What can you remember about being seven years old? Many of us may recall very little. But Shanna’s life began at that age, literally and figuratively. She was diagnosed with bone cancer at a time when she was supposed to be shielded from the harsh realities of life. As a child, she was only supposed to have an ideal picture of what life is, like the rest of the children her age.
While other kids were still learning how to read, Shanna had to fight for her life. But Shanna was not alone; with her are her family and strong faith in the Lord.
Born in Minnesota to working parents, Shanna’s needs were well provided-for. Her father, Jack, was a good provider and ran a business, while her mother, Sherrie, made sure her daughters were taken care of while she worked at a bank. Shanna has one sister, Melissa.
The Deckers live simple, yet happy, lives, and they count each day as a blessing. Being Christians, Jack and Sherrie raised their children to be God-fearing and served as role models for how Christians should raise their kids. All that would be tested when Shanna received the worst news of her life.
She was seven years old at the time; a carefree and happy child who was just discovering the gift of life. Her innocence was cut short one day at a doctor’s visit when she was told she had cancer. It was discovered that she had a malignant bone tumor; worse, to prevent the cancer from spreading, her left leg had to be amputated. After the amputation, she had to go through rigorous chemotherapy sessions. It was unbearable; for a week, Shanna didn’t want to talk to anyone. She hid under the bed, asking why, of all people, she was the one who had to lose a leg. Add to that were the chemotherapy sessions that would render her bald. She had every reason to worry.
The whole family mourned with her. They hardly slept and ate throughout that week, each lost in his/her thoughts and apprehensions. But they didn’t stay this way for long; eventually, the family sat down together to discuss the journey they were about to take. According to Shanna:
“We talked about it as a family and we understood that we were not in control, that this was happening for a reason. We said, ‘Okay, Lord, take us where you need to take us." (SOURCE: Triumph of the Spirit)
It was not easy, but they figured they didn’t have a choice but to trust in the Lord and hope that everything would turn out well.
After enduring three months of chemotherapy and losing her hair to the treatment, Shanna was one of the first to undergo what doctors call “rotationplasty,” an operation for patients who undergo leg amputation due to a malignant tumor. Most of her left leg was removed, including the knee, and then what remained of her lower leg was re-attached and rotated 180 degrees. This allowed provision for her prosthetic leg, as her left foot became her left knee.
With a secure prosthetic leg, it became much easier for Shanna to move on with her life. But, even before starting over again, she had to face additional chemotherapy sessions, and it took six more months to completely eliminate the cancerous cells. She was finally discharged from Mayo Hospital, which became her home for almost a year, on 31 December 1998. She left the hospital reluctantly:
“My father came every night with my sister and we had family dinner together in my hospital room; he would also stay on the weekend whenever he could get away from the business he ran. We definitely grew closer because there was nobody else for us to go to except for our family and the Lord. Cancer is still our biggest bond. It’s kind of fun.” (SOURCE: Triumph of the Spirit)
The experience made Shanna tougher and much more hopeful for the future, and blessings came pouring in for her family. Their needs were provided-for and she had nothing but gratitude in her heart. She had long accepted the fact that she would live the rest of her days as an amputee. What made it positive, though, was that she could speak for those who also battle cancer, even after all she has endured.
Setting up “Brighter Tomorrows”
Shanna was cancer-free only nine months after she received the bad news, and life was never the same again for her or her family. They knew then that they wouldn’t be able to bear seeing other families struggle as they had.
Even before being discharged from the hospital, Shanna made it her mission to help comfort others. Whether by talking with them or quietly sharing their grief and pain, Shanna gave her time and told them about her story. She then found meaning in her own diagnosis of cancer; she found great joy in making others feel hopeful again. She loved telling them about how the Lord had made her well. Nothing makes her happier than being of help to others.
In order to reach more families and determine how to create a network for cancer patients and their respective families, Shanna set up “Brighter Tomorrows.” According to their website:
"Brighter Tomorrows, a non-profit organization, was created on the belief that no family should ever have to face a childhood cancer diagnosis on their own. Whether your child is newly diagnosed or you are further along in your journey, we invite you to reach out to us so we might provide immediate support.
The four words “your child has cancer” can cause a multitude of feelings. You may feel frightened, overwhelmed, frustrated, isolated, helpless, or even hopeless. Great stress can accompany a diagnosis and the treatment of childhood cancer can seem daunting.
While every family’s experience with childhood cancer is different, most families face similar challenges. These common challenges are emotional, informational, practical, social, financial, and spiritual. Each family member has a unique set of circumstances to deal with. Fathers often find it difficult to share their emotions and balance the demands of work with the challenges of having a sick child. Mothers often struggle both with the need to care for their sick child while supporting the rest of the family. The child with cancer struggles with the anxiety of treatment and the difficulty of being labeled as “different” by their peers. And their siblings are challenged by a wide range of emotions, as well as the fact that they are not able to spend as much time with their parents or brother or sister.
Brighter Tomorrows understands every one of these challenges, as each of its founders has dealt with a childhood cancer diagnosis, but one of the greatest gifts Brighter Tomorrows has to offer is HOPE.
We invite you to glance through our website to learn more about us, join us at our monthly family gatherings, read through personal testimonials, check out our ongoing calendar of family events, and benefit from valuable resource links. All of our services are offered completely free of charge." (SOURCE: Brighter Tomorrows)
Shanna has indeed come a long way from being a 7-year-old cancer patient to a grown woman who enlightens others about cancer. She is now an esteemed speaker and has already finished her degree in business, thanks to hard work and a $25,000 scholarship from the Discover Scholarship Program.
She has only one thing to say after all she has been through:
“Cancer is the biggest blessing I have ever had in all of my life. I couldn’t even imagine what my life would be without it. I learned what it meant to really love other people and how to live every moment of life to the fullest. I would say to anyone that their greatest turmoil or sorrow can be a blessing. God always works to the good of those who love Him. Not sometimes, but always.” (SOURCE: Triumph of the Spirit)
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Brighter Tomorrows
- Hearts of Hope
Awards and Achievements
- Co-founded “Brighter Tomorrows”
- Won a $25,000 scholarship from the Discover Scholarship Program
- 2008: Named one of America's “Top ten youth volunteers”
- 2011: Graduated with a degree in Business
Good Newsz Only ("Because Love Wins" - meet Shana Decker. She battled back from childhood cancer and now devotes her life to giving back...)
Triumph of the Spirit (Shanna Decker: Lose a Leg, Learn to Love)
A Nation In Motion (Shanna Decker)
Brighter Tomorrows (An Outreach to Families Touched by Childhood Cancer)
Because Love Wins
Facebook (Brighter Tomorrows)
Facebook (Shanna Decker)
Reuters (Minnesota's Shanna Decker of Plainview Named One of America's Top Ten Youth Volunteers)
MSUSA (Shanna Decker - Spring 2010)
LCMS Gathering (Shanna Decker)
KAALtv.com (Seminar Addresses PTSD from Childhood Cancer)