A rare diagnosis could have ended Shanna Adamic’s life. Instead, she lives to smile again.

“I love you.”

That was the last thing that Liberty native and William Jewell graduate Shanna Adamic heard in her right ear–words of love from her husband as she went into brain surgery in January 2018. The surgery was the culmination of a series of divine events that led to her discovery of an acoustic neuroma, a rare brain tumor that was growing on her hearing nerve and pressing into her brain stem.  

Adamic, a fundraiser and senior operations director for the First Hand Foundation, Cerner’s non-profit, knows the importance of healthcare. Her work with the First Hand Foundation helps to provide healthcare for those that can’t afford it around the globe. After seeing an interview with Maria Menounos where she described her symptoms of an acoustic neuroma, Adamic consulted her doctor. He confirmed her suspicions. 

As a former NFL cheerleader and an event planner for the First Hand Foundation, Adamic had always led a very active lifestyle. With her new diagnosis, she faced the possibility of only walking with a walker and having permanent hearing loss. Her initial care plan involved surgery to remove as much of the tumor as possible, then undergoing radiation to shrink what was left, with the option of a second surgery. Adamic reached out to Menounos. She recommended a second opinion. 

That second opinion came from an old college friend after seeing Adamic post about her condition on Instagram. Dr. Amy Pittman invited Adamic to Loyola Medical where she was a facial nerve reconstruction surgeon. Two of her partnered doctors had completed more acoustic neuroma surgeries than anyone in the country. They wanted to see her in Chicago. 

Dr.John Leonetti and Dr. Doug Anderson had a different plan–a big surgery with a big outcome. They planned to go in and remove all of the tumor in one surgery, if possible. They warned her of the possible outcomes–loss of hearing, loss of equilibrium, and potential facial paralysis. But even with the potential side effects, there was no alternative. Adamic would go to Chicago. 

Adamic, who had always been very career-driven was suddenly brought face to face with what’s important in life–people. As a philanthropist, she knew this, but when the outpouring of support for her and her husband and two kids turned into a flood, she was overwhelmed. Support came from every side, from Dr. Pittman in Chicago who offered to let Adamic and her husband stay in her home for the two-week observed recovery time to the people who offered to care for her children back home.  Their support fortified her for the journey ahead. 

As she left for the surgery, her daughter asked if she was coming home. Amazingly, Adamic could smile and say yes to her daughter. 

“That was the hardest moment of all of this. You look at these kids, and you know that you’ll go to hell and back to be there for them,” says Adamic. 

The surgery went well, with 98% of the tumor removed. The remaining 2% was deemed benign, with extremely low chances of it growing back. The next steps were literally that–steps. This former cheerleader and dancer had to get her balance back. She was told not to expect much. 

But walk she did, out of the hospital. Tired of waiting for a wheelchair, Adamic left the hospital under her own power, using a walker. This set the tone for the rest of her recovery, which has been nothing short of miraculous. 

“There was a moment when I had to decide who I was going to be. Was I going to be the person that people looked at and said ‘Remember Shanna before the surgery and look at her now?’ I had to choose to be optimistic and decide that I was going to come out on the other side of this with flying colors,” says Adamic. 

While her optimism never wavered, her smile did. After waking up from surgery, she found that she couldn’t close both eyes and she had facial paralysis on her right side. She put up a Post It note on her bathroom mirror that said, ‘I will smile with all of my teeth. I will close both my eyes. I will cry with both eyes. I will become a better version of myself.’

That note stayed up for a year, but it worked. Through facial exercises, acupuncture, reflexology, and a commitment to maintaining a mind, body and spiritual balance, she has a smile that astounds her doctors. 

She’s back at work too. Eight weeks after surgery, she was back in the office, regaining her footing and finding meaning in helping others. 

That resilience defines Adamic. Since returning to work and regaining her smile, she’s also completed a dance class with some of her friends from her Chiefs cheerleading days, something she was told that she would likely never do again. After completing a class at Dance Fit Flow, she came away beaming. “I’ve still got it!” she says. 

And she does. She has her family and her life, the two most precious gifts. She also has the knowledge of all the people that were willing to support and uplift her. As she goes forward in her life, she is dedicated to reflecting that care onto others with every smile she has.