Shortly after her husband returned from his second deployment in Iraq, Shondia McFadden-Sabari had a sudden, strange feeling that she needed a mammogram. “It just came to me, and I thought, ‘This is weird,’” says the mother of two of that unforgettable Thursday in December 2010.
McFadden-Sabari was 36 at the time and had never felt any lumps when doing self-checks, but there was breast cancer on the paternal side of her family. She had a doctor’s appointment the next day anyway, so she mentioned it to her doctor, who ordered a mammogram. Just before Christmas, she scheduled a diagnostic mammogram as well as a biopsy. She figured it was better to be safe than sorry.
Doctors found abnormal cells in both breasts. “I was shocked when I heard the words, ‘You have breast cancer,’” she recalls. “I actually thought it was probably a mistake, especially since I didn’t feel any lumps in my breasts or have any other symptoms.” Luckily, doctors caught the cancer before it spread to neighboring tissue. As a result, she didn’t have to endure chemotherapy or radiation.
Still, she opted to undergo a double mastectomy—and decided against having any reconstruction done. “I wanted them to get this cancer out of me,” she says. “I wasn’t interested in having anything resembling a breast. I just wanted to live my life with my husband and kids. Cancer affected my breasts, not my self-esteem.”
Feisty and full of faith, McFadden-Sabari has thrived in the 12 years since she was diagnosed. The Port St. Lucie resident shares her inspirational story with other breast cancer patients and their families on the Treasure Coast and across the country as she educates and advocates for them through her nonprofit, Bold and Breastless. Locally, she has worked at area hospitals and churches such as Cleveland Clinic Martin Health’s Cancer Center in Stuart and Greater Mt. Pleasant Primitive Baptist Church in Fort Pierce. Providing emotional support to patients, guiding them through the treatment process, and hosting workshops about the importance of early cancer detection, she empowers and uplifts those who might otherwise have been dragged down by their diagnosis. “I get messages and calls and emails from people all the time saying, ‘Because of you, I was able to get through my journey,’” she says.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, breast cancer is the second most common cancer among American women, with Black women dying from the disease at a higher rate than others. Each year in the United States, more than 260,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women (2,400 in men). Symptoms can vary and include any changes in the breast like lumps, itching, abnormal nipple discharge, or pain, and some people, like McFadden-Sabari, have no signs or symptoms at all.
With advanced treatments and early detection, breast cancer survivors can live a long, full life. But for those who are newly diagnosed, it may not feel that way—which is why McFadden-Sabari’s infectious laugh, optimism, and quick wit are such a comfort to those who are worried about next steps. Although she’s quick to joke that she “scared the hell out of cancer, so it took my breasts and left,” she is also tenderhearted and savvy about everything from risk factors to the appropriate doctors to have on your care team. At hospitals, she counsels families of breast cancer patients and even helps with gas expenses and incidentals like toothbrushes they may have forgotten to bring with them.
McFadden-Sabari supports her organization through donations and charity golf tournaments and relies on a small band of volunteers (including her husband and her kids), who work alongside her with patients. Many of her patients find her through word of mouth or her social media accounts—the organization’s Instagram account, @boldandbreastless, has more than 35,000 followers.
“Every day I wake up, I smile because God thought enough of me to wake me up,” she says. “So every day, I have to make someone else smile too.”
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign with the goal of educating communities about the disease. Locally, Making Strides Against Breast Cancer—an organization under the American Cancer Society—has raised funding, provided access to lifesaving screenings, and united communities in the fight against the disease for more than two decades. Join Making Strides of Palm Beach October 15 or Making Strides of The Treasure Coast October 22 for their annual walks. Click here for details.