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Cancer diagnosis sent chaplain into 'spiritual distress'

Posted November 24

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— As many people spent Thanksgiving counting their blessings, people diagnosed with potentially life-threatening diseases may have difficulty focusing on the positives.

UNC Hospitals is like a second home for director of pastoral care, Shay Greene.

“I’ve been a chaplain here for 21 years,” she said.

After offering support to patients and their families who struggled with their own life threatening diseases, Greene faced one of her own five years ago.

“I noticed a lump while I was taking a shower,” Greene said.

Greene had breast cancer and it had spread to her lymph nodes. The disease required aggressive treatment.

“I went into spiritual distress at that point with two fairly young children, a single mom,” she said. “And I did ask myself ‘do I want to continue to be a minister’.”

The most difficult decision for Greene was her oncologist’s recommendation for a double mastectomy.

“I was having a hard time reconciling with the fact that part of my body was going to be amputated and they said not to have it would mean death,” she said.

Greene approached her boyfriend of 9 months, inviting him to leave the relationship.

“I couldn’t imagine why he would want to stay. First of all, through the journey but, second of all, with someone who was going to have a mastectomy and that just really underestimated his commitment and his true love,” she said.

Her boyfriend stayed and shortly after the treatments and breast reconstruction ended, he became her husband.

“He came to every chemo treatment I had. He was with me during every surgery,” Greene said. “It was just absolutely God’s gift to me to have someone that could look past a cancer diagnosis and know that I am so much more than cancer.”

The tender mercies kept Greene’s faith strong, as well as her ministry of service to others who face similar trials.

“It’s transformed my ministry in the sense that I know the pain and the depth of the pain a person may be feeling who has heard cancer is not a part of your life,” she said.

In September, Greene celebrated five years of being cancer free.

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