Air Force veteran shares powerful story about Stage IV breast cancer diagnosis through photographs

Sheila McGlown was sitting at her desk when she experienced a burning pain she had never felt before.

"I would sneeze and it would burn. I was like, 'Something doesn't feel right.' I passed it off. Then I did it again," she said of the 2009 incident in an interview with AOL Lifestyle.

Sheila, a now-retired member of the Air Force, immediately went to her military doctor.

"I'm in this pain and I think it's my breast," Sheila told her physician.

"Usually breast cancer doesn't hurt like this, but we'll give you a mammogram," the doctor told her.

She immediately knew something was wrong after her doctor ordered an ultrasound. The first thing that she thought of? Her mother, who died of metastatic breast cancer in 2004.

A diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer (MBC), a late stage of the disease in which the cancer has spread beyond the breast, is different. There is no cure and in fact, a new study from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates more than 150,000 people are currently living with metastatic breast cancer.

RELATED: Celebrities get real about breast cancer:

10 celebrities get real about breast cancer
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10 celebrities get real about breast cancer

Julia Louis-Dreyfus

The 56-year-old was most recently diagnosed with breast cancer soon after the 2017 Emmy Awards. She confirmed the diagnosis on Instagram, quickly calling attention to the plight of other women who don't have health care. 

"1 in 8 women get breast cancer. Today, I'm the one. The good news is that I have the most glorious group of supportive and caring family and friends, and fantastic insurance through my union. The bad news is that not all women are so lucky, so let's fight all cancers and make universal health care a reality," she wrote in the post

Angelina Jolie 

In 2013, at age 37, the actress wrote a New York Times piece about her experiences with breast cancer and the BRCA1 gene. She had an 87% risk of breast cancer, 50% risk of ovarian cancer, so she took preventative action, including a double mastectomy and the later removal of her ovaries and fallopian tubes.

"Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much I could. I made a decision to have a preventive double mastectomy. I started with the breasts, as my risk of breast cancer is higher than my risk of ovarian cancer, and the surgery is more complex," she wrote.

Continuing in the New York Times, But I am writing about it now because I hope that other women can benefit from my experience. Cancer is still a word that strikes fear into people’s hearts, producing a deep sense of powerlessness. But today it is possible to find out through a blood test whether you are highly susceptible to breast and ovarian cancer, and then take action.


Cynthia Nixon

At 40, the acclaimed actress was diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine mammogram in 2006. She decided to keep it private for a year after her diagnosis. 

At age 12, Nixon watched her mother battle breast cancer and knew the importance of preventative care. 

"I’ve learned that if you catch breast cancer early, the chances are overwhelmingly good that you’ll be cured. So my attitude, which very much mirrored my mother’s, was this wasn’t a big deal," the star said, according to Marie Claire

Giuliana Rancic 

In 2011, after the diagnosis of an early-stage tumor, the host underwent a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery.

She said to Glamour: "....My doctor said, "We have great news in one breast and bad news in the other. You need to start thinking about a mastectomy." That had been the furthest thing from my mind. I knew nothing about breast cancer before this happened to me, and I thought mastectomy meant stage three or four cancer. I didn't have a big family history of it. I just never thought it would happen to me. I really didn't."

Shannen Doherty

The former "Beverly Hills, 90210" star was diagnosed in 2015 and regularly documented her battle on social media. After going through chemotherapy, she announced she's in remission in April 2017. 

"Moments. They happen. Today was and is a moment. What does remission mean? I heard that word and have no idea how to react. Good news? YES. Overwhelming. YES. Now more waiting. As every single one of my fellow cancer family knows, the next five years is crucial. Reoccurrences happen all the time," she shared on social media

Sheryl Crow

In 2006, the singer publicly announced she was battling the disease after she underwent "minimally invasive surgery." 

