Editor’s Note: Survivors are the heroes of the 3-Day, and we celebrate them with every step we take. Breast Cancer Awareness Month means not only talking about how we can save more lives, it means talking about the lives that have been saved. As you read this, the first of a set of stories about survivors, know that every dollar you raise for the 3-Day is helping to save lives like Sherri’s.
My name is Sherri O’Berry. I was diagnosed with breast cancer on August 1, 2013. I was only 42 years old. Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, Stage 2. The news was grim as I had lost both of my grandmothers to cancer (one to breast cancer) and only knew this disease to be a death sentence. I am a single mother raising three teenagers. When I was diagnosed, I was so afraid I would not be here to watch them grow up. How would they take the news? How could they live without me? Would I get to see them graduate? Get married? Know my grandchildren? I was so scared, in shock, denial, angry. The only thing I could do was make a plan to kick cancer’s butt!
Within 3 weeks of being diagnosed I was headed into surgery. I opted for a partial mastectomy. Following that surgery, I had another surgery to have my port put in and by October 1st, I was starting treatment. I had six rounds of intensive chemotherapy in 16 weeks. The next several months would determine my fate.
I lost my complete identity. Slowly, the chemo overtook my body. First my hair, then my eyebrows and lashes. I was devastated. Following my first treatment I was hospitalized because my body became so dehydrated and I was really sick. Following my second treatment, in the middle of the night I hit my head falling down the stairs and had to be hospitalized again. It was my 43rd birthday. This was definitely not where I had planned to be at this young age.
Following chemo, I was scheduled for 35 rounds of radiation. Radiation did not seem nearly as difficult as chemo but only time would tell. I had to be tattooed, marked, measured, and on camera day after day. Fatigue was taking its toll on me. The effects of chemo were lingering, as I was warned it would. On day 18 of 35 the Doctor made a choice to stop my radiation treatments because my blood levels were extremely low. Every day that passed at this point was making my previous treatments inactive. Whoa! What another blow! I was terrified.
Every second of every day was a roller coaster of emotions. Finally on April 20th 2014, I completed my 35th round of radiation. I was cancer free! Or was I? That is the question I asked myself over and over. Wasn’t there a test they could give me to tell if the cancerous cells were gone? No, I had to walk away confident that between my surgery and my treatments that I was now cancer free. I learned that being a “survivor” was being alive every day after diagnosis.
My family and friends embraced me tightly and we moved forward, the only direction I chose to look! I was surrounded by an outpouring of support from everyone in the community. My dear friend set up a meal plan and people I didn’t even know were delivering hot meals daily during my treatments to feed me and my kids. Packages were arriving daily, flowers delivered and my friends put together a benefit for me and raised thousands of dollars for me. I could focus 100% on fighting this awful disease.
One day during my hospital visit someone told me about the Susan G Komen 3-Day. I knew immediately this was a way for me to give back. I was so extremely grateful to learn about all the people who had already been a part of the 3-Day. I started fundraising right away. The first year I walked with 2 dear friends, one of whom was also going through breast cancer treatment at the same time I was. The 2 of us still undergoing treatment were not even sure we would be healthy enough to walk by that August, but raising the money was more important to us than actually participating at that point. This became so important to me. I wanted to raise awareness. I wanted to help find a cure! I was so proud to be part of this movement that would help those diagnosed after me. I was hooked! Once I learned about the 3-Day Youth Corps, I knew right away that my girls would participate with me the following year.
As a family we started fundraising for the following year’s walk. We did so many bottle drives to collect money, we made crafts and sold them at craft shows, we were given private donations, Euchre Tournament, Dining for Dollars at a local restaurant and garage sales. The walk was not only about the three days, it was about paying it forward. Bonding with my girls. Making sure they understood exactly why we were doing everything we were doing.
Ten months later, it was time for the grand experience. I was so proud of my girls (ages 13 and 15), as they had become just a passionate as I was. The amazing weekend brought us even closer together. We were surrounded by so many other people that were affected by this awful disease and it was like our new extended family. My girls bonded so well with the other 18 kids in the Youth Corps that they have a close relationships that will likely last a lifetime. The weekend was life changing for all three of us. Both of my daughters had to speak in front of a group of 500+ people and explain how they have been affected by cancer.
This past August 2016 my older daughter (age 17) walked with me, and my younger daughter (age 15) was part of the Youth Corps again.
August 2017 will be another change for us, as my youngest is now old enough to join me as a walker. She is beyond excited and looking forward to the challenge.
I always say cancer was the best worst thing that has happened to me. My life has forever changed and I am forever grateful! The 3-Day will be part of my life until we find a cure.