2020 Lights of Love Tree Lighter Phoebe Worth Campus

Help brighten the lives of cancer patients throughout Southwest Georgia

2020 Tree Lighter, Phoebe Worth Medical Center, Shala Juster

Phoebe Worth Medical Center, Tree Lighting Ceremony: Tuesday, December 1, 2020 @ 7 p.m.

Shala Juster’s cancer journey didn’t begin when she learned last spring that she had a rare form of cancer she’ll be dealing with the rest of her life, or when she began chemotherapy and immunotherapy to keep her lymphoma at bay.

No, that journey began 19 years ago, when the Illinois native took a leap of faith and relocated to Southwest Georgia— where she found much more than a new home.

“My oldest son and I moved here in 2002,” said the beloved Worth County Elementary School 4th grade teacher. “I’ve met a lot of wonderful people that are still near and dear to my heart. My first day of pre-planning, in walks this tall, and in my opinion, very handsome PE coach. And he is now my husband.”

And it’s been her husband Warren, her “three handsome boys,” and the tight knit and loving Worth County community, that have been her rocks over the past year.

“I found out on April 10th (2019) that I have follicular B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which is more like a chronic illness, because it’s incurable,” Shala explained. “It’s not really if it returns, it’s just when.

Despite her diagnosis, Shala, a person of strong faith, believes the Lord has her right where she needs to be—surrounded by love and under the care of the exceptional oncology team at Phoebe.

“This is where He led me, and I couldn’t have picked a better place,” Shala said. “The biggest thing that got me through, aside from Exodus 14:14, is definitely my family and my support system. The outpouring of this community has definitely made the days a lot easier.”

In fact, Shala said the love the community has shown her has been incredible as well as varied. From folks delivering meals, to the Line Drive travel team hosting a fundraiser baseball tournament to support her and her family, and from prayer chains to t-shirt and paint parties, the support Shala felt from her community was truly amazing.

“It was just very overwhelming, in the good sense of the word,” she said. “I’m so thankful my journey brought me from Illinois to South Georgia. That was definitely part of His plan.”

Of course, long before the community support, Shala had to be diagnosed and getting to that point was a journey in itself, she said.

Months before Shala’s diagnosis, she knew something wasn’t right.

“I woke up (one) morning and the light had switched—ex­tremely nauseous and a dull, constant pain in my back,” Shala said.

After several days dealing with the pain and taking antibiotics for a possible kidney infection and waiting to see if she might pass a stone, Shala finally went to Phoebe Worth Emergency Center.

There, Shala met Dr. Derebail, who she said took the time to really listen to her and left no stone unturned trying to find out what was ailing her.

“I can’t say enough about Dr. Derebail,” she said. “He is a wonderful doctor.”

Although it took time and a lot of doctor’s appointments to figure out what was going on, Shala never lost hope and is eager to share the wisdom she’s gained from her journey with cancer.

“Number one is be your biggest advocate; you know your body,” she said. “Connect with other people who have walked this road, because that definitely makes it easier.

“And put on the full armor of God every day. It has definitely strengthened my walk. I feel like it’s also strengthened a lot of my relationships, because you don’t take every day for granted.”

Even though Shala is still adjusting to the knowledge that she’ll be dealing with cancer the rest of her life, she knows the Lord will carry her through and use her story to bring others closer to Him.

Shala strongly believes, “If one person comes to Christ through my story, every treatment and hardship I went through is worth it.”

Shala’s story is proof that there are blessings and relationships that change our life forever, even during the most difficult journeys.

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