Battling cancer gives St. George woman a second chance at life

ST. GEORGE – When Shannon Drake Paxman went to the hospital in September she thought it was for nothing more than the same flu her dad had been fighting for over a week. But within a short time of going back in the emergency room, she was life-flighted to the Intermountain Medical Center in Salt Lake City and rushed in for brain surgery.

Initially, the doctors thought Paxman had had a stroke. The scan at Dixie Regional Medical Center had picked up spots on the brain they believed to be blood clots. Instead, they found a tumor.

That day, doctors confirmed Paxman, only 42 years old, had Metastatic Malignant Melanoma – skin cancer that moves.

Her cancer however, was not behaving typically. At stage four, which means the cancer has invaded major organs, it had already traveled to her brain but had not spread throughout her body as it commonly does with melanoma cancer. Additionally, brain tumors of this type are usually attached to the brain, but this one had not done that.

“They lifted my brain up and the tumor just fell out,” she said. “There were no feelers or anything there usually would be with a brain tumor like this. The other thing, too, is usually the cancer goes through your body first and then attacks the brain last. But with me, the cancer went to my brain first.”

The doctors expected Paxman would need speech and physical therapy after they removed the tumor, but that wasn’t the case either. After surgery, she was able to do everything she could before, leaving doctors perplexed. Nothing was as it should be, according to the medical textbooks and experts.

“They (the doctors) don’t know what to think,” she said. “The cancer isn’t doing what it’s supposed to. It hasn’t from the beginning.”

But Paxman also had another brain tumor and two spots on her lungs that required chemotherapy and radiation. Both she has experienced, for the most part, with a smile on her face.

“I don’t ever think, ‘Why me?’ I think well, ‘Why not me?’” she said. “I don’t waste time feeling sorry for myself (or) sitting around in self pity. I really believe this happened for a reason.”

Paxman doesn’t have much memory of that day at Dixie Regional Medical Center, but she does recall one thing that her brother said while ministering a blessing to her before she left to Salt Lake.

“Out of everything that happened that day, I don’t remember anything except for when my brother gave me my blessing and he told me that I was being given a second chance to get my life together,” she said.

It is this blessing, she said, that has sustained her through the most trying times and helped her to remain optimistic in spite of the disease. With two daughters, Laikyn, 13, and Landry, 10, and her high school sweetheart and husband Randy to care for, she knew she had to fight the cancer.

“I don’t have a choice, I have to stick around. My kids need me. Even Randy needs me. I don’t know, really know, what he would do without me,” she said laughing.

Paxman said it is difficult to have to rely on others to care for her now, she can no longer drive or work, but she doesn’t complain.

“I hate not being able to drive,” she said. “That’s the worst part because I’m so used to going, going, going. I’m independent and it’s hard for me to depend on other people for anything ­– especially driving.”

Paxman worked three days a week at Washington Elementary and fondly referred to herself as the “lunch lady.” She said the school was a place she loved to go, and she loved to see the people there.

After Paxman found out her diagnosis, it was her family she was the most distressed about. Having watched her family members go through another recent tragedy in their lives, she didn’t want to give them more to deal with.

“I just kept thinking, ‘Oh my God, my poor mom and dad and my children and sisters and brothers.’ I didn’t want them to have to go through this,” she said.

Still through it all, she remains upbeat and positive about the future. And rather than think about the cancer as something horrible that’s happened to her, she chooses to see it as a blessing in her life, as what her brother referred to in the blessing as – her second chance.

Because she and her family have no medical insurance, a band out of Las Vegas, Breaking Dawn, is holding a benefit rock concert Saturday, November 27 at 9 p.m. at the Firehouse (Sunset Bowling Alley).
There will also be a drawing for various prizes, including a guitar and Blue Oyster Cult tickets. All proceeds will go the Shannon Drake Paxman Cancer Fund. Donations can also be made to the Southern Utah Federal Credit Union in her name.

“Shannon is an amazing woman who has so much courage and we just want to help her any way we can,” said Stacie Jensen, a friend of Shannon who helped in organizing the benefit concert. “We encourage everyone who can to come out to the concert and help with raising money for her medical expenses. And if you can’t come out to the concert, then please just help by donating to her fund at the credit union.”

Email: tsullivan@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews | @tracie_sullivan

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2010, all rights reserved.

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