Ever since she was diagnosed with a form of aggressive breast cancer six years ago, Tara Shuman has channeled her abundant energy and optimism into getting through and beyond her cancer, and also on doing everything possible to help others facing it.
Shuman, 38, was living a fun, frenetic existence as a healthcare attorney raising 4- and 1-year-old kids when an August 2012 visit with her friend—whose cancer had recently returned—prompted her to do a breast self-exam. The bump she found was diagnosed as triple-positive breast cancer; five weeks later she underwent a bilateral mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy and biotherapy infusions.
Shuman’s treatment now consists solely of oral hormonal therapy, which she takes daily to help slow the growth of cancer and stop new tumors from emerging. Her busy life continues, with much of its focus now in a new area. In addition to co-captaining Team Tara, one of the largest fundraising teams supporting research and clinical care at Dana-Farber in this year’s Boston Marathon® Jimmy Fund Walk presented by Hyundai, Shuman has served on the cancer center’s Adult Patient and Family Advisory Council, authored a book and blog devoted to cancer survivorship, and makes herself available to other people facing cancer.
She is aided in these efforts by her husband, children, and a large network of loved ones, as well as caregivers and colleagues at Dana-Farber who have become a second family.
“I try to do for others what others have done for me,” says Shuman. “The further I get from treatment, the luckier I feel, because I know life can change in an instant.”
After her initial treatment through Dana-Farber’s Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers, led by breast oncologist Craig Bunnell, MD, MPH, Shuman quickly achieved an early post-treatment goal: walking the 5K (3.1-mile) route of the 2013 Jimmy Fund Walk with her 5-year-old son, Teddy.
The next year Shuman felt so good that she set out to walk the entire 26.2-mile, Hopkinton-to-Copley Square Jimmy Fund Walk route with members of her newly-formed Team Tara. Near the end she started feeling faint and was forced to drop out at Mile 25, within sight of the famous Citgo sign. Undeterred, she returned a week later with her husband, Brian, to walk the last mile. A crowd of team members and Dana-Farber staff welcomed them at the finish line.
It took a few more years of training, but last year she finally did the whole route in one day for the first time—as one of 273 members of the latest Team Tara crew. This year’s team goal is 300 walkers, and Shuman and her co-captain Amy Killeen are determined to make it.
“Talk about making lemonade from lemons; Tara has grown an entire grove of lemon trees from her experience,” says Bunnell, who is also Dana-Farber’s chief medical officer. “She is an inspiration to all of us, patients and care team alike.”
In addition to organizing the Jimmy Fund Walk team every year and guiding others along their cancer journeys, Shuman is enjoying life with Brian and her kids—son Teddy, 10, and daughter Annabel, 7, who fill the weekends with practices, meets, and games, and the students at the Boston high school where she teaches English.
“I don’t feel any sense of celebration at doing well, and I don’t consider myself brave. I am lucky and thankful to have found Dana-Farber and to be able to reach out and connect with so many people going through cancer.”