Shauna Martin is one resilient mama. At 33 years old while breastfeeding her nine-month-old Cooper, she found a lump that turned out to be breast cancer. This defining moment would send her on a journey of self-discovery, entrepreneurship and rebalancing. After 12 years in remission, she now lives actively with metastatic breast cancer and shares how she balances career, motherhood and the daily fight.
You were diagnosed at age 33 when your son was just one-year-old. Tell us about how you discovered your diagnosis.
I was actively breastfeeding my son Cooper — only nine months old at the time — and started to feel a lump. When I went to see my doctor, he was certain that it was just a clogged milk duct and told me not to worry. In his words, I was too young to get breast cancer. I was determined to check it out anyway, but due to the radiation required for a mammogram, I would have to stop breastfeeding. I was devastated, as I was determined to support him through breastfeeding for at least a year. So, I delayed going in for 30 days and breastfed as much as I could to stock up in the freezer. All to say, I’m so glad that I did. Before I could get out of the radiology clinic, my doctor had already given me a call to get to a surgeon right away.
A double mastectomy, oophorectomy, a year of chemotherapy and six years of hormone therapy later — lovely Cooper got his full year of breast milk and is healthier than ever. Now, 15 years old and six feet tall, he amazes me. (And my doctor — who I see to this day — also completely changed his practice since seeing my story unfold and has diagnosed so many other young women. He gives me a big hug and thanks me each and every year!)
“When I went to see my doctor, he was certain that it was just a clogged milk duct and told me not to worry. In his words, I was too young to get breast cancer.”
In what ways did your breast cancer diagnosis transform your life?
After going into remission, I was broken down mentally and physically, and I knew my stats were not good. I had an over 50% chance of it coming back. At the time, I was a new partner at a law firm and needed to relook at what “self-care” meant for me.
As my breast cancer feeds off of sugar, alcohol and fat, I immediately cleaned up my lifestyle and went vegan (which I’ve been for 14 years now!). Most importantly, I discovered the power of juicing. I truly believe that it was consuming green juice every day that helped my body recover from the debilitating chemotherapy treatments. I started to feel like myself again, and I was so excited to share the gospel of green juice to everyone I could… but it wasn’t as “trendy” then as it is now, and I had to play with recipes to get my friends and family to join in. I was able to add in fun Texas-inspired flavors like watermelon and jalapeno that made it enjoyable without sacrificing the nutritional content.
It became so popular that I started bringing them from my kitchen to the local farmer’s markets in Austin. From there, my company Daily Greens was born. It was discovered so quickly that it went national overnight and all of the sudden Daily Greens was everywhere. It’s been seven years since then. We’re now producing all kinds of functional beverages and continue to grow and expand and evolve. It’s been a wild journey but a wonderful one.
Twelve years after remission, and at the prime of Daily Greens success, your cancer unexpectedly came back. What has this next chapter looked like for you?
I was re-diagnosed two years ago, and this time it’s metastatic, meaning that it has spread to my bones and is Stage 4. Listen, I did everything right and everything I was supposed to, but breast cancer can be so random. I stay on a daily regime of chemotherapy which I will be on for the rest of my life, but I’m doing great. Chemo itself has come a long way too — I look normal, I have my hair, I work a full schedule and I’m a full-time mom.
Personally, I still drink 1-2 green juices a day and stay on a very strictly plant-based diet which makes all the difference. My doctors consider me to be actively treated for the time being because my meds are doing so well. But even more, they see a lot of years ahead for me and say I’m an outlier in part, attributed to my plant-based lifestyle and juicing! It only empowers me on my mission to get a green juice in the hands of every person I can. I plan to continue working and giving back as long as I’m able and not letting this diagnosis change my course.
“They see a lot of years ahead for me and say I’m an outlier in part, attributed to my plant-based lifestyle and juicing!”
You have now tackled motherhood, pivoting a career, launching a successful business overnight AND two breast cancer diagnoses. How do you deal with it all?
