Positive attitude pays dividends for cancer survivor

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 2, 2009


News Editor

LAPLACE—This weekend is a big one for Shelly Roussel. On Friday, her son Cody got married, and on Monday she will be celebrating her 50th birthday. And these two milestones seem all the more special because she knows she could have missed them.

In June of 2007, while performing a self-exam of her breasts, she discovered a lump. One of her greatest fears had become reality.

Her only sister, Mary Miano Torres, died at the age of 36 after a long battle with breast cancer.

Understandably, after she discovered the lump, Roussel was reluctant to face the reality of the situation.

“I didn’t say anything for two weeks,” she said.

But she couldn’t hide it for long from Bruce, her husband of 30 years. He noticed a change in her demeanor and asked what was wrong, so she finally came clean.

A visit to the doctor revealed two malignant lumps. On July 12, 2007, she had a mastectomy.

Knowing what her sister had gone through, her family and friends were justifiably worried when she got the call telling her she had to see a surgeon. Showing the spark that would ultimately see her through her troubles, she told them, “I’m going to kill this before it kills me.”

She also pulled inspiration from her beloved sister. “She’s my angel. She’s watching over me.”

Four weeks after the surgery, Roussel’s incisions became infected. Nonetheless, she persevered and returned to work at Armand’s Bistro in LaPlace, the place she has called home for five years now, just eight weeks later, still bandaged.

Then in January, she started chemotherapy. The treatments weakened her body but not her spirit. Nor did it weaken the resolve of her friends and family to see her through. When the treatments started to make her hair fall out, the owners of Armand’s, Chris and Jim, came to visit. Jim entered her room wearing a cap, which he took off to reveal a shaved head, a sign of solidarity for their ailing friend.

Not one to wallow in her sorrows, she took the predicament in stride, opting for caps or nothing over the wigs favored by many in her situation.

Her troubles were not over yet, though.

In April, while still undergoing chemo every three weeks, Roussel accepted the fact that she would have to put her parents in a nursing home.

“It was the hardest day of my life,” she said.

In yet another example of happy ending in Roussel’s life, her parents, she says, are happier and healthier than they have been for a long time. The couple will be married for 60 years in September and even made it Cody’s wedding yesterday.

Similarly, Roussel herself would soon begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

After her treatments ended, tests revealed her to be cancer-free. What’s more, a blood test also revealed she did not pass the predilection for cancer on to her children Cody and Marcy.

Finally, just this past Tuesday, at the behest of her friend Chris, she visited a boutique in Baton Rouge, where she tried on a bra for the first time since her surgery.

“I feel whole now,” she said.

Although the doctors would credit her positive attitude for her amazing recovery, Roussel knows she could not have done it alone. “God is the first one I thank every day.”

She also credits her friends and friends and family, such as Chris and Jim at Armand’s, Marion Deroche and Renee Leblanc, who she calls her “breastes friends,” and Stephanie Roussel and Roberta Melancon, with contributing to the happy ending to her story.

Then there is Cheryl and Woody Mulky, who lifted her spirits when she was in the hospital by bringing her a pole, a reference to a desire she had expressed previously to learn how to pole dance.

It was one of her friends in fact, Mona Gravois, who one year gave her a mammogram as a present, a gift that probably saved Roussel’s life.

After being given so much, Roussel now sees this as her time to give something back. She makes it her business to provide the kind of support to others she received in her time of need.

Up until now, that has mostly come in the form of one-on-one conversations. When her friend Stephanie Roussel discovered two suspicious spots, Shelly was there for her. Although the spots turned out not to be cancer, Stephanie told her friend, “If I have it, I know I have someone to look up to.”

Shelly Roussel, however, feels her star rising in the local community. Last October, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, she spoke to a crowd of 750 women in St. James about her story and the importance of early detection.

The Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center in Baton Rouge has even tapped Roussel’s considerable spirit and energy, and she will soon be able to spread her message to women there on a regular basis.

Despite everything, however, Roussel realizes it is the little things that have given her struggle value.

Her son was engaged when she started her treatments but promised his mother he would not marry until she came out the other side of this ordeal. Now that she has gotten to see the fruition of this promise, she knows now more than ever the power of perseverance and positivity.