Louise McShane: Coordinator of Community Service Programs and Cancer Survivor

Louise McShane is the new Coordinator of Community Service, the proclaimed “Queen of OSE,” and a breast cancer survivor. Four years ago she went through hell and back but as we sit in her new office, she says to me, “All things happen for a reason, maybe?” It’s a question, not a statement. Something Louise doesn’t quite want to commit to 100%, but is inclined to believe. I wanted to interview Louise to tell her un-sugarcoated story, one that involves a lot of pain. Yet as we begin, Louise is focused on me. She’s concerned with my spring break, my jet lag, and asks “How can I be useful to you today?” That’s just who Louise McShane is. 

Louise has worked in the Office of Student Engagement for several years, and has always played a role in the office’s community outreach. When she began in 2008, there was this “little event called Relay for Life,”- the flagship fundraiser of the American Cancer society, where communities come together to walk their track all night, a symbol of how cancer never sleeps. It wasn’t much at the time, but the ACS used a drop in the bucket approach, every dollar matters to the research, the cancer patients, and the education. From PhilaU Relay’s humble beginnings, she was eager to help the students however she could.

Then one day in 2012, she found a lump in her breast, and decided to use her own battle as a way to help those students. “This is an academic institution, and what we’re going to learn here is what a chemo patient looks like…” she told a group of particularly involved students when she gathered them to say she had cancer. She believed they could all learn how to get through this together. It was a chance to be a role model for handling adversity, and to demonstrate for them that she was“…not someone who’s going to roll up in a ball but someone who’s kicking a**!” She told them not to fall apart, because she had no intentions of falling apart.

For a while, Louise continued at PhilaU in the Office of Student Engagement. She wanted nothing more than to show her students that she was fighting. Unfortunately, exposure to germs did a number on her white blood cell count, and she had to take a leave of absence. “It really made me sad to do that, I felt like it was giving up.”, she said. She knows the rest of the office and all of her students didn’t see it that way, but still couldn’t help but feel she let everyone down. She returned months later to a mass of hugs, notes, and well wishes. I don’t think I truly understood the word ‘beloved’ until I saw her welcome back party. 

‘Fortunate’ is the word Louise uses to describe herself. She feels fortunate that her path was easier than those who came before her. Louise attributes that largely by to the work of Relay, where people are acknowledging, educating, sharing, and fighting for people like her. “I did not have as difficult of a time as those who came before me…because you Relayed.”  She feels fortunate that she went through it first, so that when her sister was diagnosed last year, Louise felt like she knew what to do. She feels fortunate to spread information and help others understand what all the medical jargon means. She feels fortunate because “Everyone gets something, and the really unlucky ones are the ones that don’t know what they have.”

Louise knows what she has, and she knows she’s tougher than it. From the beginning, having cancer was a way for Louise to show her students how to fight their battles with grace, and anyone who’s close to her will tell you how in awe they are of her. I certainly will. She took her pain and her suffering as a chance to push the important work of Relay and the American Cancer Society, and as a chance to see how fortunate she truly is.

So, “all things for a reason, maybe?” it’s a question, not a statement. “I don’t know if that’s the answer but if that’s not the answer, it sure is one that is making me feel better today.”

Relay for Life 2016 will take place Friday April 1st at 6pm. Help us finish the fight for people like Louise.