Targeted therapy helps a young woman with breast cancer become a model of strength

Shanette Caywood, breast cancer patient, at the Chicago lakefront

A stage 4 cancer diagnosis devastated Shanette Caywood. Today, she is a model of strength.

A month before she turned 34, Shanette Caywood was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer that had spread to her liver and spine. "You feel like your world is ending," she said. "The only thing I could think about was my kids – who was going to be there for them?”

That was five years ago. Caywood recently turned 39, and her cancer — while not curable — is stable.

Caywood was drawn to the University of Chicago Medicine’s focus on research and the opportunity to participate in clinical trials. Breast cancer specialist Rita Nanda, MD, worked with Caywood to develop a treatment plan that gave her the quality of life she wanted.

"From the first day I met Dr. Nanda, she has always given me hope," said Caywood, a sales executive and mother of two. "I always felt like I was a part of the decision-making."

Caywood was drawn to the University of Chicago Medicine’s focus on research and the opportunity to participate in clinical trials. 

Caywood’s type of cancer – HER2-positive – is a more aggressive form. Initially, she received targeted therapy in a clinical trial, followed later by a mastectomy, radiation and reconstruction. She is now receiving targeted chemotherapy to manage metastases in her liver and spine and hormone therapy for small tumors in her other breast.

Despite her fatigue and at times feeling like she was "moving in slow motion," the Chicago resident continued to work during treatment. She took up running along the lakefront and has completed several 5Ks. "I had to challenge myself to do something I hadn’t done before and show my body and cancer that I was in control," she said.

Vowing to "live life larger," Caywood has become a speaker and counselor, working to inspire other young women facing stage 4 diagnoses. She also began modeling in local fashion shows and is featured in the national Ulta Beauty ad campaign for breast cancer research.

"That was huge for me, just being able to be that face, showing beauty through something you thought would break you."

Breast cancer care

Our team represents expertise across the spectrum of breast cancer care: breast imaging, breast surgery, medical and radiation oncology, plastic and reconstructive surgery, lymphedema treatment, clinical genetics, pathology and nursing. Patients receive a comprehensive treatment plan that optimizes chances of their survival and quality of life.

Learn more about UChicago Medicine breast cancer care

Rita Nanda, MD

Rita Nanda, MD, specializes in the treatment of breast cancer. She has particular expertise in the treatment of triple-negative, early onset, hereditary, and locally advanced breast cancers.

Read Dr. Nanda's physician profile