October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and for our Smart City Spotlight, we wanted to highlight a few incredible women within our organization who are cancer survivors. We thank them immensely for their decision to be interviewed and for sharing their beautiful stories of hope and encouragement.
Today’s interview is with Dina Shogren, our Director of Human Resources. Read on to hear about Dina’s journey with Breast Cancer and how important a solid support system can be on the road to recovery. It’s a powerful interview and highly encourage everyone to read it!
Just to begin, could you tell us a bit about your background and your current role with Smart City Networks?
D: Actually, I started pursuing a legal career, but found myself working with small organizations while in school becoming a jack of all trades. I then realized how much I enjoyed HR and all the different hats and variety of work, it kept me on my toes and I loved it! I’ve been in HR since I was 24 years old and 30 years later, I’ve made it to Director of HR for this wonderful organization, with a few bumps in the road on my way.
When you were first diagnosed with Breast Cancer, what was that experience like for you?
D: Devastating, it was Stage 3, which is determined by the spread of the cancer. I physically saw a lump that wasn’t there 2 weeks prior. I did have Aunts on both sides of my family die of breast cancer although nothing in my immediate family. My mom explained that they could do a needle biopsy in the office right there so I asked them to do it. Strangely enough, the doctor didn’t know how to do it but the PA did. Basically, for my aunts, if they draw liquid it is not cancer, if nothing comes out it is likely cancer. Sure enough, there was nothing they could draw out of the tumor. I fell apart and luckily, I had a wonderful husband back then that got me in for a mammogram that day. Otherwise it was a 2 week wait and lord knows, I would not have slept for 2 weeks.
How did your diagnosis impact your life and work?
D: I was working for the Department of Interior at the time, I had 2 babies in diapers, 2 horses, a donkey and a few dogs. We lived out in the middle of nowhere in the mountains of Colorado. Luckily, my mom and dad always owned their own businesses so they were available to essentially move in with me for a year to help with everything. The community was awesome, they are a very tightknit group up in the small town in the mountains we were at. They would bring us dinners weekly for every day. I volunteered at the fire department at this time too so they helped with even more food for us, carpools to get the kids to and from school, just everything. The DOI also gave me work from home projects to do while I was having chemo treatments for 6 months so I could keep my job, insurance, everything financial; which was a huge relief.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced during your cancer journey, and how did you overcome them?
D: My biggest challenge was keeping my husband in a good place through the challenges of the caregiving aspect of our new life. I did find a support group that helped focus not only on my mental health but my ex-husbands. He seemed to be taking it all worse than I was, he became very withdrawn and really needed someone to talk to outside of me. He never wanted to worry me. He ended up not being able to handle my sickness and moved on. When my hair fell out in clumps and the double masectomy was probably the scariest moments through it all. I never considered myself vain but those two things that I had to go through put me in a bit of a depression. Luckily, again, I had such a great support system, it did not last long.
Also, when I got cancer back the 2nd time, I always considered that a death sentence as it was for most of my family that battled breast cancer. I had just met the most wonderful person that I am now married to that helped me battle this and COVID all at the same time. And my mother, who has always dropped everything to be there for me.
Who or what provided you with the most significant support and encouragement during your treatment and recovery?
D: Definitely my new husband, my mother and my daughter with this second occurrence. My daughter was 17 yrs old and was an amazing support emotionally. She would always drop whatever was happening to stay home with me and for a teenager, that is a lot. I had only been dating my new husband for 2 weeks when I had gotten my re-occurrence diagnosis and he just buckled down and became my caregiver when he could of easily just walked away. My mother was living with me at the time and did her best as she was battling her own issues. But together, what a powerhouse team of support I had.
Could you share some advice for anyone who may be going through a similar situation?
D: Honestly, do not count your chickens before they hatch. Do not try to control what you can’t. Let yourself cry when you need to and feel your emotions, when you try to bottle it all up, it just explodes later on. Take advantage of every little offer of help, do not try to do this on your own. You must save your energy on improving. You really need to concentrate on staying optimistic and happy as much as you can, it really helps the whole recovery process, and you just feel better even though your body is dealing with so much.
In what ways have your experience with breast cancer changed your perspective on life and work?
D: I do not take things as seriously as I once did. I am not always trying to win or be competitive or compare myself to others. I try to go with the flow and be flexible with everyone and everything. I really care about and listen to people more than ever before. Intent means so much more than the words used when people communicate. It just feels so important to me with all my years in my career and learning about human nature and mediation. Most everyone just wants to be heard and understood at some level.
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month, is there any specific message or cause related to breast cancer that you’d like to emphasize or promote to our team and the broader community?
D: I do have to say, I am extremely disappointed in Susan G. Komen’s organization. They never helped me or several others I know through anything with Cancer. They state they provide all this support and help, and they were non-existent throughout both of my journeys even though I had reached out through their programs several times.
Thank you again Dina for sharing your powerful story! For more Smart City Spotlights, click the link!