldhead was a symbol of my fight against cancer. My baldhead was my battle helmet, smooth, round and hard :)! With the full forces of the chemo drugs and the healthcare team, I was armed. I was going into battle and I was not alone. Most importantly, I believed, my battle helmet and I were going to win the war.

      A lot of really fun wigs also helped. I got costume wigs to wear to go with my moods. It’s a great time of year for that!

      Thank you for reaching out to me…I hope I am able to give you some encouragement and support in return. You will remain in my thoughts and prayers and those of so many others who care so deeply about the fight against cancer.

  5. Tina Miller Says:

    Prayers and blessings to you, Mary Ellen. Thank you for participating in this trial and also for sharing your experience with us.
    Your bravery is inspiring. You are beautiful!


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