Cape Coral breast cancer survivor starts non-profit to help support other survivors

Reporter: Andryanna Sheppard
Published: Updated:

Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the United States for Black and Hispanic women. One Cape Coral survivor is striving to make sure other survivors have the support they need once their intense treatments are done.

Astrid Shover describes herself as a mom, a wife, a woman of God, a business owner, and a leader in the community. She never thought she’d begin her breast cancer journey back in 2018 and add “breast cancer survivor” to that list.

“At first, I felt fine. I was healthy. I was running a business. I had two small kids. My husband was in law enforcement. Cancer was the furthest thing from my mind,” Shover recalled. “I got out of the shower one evening and found a [pea-sized] lump. It didn’t hurt.”

Breast cancer survivor Astrid Shover discusses racial and ethnic disparities in breast cancer treatment
Breast cancer survivor Astrid Shover discusses racial and ethnic disparities in breast cancer treatment, CREDIT: WINK News

At the time, Shover was a personal trainer. A client who happened to be a breast cancer survivor was coming in. Shover asked her, “what did breast cancer feel like to you? What were your symptoms?” Her client encouraged her to make a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible. She was able to get into her OBGYN about two months later where her doctor confirmed the pea-sized lump. On August 13, 2018, she got the call no one wants to get.

“‘Your biopsy turned out to be cancer.’ Very cold. And from that moment, I just crumbled. I fell to the ground crying. My husband was there to support me. I had two choices: I could let this defeat me or I could lean on my faith and say ‘I’m going to get through this.’ That’s exactly what I did.”

Shover in the middle of breast cancer treatment
Shover preparing breast cancer treatment

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer incidences are higher in White women, followed closely by Black women. Yet, Black women are 40 percent more likely to die from the disease compared to White women. Black women are also more likely to be diagnosed at younger ages but at later stages with more aggressive types of breast cancer.

“[That pea-sized lump] turned out to be four masses,” Shover said. “I was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer. It was a lobular carcinoma, which is a very aggressive form of breast cancer.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, invasive lobular carcinoma begins in the milk-producing glands, or lobules, and has the potential to spread to the lymph nodes and other areas of the body.

But why are the odds stacked against so many Black women? The American Cancer Society lists a number of reasons:

  • Less access to high quality health care across the breast cancer spectrum, from prevention to treatment.
  • Black women are more likely to be screened at lower resourced and non-accredited facilities.
  • Black women are more likely to go longer between mammograms and between abnormal results and follow-ups.

The organization blames systemic racism and its impacts on health and health insurance coverage for those reasons.

“Make sure that your health and your concerns are taken seriously,” added Shover. “I had surgery three weeks ago to remove a lymph node. The first doctor passed me over and said that she didn’t think it was breast cancer.”

After a double mastectomy and months of chemotherapy, Shover went from breast cancer patient to breast cancer survivor, advocate and recently, non-profit founder.

Astrid Shover fighting breast cancer
Astrid Shover

“I didn’t find or know of any non-profit that really spoke to survivorship, especially for younger women,” Shover said. “I figured if I can’t find it and it doesn’t exist, why not create it?”

She started Pink DIVAS United, Inc. DIVAS stands for Diverse Inspiring Victorious Amazing Survivors. The organization’s mission is to empower and uplift all breast cancer survivors, as well as their family members, through education, resources and tools like free mental health coaching to help them thrive once they ring the bell at the end of their treatments. The organization is hosting its first retreat where a number of survivors will gather in Dubai.

“To really just have a safe space, have a safe intimate space, to kind of share what someone else is going through, what I’m going through, and be able to resonate with one another as well as heal.”

Shover’s journey still isn’t over. She has other breast cancer-related surgeries scheduled this year.

“Our hair grows back. We’re done with treatments. We’re done with surgeries. There’s a mask that a lot of us wear that we’re okay when we’re really not. We’re suffering with mental health issues.”

Shover said many survivors have ‘scanxiety,’ or the worry their next screening will show a breast cancer recurrence. For patients with types of breast cancer affected by hormones, like estrogen and progesterone, hormone or endocrine therapy is usually taken for at least five years to lower the chance of recurrence, according to the American Cancer Society. Lymphedema is common in women treated for breast cancer as well. The National Institutes of Health describes breast cancer-related lymphedema as a chronic syndrome of abnormal swelling because of lymph fluid accumulation. It’s brought on by an imbalance of lymph fluid production and transport. There is no cure. Breast cancer treatments can also place a significant financial burden on patients and their families.

“Survivorship is hard. We need our community to rally behind us. It can’t just be about October,” Shover said.

Astrid Shover discusses Pink DIVAS United, Inc., her non-profit organization aimed at supporting breast cancer survivors
Astrid Shover discusses Pink DIVAS United, CREDIT: WINK News

The National Cancer Institute lists a couple of ways to possibly close that race and ethnicity disparity gap, like making cancer screening programs accessible to underserved populations and addressing the biological differences in breast cancer across racial and ethnic groups. Because of significant underrepresentation in clinical trials, there’s now a push to include more Black women to hopefully improve treatments and outcomes.

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