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Shelba Sellers

Ovarian cancer survivor: Enjoy the life you have today

Spend just a few minutes talking with Shelba Sellers and you'll notice she lives life to the fullest and doesn't let much slow her down. While she often puts in long hours at the growing law practice she shares with her husband Mark, she also makes time for travel, healthy meals, family and friends. 

It was during one of those 50-plus-hour workweeks when she started having health issues. “I was having problems off and on for about six months, but my gynecologist thought it was probably endometriosis,” she says. 

“I remember being at the beach with my husband and I could tell I was getting worse. I should have been relaxed and feeling better because I was on vacation, but the more I walked, the more pain I was in. I remember going back to our condo on the beach and thinking, ‘I hope I get to come back here next year.’” 

When she returned home from vacation, she sought medical attention. Despite her healthy outward appearance, Sellers knew her pain was more than endometriosis. “I looked so healthy and stayed busy, so no one thought it was cancer,” she says. “Cancer can start and you don’t look sick for months. When you have outward physical symptoms, that’s when it has spread.” As her symptoms progressively worsened, Sellers underwent an MRI and was subsequently diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She was referred to gynecologic oncologist John McBroom, M.D. for treatment. 

Coping with her diagnosis

As scary as it was learning she had ovarian cancer, Sellers focused on moving forward. “My grandmother had ovarian cancer back in the 1950s and survived,” she says. Knowing treatment options had drastically improved over the past 60 years, she had hope she too would beat the disease. 

Sellers had her initial consultation with Dr. McBroom in June 2009 and scheduled surgery for July. “In the month before I had surgery, a friend took me to a health food store and introduced me to a vegetarian diet,” she says. “I really feel like I cleaned out my system by following good nutritional guidelines and that helped me keep going.” When she started chemotherapy months later, she began adding fish and grass-fed meat back into her diet. 

The surgery

“I was scheduled for robotic surgery because they didn’t think the cancer had spread much,” says Sellers. “I remember lying there in the pre-op room and thinking, ‘I’m in the right place at the right time.’” Her surgery was initially scheduled to last about two hours, but she was in the operating room for four. Dr. McBroom told Sellers' husband and friends that her cancer had progressed more than he had initially suspected and it was now in stage II. 

“The cancer had spread around my uterus and colon,” she explains. “Dr. McBroom said he didn’t understand how I wasn’t in more pain. I was working 50 hours a week and kept going until I realized I was getting worse.” 

Despite learning her cancer had spread, Sellers said she began to recover quickly. Dr. McBroom predicted she would need a week to recuperate in the hospital, but she only needed two days on an IV. 

Sellers said she leaned on family and friends for support during her diagnosis and treatment. “I was on a prayer list in five different states. I had a lot of friends praying for me and other friends who wanted to cook for me. When I went back home, my mom came and stayed with me. I had a month to get strong again before I started chemo.” 

Her prognosis

Sellers underwent chemotherapy from August to December 2009. “My understanding was that at the end of five years, 50 percent of women in my condition make it,” she explains. “So you get the surgery, do the chemo and it’s up to you to take care of yourself to make sure you’re in the 50 percent who make it.” 

Despite some setbacks during chemotherapy – her ports became infected and required surgery – Sellers focused on exercising, eating right and getting sunlight. She worked from home when possible, although chemotherapy altered her sleep cycles. During weeks when she had a break from treatment, she returned to the office. “My husband and I work together. He was at work doing everything for four and a half months while I was going through chemo, and was supportive through the whole thing. We stuck together through it all. He helped me so I could concentrate on getting better while he did a lot of the work I used to do.” 

How life has changed

It is easy to become depressed after a cancer diagnosis, she says, but “the main thing is you found out. Stick with a good doctor and treatment program. Move forward.” Now fully recovered and feeling strong from a healthy lifestyle, Sellers has expanded her Thomasville, Ga.-based practice to include two satellite offices in Moultrie and Bainbridge. 

“Before my surgery, Mark and I loved to travel. Now we always make a point of enjoying life and doing things we never took time for,” she says. “I have a sign that says, ‘Dream as if you’ll live forever and live as if you only have today.’ Get your priorities in order. Don't wait until you're 60 to do the things you want to do." 

For more information about ovarian cancer symptoms and treatment, visit Piedmont’s Cancer Center.

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