I met Cheryl in a downtown coffee shop. She has soft features in her eyes and in her smile, a great cropped hair style with three layers of color, and a confidence about her demeanor that is mesmerizing. It doesn’t take long after being in conversation with her that she goes deep, but you are going to have to be trustworthy if you really want to hear her heart. What you get on the surface is her determination and her strength. I knew I was meeting someone special.
Cancer was cruel to Cheryl. She lived a very active life, lived for the outdoors, and spent the majority of her free time mountain biking. It was after an exercise session that Cheryl found a lump. She convinced herself that it was from a prior injury, but after a couple of months when it hadn’t gone away she decided to have a mammogram. The letter came in the mail that the lump was nothing to worry about. A year later the lump was still there and a bit larger. She went back in for another mammogram and they called her to come back for an ultrasound. They determined they didn’t like the margins so they scheduled a needle biopsy. When she called them back a few days later they told her it was cancer.
Based on the diagnosis and further scans, Cheryl expected a simple lumpectomy with some follow-up radiation. What she woke up to after surgery was finding out that two lymph nodes they removed tested positive for cancer so they removed an additional 20 lymph nodes. Since another one of those also came back positive, the pathology of the tumor indicated it was aggressive and chemotherapy was now necessary, a year of Herceptin, and 37 rounds of radiation.
Cheryl is one who likes to take control. She didn’t let the chemotherapy treatments take her hair; instead she had a head-shaving party with her friends and family. She worked out as long as she could – switching from her mountain bike to a cruiser on the Boise Greenbelt.
The process of being involved in The Reveal Mission was cathartic on many levels for Cheryl and opened up dialog with others that she hadn’t yet discussed. Though she does not like the term, “The New Normal” she acknowledges that you have to find a new way to live life to the fullest. You may have to grieve your losses – of a body part, or a sport you can no longer do, but then you need to find a way to live.
Cheryl also wants women to take control of their own health, and listen to their own bodies. “If you feel like something is wrong be persistent and insistent with your doctor.” She also encourages women who are in treatment not to hide. “Sometimes I think we wear wigs and scarves to cover up their heads not based on what they need, but so that others won’t feel uncomfortable.” Cheryl’s okay with others being uncomfortable, especially if it brings some change to our culture and those who are fighting for their lives can be accepted right where they are.