From Radiation to the Runway: Survivor StoriesSeptember 2023
Leading Ladies in BusinessSeptember 2023
by Kerry Anderson
September 26, 2017
Shelley LeBlanc, NP remembers the exact moment she was diagnosed with breast cancer down to the minute. That’s when the call came confirming her worst fear following a suspicious lump found in her left breast during a routine self-examination and a flurry of medical tests. Three days later she scheduled a lifesaving bilateral mastectomy followed by reconstruction. Just four months later, her twin sister received the exact same diagnosis. Rather than dwell on the stressful cancer journey, however, it fuels her passion to take care of women in Jennings and neighboring cities with an understanding few medical practitioners have.
Early on in nursing school, Shelley knew she wanted to focus on women’s issues, so she chose labor and delivery as her specialty. When her boss, Dr. Vince Bailey, encouraged her to go back for another degree in 1998, she jumped at the chance to become a nurse practitioner, scoring so high on the GRE that almost all of her schooling was paid for in addition to a monthly stipend. She graduated in 2000 and although it’s hard to measure the tremendously positive impact she’s had on women of all ages in the Jennings community since then, she sees an estimated 4,000 women a year with unique insight that allows her to offer firsthand wisdom, comfort, and care.
“I’ve cried with many a patient diagnosed with breast cancer,” Shelley says. “I can empathize because it brings me back to the fear I felt when I received my own news, with an 11-year old daughter at home and so much uncertainty.”
Shelley says she will preach early detection until she is blue in the face. “I tell them to check their breasts regularly, so they know when something changes and then trust their instincts because as women, we know when something is off with our bodies.” When patients tell her they don’t have any family history, she shares her story with them and gently encourages mammograms, self-exams, and other diagnostic testing. She’s there as an invaluable resource, an advocate, and an expert, every step of the way from diagnosis through finding them a path to treatment.
“Breast cancer, infertility, miscarriage, hysterectomy, c-section, I’ve been through it all,” says Shelley. She adds, “I feel like I can identify with my patients, and it makes me a better and more empathetic practitioner.”
Over the past 23 years working in the same place, her patients would agree. They share their lives with Shelley – the laughter, and the tears. They ask about her often and in return she delivers a dose of tough love, always pushing the exact same early detection measures that made her a survivor. Working at the only OB/GYN clinic in the small, tight-knit rural community, she advocates for women from the time they are teenagers into their geriatric years as if they were her own family.
Shelley also serves on the board of directors for the Melissa Doise Breast Cancer Foundation, a group that provides everything from free mammograms to financial aid to gas cards for women driving to doctors’ appointments. When a patient is diagnosed with breast cancer, her volunteer role means she can pick up the phone and get them the immediate support they need.
“I truly believe God put me in this position,” says Shelley. “I know what my patients are going through, I know what it is to have breast cancer and I feel so fortunate to be able to provide comfort and guidance. I’m so thankful for my family and coworkers who have supported me through my diagnosis and recovery so I can be of service to other women dealing with breast cancer.”
Shelley LeBlanc is a nurse practitioner at Ochsner Health Center in Jennings. She started her career working with Dr. Vince Bailey and now works with his son, Dr. Joel Bailey, along with his wife Dr. Krystle Baker.