Second Chances

Two local women, kindred spirits in the battle with breast cancer, are now walking, talking proof that this battle can be won. Both declared cancer-free by their doctors, these women shared their journey from surviving to thriving, for the benefit of others.


From survive to thrive

“My problems and complaints pale in comparison to facing death; everything and everybody is very much appreciated!” said Michelle Leslie of Cary, who has returned to kickboxing and working out following cancer, and has taken up residential painting.

A former “tomboy” and later a New York model, Leslie’s life tumbled from confident to fearful following her 2012 diagnosis of stage 3 breast cancer. She had no symptoms or family history of the disease.

“I panicked for a few months till I had a battle plan for our family,” she said, which includes husband, Steve, and children Anderson, 19, and Eva, 15. “It took about two months to gather information from all the tests, then together with my oncologist we made a battle plan.

“If it had spread from my lymph nodes to any organs, I would have been diagnosed as stage 4, no longer curable, just treatable. During this time I started to plan my own funeral.”

Leslie underwent chemotherapy, radiation and bilateral mastectomies. When her hair and eyebrows began falling out, Eva cut off her mom’s pigtails and Steve shaved the rest of Leslie’s hair, as she worked to take control.

During her treatments, Leslie also continued to lead women’s worship as a volunteer at Calvary Chapel Cary.

While she didn’t understand why she had to endure the trial of cancer, her deep faith sustained her, and Leslie said she felt close to God in the midst of the storm. Now, through church referrals, she counsels other women in their recovery from breast cancer. 

“‘Whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow,’” she said, quoting James 4:14. “‘For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.’” Cancer drove this verse home for me.”

Leslie recommends that those affected by cancer surround themselves with other survivors. She also suggests muscle-sparing breast reconstruction procedure DIEP, or Deep Interior Epigastric Perforators.

“It’s the best-kept secret,” Leslie said, “because most surgeons cannot do the procedure. I got lucky and was referred to the one doctor in the area who does.”

The bottom line for a thriving Leslie is simple now: “Every day is a gift, not to be taken for granted. Cancer doesn’t define me. It’s just something I was forced to face, simply part of my story. And we all have a story.”


ONLINE ONLY: Read an update from former Cary Magazine contributor Pam Schmid, on her own battle with breast cancer. Click here.


Pay it forward

Around the same time Leslie was diagnosed, Shaunna Adams of Garner was playing with her daughter Bella when Bella elbowed her and caused an intense pain in Adams’ breast.

It was the unexpected start of a cancer journey that would include seven surgeries over a span of three years for Adams, plus chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

Through the maze of treatments, she made a new friend in nurse navigator Jean Poole, one of several people Adams says played “significant roles” in her trek.   

Adams’ husband, Robert, a Navy corpsman, was able to use 10 months of family medical leave to help during her recovery and look after the children, Baxter, 16, Brianna, 13, and Bella, 7.

Robert lovingly tries to slow her down, but Adams says she desperately wants to help cancer victims who cannot help themselves.

A beautician, Adams returned to work in “bulldozer” fashion, despite the effects of chemotherapy.

“‘Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain,’” she said, quoting author Vivian Greene.

Adams recommends that other women seek out the BRCA genetic test for breast cancer and have regular mammograms. She notes that resources for free mammograms are available for those with financial need. 

During Adams’ treatments, the family received help from the Caring Community Foundation, a Cary nonprofit that aids cancer patients financially so they can focus on recovery. Now a CCF ambassador, Adams is determined to pay that forward by opening Fancy Fighters, a thrift store manned by volunteers, with the same goal. She encourages women to join in. 

“Volunteering provides a means of recovery and survival,” Adams said of the healing process after cancer. “You share your talents by helping women who are fighting a war, to survive physical, spiritually and financially.”

Editor’s note: Fancy Fighters, at 525 Plaza Circle in Garner, will hold its “Get Pinked” grand opening Sept. 27. Also, the Caring Community Foundation will hold its annual fundraiser, Pay It Forward, Sept. 13; for more information, see

Find help
Breast Cancer Resource Center of NC:

Survival rate for breast cancers that are detected early

To do:
Know your family health history
Get screened
Know what’s normal for you, and watch for changes

Make healthy choices:

  •     exercise
  •     limit alcohol
  •     maintain a healthy weight

Optimizing vitamin D levels could cut breast cancer incidence.

Sources: and American Journal of Clinical Nutrition at

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