Amid Grief and Challenges, a Lasting Friendship Was Forged - After Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Amid Grief and Challenges, a Lasting Friendship Was Forged

— By Gina Rich

May 14, 2024

While breast cancer brought Shannon Coffey and Dawn Bobo together, it was the shared experience of grief and loss that cemented a special bond between the women.

After being diagnosed with HER2-positive breast cancer in 2023, Shannon reached out to ABCD: After Breast Cancer Diagnosis to request a Mentor. ABCD connected Shannon with Dawn Bobo.

Shannon lives in Colorado, while Dawn lives in Wisconsin. But as with other close Mentor-Participant matches, geographic distance did not matter. “We immediately bonded,” says Shannon.

As they talked, the women realized they had more in common than a diagnosis. Shannon had lost her mother to cancer; Dawn’s parents, husband, and stepson also died from the disease. Dawn’s grief was compounded when her daughter passed away from Wilson’s disease at age 26, leaving behind a young child.

An Extraordinary Loss, Then a Diagnosis

Dawn’s breast cancer journey began in 2011, just as she was grieving the loss of her daughter. “Two days after the funeral, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 inflammatory breast cancer,” says Dawn.

Her treatment included six months of chemotherapy, followed by surgery and radiation. Before the surgery, Dawn’s doctor handed her a card with ABCD’s information. “That’s how I got my Mentor, who was wonderful to me,” Dawn says. “She was a long-term survivor when it really wasn’t common for that type of cancer, so she was a real motivator for me.”

As she faced her diagnosis and all of its repercussions, Dawn was determined to be there for her grandchild, who was then in kindergarten. “I said to the doctor: I’m going to be the best patient you ever had because I’m not ready to leave my granddaughter, and I’ll do whatever it takes,” Dawn says.

Months later, Dawn’s granddaughter was there to help celebrate Dawn’s final radiation session, and even told the doctor, “I’m a tough Norwegian, just like my grandma,” Dawn recalls.

Dawn also found strength and inspiration in her mother, a longtime breast cancer survivor who had faced several recurrences, including during Dawn’s own treatment. “She was my hero, best friend, and love of my life. She taught me to care for others the way I do,” Dawn says.

Giving Back and Finding Friendship

Reflecting on her breast cancer journey, Dawn says her Mentor made a positive difference. “It was amazing how I came through it with her support,” she says. In 2014, Dawn completed ABCD’s Mentor training. She has been matched with several Participants, but her bond with Shannon turned out to be especially strong.

Both women missed talking with their mothers, and they soon found solace in each other. “We filled a great hole that we both had by finding this friendship,” says Dawn, who talks with Shannon nearly every day.

Through a heartbreakingly difficult year, Dawn was a steady presence for Shannon. She supported Shannon during chemotherapy and after Shannon’s father passed away from cancer in the summer of 2023. And when Shannon experienced a setback and broke her femur, Dawn was there to offer comfort and encouragement as her friend healed.

In spring 2024, Dawn traveled to Colorado to visit with Shannon in person for the first time. “It’s like meeting someone you already know, which is so cool,” says Dawn.

Together with friends, they celebrated Shannon’s birthday. “We did a Snow White-themed birthday where everybody wore Minnie Mouse ears and t-shirts,” says Shannon.

“It was so fun,” Dawn says. She’s already planning her next visit.

Sharing a Journey of Resilience and Faith

A breast cancer diagnosis “touches on different emotions that you never knew were there,” says Shannon. The disease can bring you to the brink of despair, but you can also find resilience. “Your life may never be the same,” she says. “It can be life-shattering. But you can also make it into a metamorphosis.”

To this end, Shannon chose the blue morpho butterfly as a symbol of her personal journey. The insect is native to Mexico, Central America, and South America. “It means wishmaker and healer,” says Shannon.

For Shannon, life after cancer has included many creative projects. To commemorate her final treatment session, Shannon turned her radiation mask into a Joan of Arc-style helmet. Her apartment holds a mini gallery of her paintings, featuring bright, colorful flowers and cactuses. Shannon hopes to visit New Mexico soon to see the cactuses in person. For now, she says she’s living vicariously through Dawn’s travels.

Like Shannon, Dawn approaches survivorship with gratitude and hope. “Every day is a gift to me, and I just want to live every day to the fullest,” she says. Dawn loves to spend time on her pontoon boat at the lake, fishing and catching up with family. Her granddaughter is now a senior in high school and “a big part of my life,” says Dawn.

Both Shannon and Dawn have a deep sense of faith and spirituality that they continue to explore through their friendship. They often look to nature as a way to connect with loved ones. For Dawn, seeing an eagle reminds her of her mother; Shannon’s mother’s symbol is a dragonfly.

“I get these moments when I know they’re proud of us, and they’re glad we’re together,” says Dawn.

Shannon was diagnosed with HER2+ Stage 4 metastasis to the bones, brain, and lung. She is on continued immunotherapy and radiation.

Dawn was diagnosed with Stage 3 ER+PR+HER2+ node positive inflammatory breast cancer. She had chemotherapy followed by a unilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. After surgery, she underwent radiation and was on an aromatase inhibitor.

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