While facing colon and breast cancer diagnoses, Sheri realized how she experienced cancer would be the way everyone around her experienced it. That realization changed her life—and her perspective on what needed to be done each day. Throughout her story, she shares what lived and died after facing breast cancer.
“The need to be perfect died…five extra pounds lives.”
In 2005 my husband looked at me and said, “If you don’t go to your doctor, I’m going to go and let her know what’s going on.”
For a year I had been having issues with bleeding from my rectal area. I talked myself into believing this mass was a hemorrhoid. I even had a quick visit with a specialist who told me that. You might be surprised at what we will convince ourselves is “normal” for our bodies. I was 37 years old, in great shape, no family history of cancer. There is no way it could be anything else, right?
After the exam, my family doctor said, “I can’t tell you what this is, but I can tell you what it isn’t—it isn’t a hemorrhoid.” She immediately ordered a colonoscopy, where the doctor confirmed it was a mass. Not only did I have a mass in my rectum area, but also a mass higher up in my colon. She had taken a biopsy of both.
We got the call while on vacation in the Tennessee mountains. My doctor said the biopsy she had taken from the mass below had come back negative for cancer. However, the other mass—the one I had no idea about—was Stage 1 cancer. She said, “Your husband most likely saved your life.”
Over a one-year period, I had four colonoscopies. Each time, my doctor would take out what she could and send it off. After colonoscopy number four, all was well and my scans were clear! No treatments needed, no meds needed—my oncologist is still amazed at how “uneventful” that cancer was for me physically. Emotionally, it was a different story.
A decade later…
“The need to have everything planned out died…bad hair days live.”
Fast forward 10 years and we would once again take the Tennessee mountain trip—this time to celebrate being 10 years cancer-free!
Two weeks after we returned, I was lying in bed, adjusting my pajamas under my arm, and felt what appeared to be a pea-size lump. My heart sank.
My gynecologist determined from her exam that it was indeed a lump. However, she said if she had to make an educated guess, she would say it didn’t behave like it was cancerous. She still wanted me to have additional screenings.
The mammogram showed nothing, though the radiologist could feel the lump. The ultrasound was a different story. The radiologist phoned my doctor and told her he suspected cancer.
The surgeon assured me he had been doing this for 40 years and, in his opinion, it didn’t behave like cancer. He still chose to biopsy. When I answered the phone and heard his voice on the other end, I thought, “When does the doctor himself call you?”
It was cancer. He proceeded to apologize to me and said in his 40-plus years, he would have bet his career that this was not cancer. He still tells me that at every check-up!
I had just celebrated my 10-year anniversary of being cancer-free, and I had just had genetic testing done with nothing found. How could this be? Cancer at 37 and 47. Scans and surgery were scheduled.
Thinking and believing
This was a tiny spot, I thought.
They will go in there and just remove it, I thought.
I’ll be done, I thought.
It will be just as easy as my colon cancer, I thought.
I had no idea there were different kinds of breast cancer. I had no idea that size wasn’t the only factor in determining treatment. I had no idea the biology of the cancer would determine my course of treatment. It was Stage 2, HER 2 positive/estrogen-driven, and it had spread to the lymph nodes: 13 months of chemo and 30 rounds of radiation.
“The stress, anxiety, and worry over petty things died…dust lives.”
Between the time of diagnosis and when treatment began, I did a lot of praying. My faith was my biggest inspiration. As a wife, mother, Mimi (grandma), and pastor’s wife, I wanted to remain as positive as I could for my circle.
That’s when I felt the words pour into my heart: How I experience cancer will be the way everyone around me experiences it.
Would I allow cancer to set the atmosphere or would I decide the atmosphere?
That changed my life. It wasn’t an easy 13 months. Chemo challenges the best of us. Bald, swollen eyes, mouth sores, joint pain, and neuropathy, yet I resolved that I would not pitch a tent in the valley, but keep going through.
There were many highlights during that time in my life:
1. My family. My oldest “grand joy,” Addi, would tell folks everywhere we went I was wearing a wig and under the wig I was bald. Then she’d say, “Mimi, go ahead and take it off and show them.” Her innocence and sheer joy opened up doors for me to strike up conversations with total strangers. These conversations often led to their stories, which made my heart smile and my eyes leak. My second grand joy, Cassidy, was terrified of my baldness! She warmed up enough to get a picture with me. My third grand joy, Aiden, found it uneventful. Regardless of what season I was in while on this journey, they always made my day better with their hugs and smiles. It was the best medicine of all!
2. My people. I was being treated at a facility with a cancer support fund and group, Journey of Hope. I was able to take advantage of cancer survivor events, cancer transition classes, support groups, art classes, and color runs/walks. All of these connected me with my people: survivors. During my first battle with cancer, there was no one to talk to or even ask me how I was doing emotionally. Having this support was a blessing! I also became close to my nurse practitioner, Kim Hess, the founder of Journey of Hope.
3. My future. About two months after my last treatment, Kim asked me to join the Journey of Hope volunteer team. This was an answer to prayer. I knew I wanted to give back. Today I am the community coordinator of Journey of Hope Cancer Support Fund at the SECU Comprehensive Cancer Center in New Bern, NC. I am blessed to be able to give hope to cancer patients and their families through supplying chemo care bags, radiation bags, art classes, support groups, exercise classes, cancer survivor day events, and more.
You don’t choose the cancer community, it chooses you. This is a community I never wanted to be a part of, but once I found myself living there, I chose to embrace it.
“Walking around each day going through the motions died…dirty laundry lives.”
Don’t get me wrong, my life before cancer was great, but I realize how much time I spent with nonsense. Today, my days are spent with my husband, my children, my grand joys, my church, my farm, and my volunteer work.
When there is time, the necessities get done. If there isn’t time, there’s always tomorrow, right?
None of us know if we will see tomorrow and I sure don’t want to spend my last day folding laundry!
Next year I will be 7 years breast cancer-free and 17 years colon cancer-free. I would go through all this again if I knew it would lead me to where I am today. It is true that difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.
My 17th and final treatment ended on February 7, 2017. This date was significant to me: 7 is God’s number for completion. This journey was complete and my healing was complete.
National Breast Cancer Foundation is here for you and your loved ones. Whether you need support, education, or help during treatment, we have a team dedicated to getting you the help you deserve.