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Seasoned interior designer stays engaged in career through cancer treatment

Shirley Mitchell, a breast cancer survivor treated at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital, first noticed something was not right after returning from a trip to Turkey. At first, she suspected the change in her body was caused by pulling suitcases around as she traveled. “I’d had a mammogram in July and this was September. I was showering and thought my left breast felt a little bit fuller,” she says. “I called my doctor and said, ‘I don’t think there’s anything to this, but I notice a little change in my left breast.’”

After undergoing another mammogram and an ultrasound, Mitchell learned she had breast cancer.

“It was stage I and it still was not quite one centimeter, so my prognosis was very good,” she explains.

“I talked to three different doctors and Dr. William Barber was the one we decided on,” says Mitchell. “He was so wonderful. I made the decision about treatment based on the information I gathered, but also I knew that if I had cancer on any other part of my body, I’d say, ‘take it off.’”

Mitchell decided to have a mastectomy to avoid radiation and chemotherapy. “I’m sure I was afraid to some degree, but I really felt like I had a good team of doctors and I knew that I could be healthy again,” she says. “I felt healthy. It was very important to me to exercise, eat well and think, ‘I’m healthy. There’s something in my body that’s unhealthy – just get rid of it.’”

Staying positive during cancer journey

A mother of three grown children, Mitchell says living by herself while being treated for cancer presented its own set of challenges. “You do wonder if you have pain or you wake up and don’t feel well how you’re going to take care of yourself,” she says. “For me, it was very important that I approach the situation positively. I got diagnosed early and my treatment was right for me. I was determined not to feel sorry for myself, not to let this take over my life,” says Mitchell. “There are so many women that have breast cancer. I am one of so many. I’m not unique. I did not feel like, 'oh, why me?' Really, it's almost like, 'why not me?

Everybody else is having it. Why would I be special and not have it?'” As the owner of an interior design company, Mitchell’s career played an important role in helping her move forward. “Working daily, getting outside, walking, doing yoga – I did everything I could do,” she says of staying active during treatment.

Utilizing Piedmont’s cancer resources

“One thing I’d like to say about Piedmont is they have all of these resources,” says Mitchell. “I used them all. I took advantage of everything they had to help me be healthy mentally and physically through the process.” For more information about resources for cancer patients, visit the Piedmont Cancer Center.

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