‘Mama’s Year with Cancer’
By Deb Silverthorn
Once upon a time there was a mommy, Shayna Vincent, who with children’s author Nancy Churnin brought the story of her journey with breast cancer — while mothering two young children — to a published reality. “Mama’s Year with Cancer” is now available for presale. Set to be released in September, the book is Vincent’s gift to her daughters and families everywhere.
“When I was 34 years old, I felt a lump in my breast but figured it was a clogged duct as I was nursing my baby. My doctor wasn’t too worried but, at my out-of-the-norm urging, ordered a mammogram. I then got a call that changed my life, and I froze after I heard the doctor say ‘breast cancer,’” said Vincent, an Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, native who moved to Dallas as a teen and is married to Devon.
“How could I explain to my children what this disease meant for me and for us as a family when I couldn’t even comprehend it myself?” she added.
In “Mama’s Year with Cancer,” Vincent and Churnin answer that question with caring words through the voice of a child. There are an estimated 266,400 cases of breast cancer, about 2,400 of those in men, diagnosed with the disease annually.
Vincent was first diagnosed when her daughters Avivah and Mila were just 10 months and 4 years old. Her cancer at first in remission, she is battling the disease, now Stage IV, each day teaching her family — and anyone who meets her — about strength and respect for life.
“There were constant doctor appointments, surgeries and procedures. ‘Our’ schedule was no longer ours and there were days I could barely get out of bed. When I explained anything, I’d ask Mila if she had questions. Some we were prepared for and others we weren’t,” she said.
Vincent is the daughter of Johanna Luza and Tom Luza and the sister of Daniel and Rocky. She was raised at Oklahoma City’s Temple B’nai Israel and has been active at Temple Shalom for years. She is a graduate of Creekview High School, UT Arlington and Southern Methodist University. For more than a decade, and throughout her illness, she has served as director of professional development at the Caruth Police Institute at UNT Dallas.
“Whether ringing that bell marks the end of treatment or the beginning of a new phase, I feel a family should look at it as only a part of their path, instead of one single event or a short period of time,” said Vincent.
Her first treatments were 16 rounds of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, more surgery when the cancer was found in her lymph nodes, 33 rounds of radiation and three more surgeries. That was just the beginning. Her emphasis now is wanting to educate people that Stage IV means treatments don’t end.
Less than 10% of funds raised go to research and support for the late-stage disease in despite 20% to 30% of patients developing metastatic disease.
“Cancer doesn’t define you,” said Vincent, “but whether you’ve been in remission or will forever be in active treatment, it changes you.”
The collaboration of Vincent and Churnin began after Vincent’s daughter Mila and mother first met the award-winning author at a November 2018 Margot Rosenberg Pulitzer Dallas Jewish BookFest. Churnin was presenting her “Irving Berlin: The Immigrant Boy Who Made America Sing,” with Mark Kreditor accompanying her with piano and song. Mila and her grandmother then attended Churnin’s debut of “Martin & Anne: The Kindred Spirits of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Anne Frank” at Interabang Books. Churnin got to know the family and was in awe of what they were going through.
“I was so impressed by this beloved mother who had come through her first diagnosis. She was doing a wonderful job with her little ones, teaching them values through their ‘Be Kind Birthdays,’ giving to others and in so many ways. Then when the cancer came back and her struggle renewed, I wanted to do anything I could to lift Shayna’s spirits,” said Churnin. She considers helping Vincent bring her story to the public a great honor.
Churnin, with a 19-year career as a journalist at the Dallas Morning News behind her, has now published 10 children’s books, with six debuting this year and another three already in the works. Telling stories of little-known heroes or the little-known backgrounds of well-known people are her passion. Sharing Vincent’s journey is the first she’s created about someone she’s met.
“I was here just to tell the story she already had. I sent it to my editor at Albert Whitman and Company and she took it almost the next day. Some books take years, but this has moved like lightning. It’s 100% Shayna’s story, the unnamed narrator is Mila and even the temple in the book is Temple Shalom. It’s an authentic sharing of this family and what they are going through,” the author said. She noting that moving from intro to publication in 18 months is very unusual, it is the norm for illustrations alone to take that many months or more.
The book incorporates the importance of faith to Vincent’s interfaith family. The child is seen at a temple and her paternal grandmother is seen at church.
On Jan. 13, coincidentally Mila’s eighth birthday, Churnin gave a talk at the youngster’s Kent Elementary School in Carrollton about her journey to authorhood. Vincent joined her to talk about “Mama’s Year with Cancer.”
“It’s not fun when your mom or dad go to the doctor a lot, but Mommy always explains things to me about cancer and the medicines she takes. I don’t like it when Mommy has to go to the hospital, but my school counselor lets me come into her office and talk to her about why I’m sad,” said Mila. “She wants the book to be read to kids who have a parent who has cancer.
“I like the part about the girl putting sticky notes on her mommy when she was sleeping because I really did write nice things on all the sticky notes, and it made Mommy feel better when she woke up,” she said. “Mommy always likes to read books, but I never knew she would write one! The kids asked questions and now they know about cancer. I am so proud.”Shayna Vincent’s journey shared for kids