Do Cancer: Brain cancer survivor’s nonprofit offers resources, hope
“I am strong, I am healthy, I am healed.”
In her darkest and hardest days battling stage 4 glioblastoma brain cancer, Shenell Malloy used that affirmation to power through, to send a positive message to her mind, body and soul with the hopes those words became a reality.
“The truth wasn’t the frail, broken reflection I saw in the mirror, but a resilient warrior who would rise stronger and healthier than ever,” she said.
The Rancho Santa Fe resident recently started a new nonprofit, Do Cancer, founded with her best friend Aidan Morris, who was diagnosed just weeks after her with triple-negative breast cancer and melanoma. The organization works to ensure everyone has access to the best cancer care and whole person healing, sharing proven treatment plans, vetted products, wellness education and cancer program scholarships.
With both survivors in stable condition, the women launched Do Cancer with a party at Malloy’s Rancho Santa Fe home on Sept. 17. During the planning stages, Malloy thought it might be an intimate evening but 250 people were in attendance and the event brought in just under $300,000.
“It was the most incredible event ever,” Malloy said. “There was just an overwhelming amount of support.”
The nonprofit’s accompanying website, docancer.org, launched on Sept. 1, offering a comprehensive directory of cancer resources, tons of advice on a variety of topics for both patients and caregivers, specially curated healing cancer essentials kits and, most importantly, a place to find hope.
“Hope is so powerful,” Malloy said. “Hope is the greatest medicine of all.”
Malloy has lived in Rancho Santa Fe for six years, moving to the community from La Jolla with her husband Bill and two young children. In La Jolla, she had founded the women’s philanthropy group Heels 2 Heal, helping underserved women and children by raising funds for organizations such as Miracle Babies and Angels Foster Family Network.
When she moved to Rancho Santa Fe, she was focused on her family and running her own business before her world turned completely upside down in February 2019.
“I was a very healthy 36-year-old young mom,” she said. “It really happened out of the blue.”
Malloy had experienced a few stress headaches before, “nothing crazy”, but one day while getting her hair done at the salon, a painful headache came with a weird sensation of tingliness along the left side of her body “It felt like something bad and it was heat activated,” she said.
On a trip to Cabo, it happened again and the rolling episodes continued after she took a hot shower. She went straight from the airport to the emergency room at Scripps La Jolla with her whole family in tow. Scans found lesions on the left side of her brain and she underwent three days of testing including a spinal tap, full body CT scan, PET scan and bloodwork, and yet nothing was conclusive: “It was the scariest 72 hours of my life,” Malloy said.
They thought it might be a brain infection but Malloy had a feeling that it was something more and something worse: “I had an a-ha moment where I felt I needed to advocate for myself, I needed a second opinion.”
Through advice and connections from a friend, the Malloys went to UCLA Medical Center where they believed it to be brain cancer. Dr. Linda Liau, the chair of the neurosurgery department, performed her exploratory surgery. During a consultation, Dr. Liau told Shenell that she looked just like her daughter, as she is half Vietnamese. It gave her a feeling of comfort and confidence: “I felt an overwhelming sense of ‘I’m going to be ok, I’m going to live’.”
The six-hour surgery confirmed a diagnosis of stage 4 glioblastoma, which came with a crushing prognosis: 92-94% of patients do not survive past 6 to 12 months. “It was a very, very hard diagnosis to swallow,” Malloy said. “I chose to focus on the 6-8%, that was going to be me.”
Following a craniotomy, Malloy underwent 42 days of brain radiation, combined with chemotherapy. The treatment was brutal—at times, she couldn’t walk or move. During those challenging days, laying in her backyard and feeling half-dead, the treatment felt like it was lasting very long and she just wanted it to be over, to be well.
She realized that she had to change her whole mindset. Instead of being annoyed, sad or angry as she lay in a machine receiving radiation, she visualized it as white healing light. “Every night when I took my chemo pills, I thanked my little superheroes in orange capes,” she said.
She repeated that affirming mantra of “I am strong, I am healthy, I am healed”.
Pairing with her medical treatments, Malloy went on a healing quest, becoming the CEO of healing her body. That meant cleaning up the food she ate, every product she used, how she moved her body and how she took care of her mind. Everything in life was either medicine or poison and she was willing to try every healing modality: “If it gave me even one more day of living, I was going to do it,” she said.
She met with naturopaths and explored Chinese medicine. She hiked into the vortexes of Sedona. She tried cannabis, IV therapy, Ayurvedic medicine, craniosacral massage, reiki, hypnotherapy and eliminated sugar and alcohol from her diet. As her body is sensitive (before cancer, she had rarely even took an Advil), she created her own protocol, avoiding pharmaceuticals and using natural supplements.
She has been stable since her treatments ended and she jokes that she and her residual cancer cells are now co-existing peacefully.
“Stable is the best I can hope for until there’s a cure,” Malloy said. “Stable is my favorite word in the dictionary.”
Malloy realizes she was fortunate to have the means and family support to do what she did and she was inspired to empower others to give their bodies the best environment to heal. She believed there had to be a purpose and a meaning for what happened to her and she wanted to share everything she learned.
She poured her whole heart into the Do Cancer website, with its database of the best cancer centers, physicians and proven treatments.
As it can be hard for people to know what to do when a loved one gets cancer, Do Cancer sells their curated cancer essentials healing kits filled with clean products to soothe side effects and nourish the mind, body and spirit.
Through scholarships, Do Cancer will help patients get concierge care, giving people in need the ability to see a naturopath or nutritionist to complement the amazing medical care they are receiving.
The website shares a wealth of detailed and thoughtfully-written tips and knowledge from Malloy, Morris and other survivors. Cancer is very heavy but Malloy said their nonprofit aims to be positive and informative. She knows how overwhelming a cancer diagnosis can feel, like the world is crashing down and you are mourning your old life.
“It’s about loving the person you are in this new chapter and embracing all the new normals,” she said. “Because life is still beautiful.”
Every 90 days, Malloy has a check-in with her mortality with her oncologist. “For most of the 90 days I live a very normal life,” she said.
She is a mom and a wife and she loves to travel. She prioritizes her health, she sweats every day, playing tennis or working out with a trainer. She does acupuncture every week, saunas four times a week, does yoga and meditates and eats clean—her kids still won’t let her have sugar.
In a way, she said, it’s how everyone should live: making the healthiest choices, eliminating stress, doing things that bring joy and appreciating each day as the gift that it is.
Malloy just turned 40, a milestone others may dread but she treasures—she is thankful for growing older.
“All I want to do is hold my grandbabies one day,” she said. “Aidan and I always say we are looking forward to being ‘Golden Girls’ and grandmas together.”
“Very, very grateful is the theme of my life right now.”
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