"I am inspired by the brave women who have faced this battle before me and grateful for the support of family and friends," she said according to ABC News

Olivia Newton-John

In 2017, the 68-year-old singer and actress revealed she was once again battling breast cancer. After her first diagnosis in 1992, she underwent a partial mastectomy as well as chemo. 

"I am really grateful for and touched by the worldwide outpouring of love and concern. Thank you. I am feeling good and enjoying total support from my family and friends, along with a team of wellness and medical practitioners both here in the US and at my Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness and Research Centre in Melbourne, Australia. I’m totally confident that my new journey will have a positive success story to inspire others!” she said exclusively to People in June

Melissa Etheridge

Because of the singer's family history, Etheridge was "vigilant" about examinations before eventually being diagnosed in 2004. 

"I am the healthiest I have ever been in my life. It excites me every day when I can wake up and feel energy and feel good and feel purpose. The changes I made were big and not easy. Sugar is a drug, incredibly addictive. That one change can make a huge difference in your life," she said to ABC News in 2015

Christina Applegate

At 36 years old, the actress was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008. After biopsies and a lumpectomy, as well as radiation, she tested positive for the BRCA gene.

Later, she underwent a double mastectomy. "It came on really fast. It was one of those things that I woke up and it felt so right," she says. "It just seemed like, 'I don't want to have to deal with this again. I don't want to keep putting that stuff in my body. I just want to be done with this.' & I was just going to let them go," she said according to CNN.

Rita Wilson

In 2015, it became known that the actress was battling breast cancer and underwent both a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. 

Since then, she's been outspoken about encouraging others to be vigilant about routine checks.

"Last week, with my husband by my side, and with the love and support of family and friends, I underwent a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction for breast cancer after a diagnosis of invasive lobular carcinoma. I am recovering and most importantly, expected to make a full recovery. Why? Because I caught this early, have excellent doctors and because I got a second opinion," she said according to People


"Oh god," she remembered thinking.

A radiologist pulled Sheila into a hospital room, sat her down and showed her an image of her breast:

"You see all that white stuff? It's cancer in your right breast. What you were feeling was the cancer already spreading to your liver."

Sheila had Stage IV metastatic breast cancer -- news that caught her completely off guard.

"The first thing i thought about was, 'Oh my mom died and that's the same thing that's going to happen to me,'" she recalled.

The mother of one had just moved from Illinois from Virginia, where she didn't know anyone. After sharing the heartbreaking news with her friends and family, they dropped everything to be by her side.

SEE ALSO: Think pink! Fashion finds to support Breast Cancer Awareness month

"All while I was going through this they were very supportive and always there. Some days I'm like, 'I don't feel like it' or 'I just want to feel sorry for myself.' I know that I can call any of them and they'll be like, 'No, you need to get up.'"

While it would be easy to give up, Sheila didn't. She continues to fight. Her biggest motivation? Her daughter.

"I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure she doesn't get this disease."

To spread awareness, Sheila has taken part in the #ThisIsMBC Serenity Project. Through the powerful and artful combination of body painting and underwater photography, Sheila was one of the 16 men and women living with MBC who revealed their stories to the world. In a nod to her military roots, she had the American flag painted on her body.

"I want women to feel beautiful even though you got this ugly, ugly disease. I want women to say, 'If Sheila can get up to put on lipstick, get her nails done and feel beautiful, why can't I too?'" Sheila said. "I want them to see you can still have a fruitful, joyful, loving life even though you're battling this disease."

Sheila is not only an 8-year Stage IV breast cancer survivor, but also a loving mother, Air Force veteran and the epitome of a powerful woman. Her tone during our conversation is optimistic and strong, despite battling a disease with the odds stacked against her.

"It has made me a strong and resilient person," Sheila said of her cancer battle. "It made me realize that I do have a little courage."

RELATED: See more photos of Sheila from the #ThisIsMBC project:

Sheila McGlown for the #ThisIsMBC Serenity Project
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Sheila McGlown for the #ThisIsMBC Serenity Project

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