I’ve approached motherhood a little differently than my peers of the past. Prior to the current game-changing class of chemotherapy that I take everyday, metastatic breast cancer was an incredibly devastating diagnosis for a mom, with an average life expectancy of just 5 years. Now things are different, and I can think about life a bit differently than those affected before me, who were advised to quit their jobs, stay home with their kids, maybe get a little travel in and wait to die. I feel so blessed that this does not have to be my approach, as life expectancies for those of us living with metastatic breast cancer have doubled to 10 years.
Cooper will always be my first priority because I don’t know how many years I have left, although I really hope to beat the 10 year average by a lot! That being said, I really need something to get up for in the morning and to make me feel alive — and that’s my work. I absolutely love my job and what I do. And frankly, it’s the best possible example I can set for my kid, especially for a boy. The only way we can crack this code of only 5% of the CEOs in the U.S. being women is in how we raise our boys. No amount of STEM is going to do as much for gender inequality as men seeing their own mothers as leaders in the business world. When men finally grow up seeing their moms being CEOs, founders, and executives in the workplace, that’s when change happens and no matter my condition, that’s how I’m trying to raise my son.
I also find community to be so important. So much of what is out there in the market to support breast cancer is in the research. And while I have seen first-hand the progress in technology and medicine that has taken place in the mere 12 years that I was in remission, it’s resourcing that gets left out of that equation. Building a community and navigating what to do when you get that diagnosis to find all the resources you need — especially as a young mom — is so incredibly difficult. I spent several years alongside Daily Greens supporting the Young Survivor Coalition. However, more recently, I’ve been drawn to a micro approach. The Breast Cancer Resource Centers of Texas really set the bar for patient navigation in the breast cancer arena locally, and I would love to see their model applied nationally in similar organizations all over the country. So I continue to do a lot of work with them, which really feeds my soul. When I was first diagnosed, I worked with them on several programs and now I’m coming full circle.
“When men finally grow up seeing their moms being CEOs, founders, and executives in the workplace, that’s when change happens and no matter my condition, that’s how I’m trying to raise my son.”
What about your journey would you want HATCH mamas to take back with them?
The number one thing I would tell young moms and mamas-to-be is you have to be your own health advocate. The medical system is not built to be that for you. You’re a bit of a cog and you absolutely have to stand up for yourself. Take the time to get to know your body, keep going back, keep asking questions, and stay curious. Had I not taken the control to have my lump checked, I might not have known early enough.
Second — the hardest thing to do as a young mom but probably the most important part of my own health and resiliency has been SLEEP. As a new mom, sleep was always the first thing I’d cheat on because I thought I could get away with it. My son didn’t sleep through the night maybe the first 2 years of his life (he was a hungry boy!) and so I didn’t prioritize it. On my health journey, however — especially recently — I’ve learned how regenerative it can be and I urge all moms to focus on it. It’s just not worth skimping on, and not all sleep is equal. Snag an Oura Ring or track your sleep on your Fitbit and make sure you’re getting the right amount of REM and deep sleep…. Or my sleep hack: work in a 15 minute cat nap where you can!
Lastly, what you put in your body is so critical right now more than ever. Beyond exercise, 90% of the way your body looks and feels is actually made up of what you put in your body, while 10% is related to your workout regimen. Living a plant-based lifestyle has been an incredible life change for me and I actually don’t drink alcohol anymore — it just had to go to allow me to live the life I wanted as I learned how truly debilitating it was to my body and my health. The last couple of years, new studies show that more than 7 drinks per week can do more harm than good, especially with breast cancer. Breast cancer is often driven by hormones, and alcohol + sugar turns into estrogen which turns into cancer. No medicine in the world can overcorrect for my (or your) habits so I always encourage moms to do what they need to get out of their head for a little bit in other ways.
At the end of the day, inherently moms know in their heart of hearts what to do — eat more plants, eat less sugar, drink less, exercise more, sleep more. So mamas, listen to your body, give it what it deserves, and tune in. You deserve it.