Photo courtesy of Shirley Parker.
Shown here from left to right are Shirley Parker and her family: daughter-in-law Kari, granddaughter Kate, husband Don, breast cancer survivor Shirley, granddaughter Amanda Grace, and son Jeff.
Shirley Parker wasn’t supposed to be sick.
Dutifully caring for her mother-in-law who was fighting breast cancer, keeping up with two grown sons, their wives and a growing brood of grandchildren kept the Hoover resident fully engaged in the role she cared most about – being a hands-on, nurturing matriarch.
But in August 2008, granddaughter Kate was hardly two months old when the lavish, grandmotherly affection Parker loved to bestow on the newest members of her family came to a screeching halt.
“I knew what they were looking for, but I didn’t think they would find anything,” said Parker, describing the annual checkup that quickly escalated to a monogram, a sonogram and then a biopsy.
With her husband Don by her side, Parker sat solemnly in the doctor’s office while he informed her she had stage two invasive breast cancer. That October, Parker participated in Birmingham’s Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, just two days before her double mastectomy. It was an event she’d supported for years prior, long before it got personal.
“I ran for the Komen Race before I got cancer, and then, it was for the fun of running,” she said. “I didn’t know the pain of cancer. After I became a survivor, I ran because I was alive.”
Parker’s double mastectomy required intensive chemotherapy, to the point that beyond the expected hair loss, the chemo came through her tear ducts and even skin pores all over her body.
Emotionally depressed to miss out on the early months of baby Kate’s life, Parker decided to enlist the help of Kate’s older sister, then six-year-old Amanda Grace, to aid in the recovery process.
“I couldn’t hold baby Kate or give her grandmother hugs,” said Parker. “Amanda Grace could not understand what was going on with me. To help her be a part of my recovery, I let her cut my hair real short. She had fun making me look pretty. We laughed for hours afterward. I did look funny!”
Parker’s other granddaughter, Maggie, used her watercolors to paint imaginary hair onto Parker’s scalp. The deeply personal journey remained very much a family affair.
“My family got me through it emotionally,” she said. “I refused to let cancer get me down.”
On Oct. 11, marched with the survivors at the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.
“I run so my sisters and grandchildren won’t get cancer,” said Parker. “And my family will run with me. They are my wings. They carried me during my treatments and will always run beside me.”
Upcoming Breast Cancer Awareness Events
Saks Fifth Avenue Birmingham
Thursday, Oct. 16, 5-8 p.m.
Contact Elizabeth Worrell,