“This shouldn’t be happening,” was one of Shannon Carney’s very first thoughts when she was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer nearly 15 years ago. At the time, Shannon was a high-powered attorney with Wachovia living in Charlotte with her husband Dave, an engineer at Duke Energy. She was young, healthy, active, and career-focused – not at all what she thought someone receiving a a life-threatening disease diagnosis would look like.
Initially, like most, she had no idea what the diagnosis would really mean for her lifestyle. The journey she was about to embark on would be grueling: physically and emotionally draining as she endured weeks and weeks spent in the hospital with eight rounds of chemotherapy and thirty-plus rounds of radiation. It was spiritually taxing as well, as she reckoned with her own mortality, asking herself what this would all mean.
The lessons Shannon learned from her breast cancer diagnosis took a few years to solidify but ultimately she and Dave picked up and left the high-powered jobs and the city for the expanse of the mountains. There, they were able to find a better pace of life and reconnect with what mattered to them both. In the mountains, she found peace and restfulness amongst nature and began to integrate wellness in all areas of her life.
Though Shannon initially set out to primarily take better care of herself, she felt called to care for others, too. Who knew better than her how much a cancer diagnosis could upend everything?
What grew out of Shannon’s move to the mountains was what is now Wind RiverCancer Wellness Retreat in Tryon, NC. With the wellness center nestled in the foothills of western North Carolina, about 90 minutes from Charlotte, Shannon and Dave offer a myriad of support to cancer patients along with workshops and cancer coaching.
Now, ten years later, Wind River, with seven acres of rolling, wooded land, a fifteen-foot waterfall, lush gardens and a variety of walking trails, exists to connect, empower, and support retreat members during one of the most difficult and frightening times in their lives.
Two-thirds of the people Shannon sees either are facing down a terminal diagnosis or are experiencing a recurrence of their cancer. They are people, Shannon says, who need that extra human touch perhaps more than anyone.
Shannon, after facing down the disease herself, could have easily chosen to distance her life from cancer as much as possible. Instead, she is immersed in it, talking about pathology reports, research, and exams nearly daily. She is connected with Levine, and regularly hosts fundraisers in Charlotte. This year alone, Shannon lost twenty people who she knew from Wind River. Yet, she says, the work has not drained her nor left her feeling like cancer once again runs her life. Instead, Wind River has brought her no shortage of beauty.
In addition to being a lawyer, Shannon is a yoga therapist and an All-Faith minister – “and I’m Irish, so I’ll have a beer too,” she quips. Her sense of humor shines through our entire conversation, as does her plain, unabashed appreciation of life.
“I love the power of laughter,” Shannon says plainly. “I have learned to live with the heavy, but you must also immerse yourself in the light.”