Staying Strong for Sherry: A Sister’s StorySeptember 30, 2016
Sherry’s symptoms had progressed for months. We knew the persistent pain and bloating was cause for alarm. Sherry went from doctor to doctor only to be misdiagnosed and sent home. She finally received a diagnosis that gave us certainty but not much relief: stage 3 ovarian cancer. Our entire family was shocked.
Before my sister’s diagnosis, I knew one other woman who battled ovarian cancer — a co-worker of mine. I understood how scary the condition was, but my co-worker, a smoker who didn’t exercise, was more than 20 years older than me. I thought the disease affected only older, unhealthy women. How could my vibrant sister — so young, healthy, and active — have ovarian cancer? We later learned that the doctors were thinking the same.
Although Sherry is the youngest in our family, she was always the caregiver. But with a cancer battle looming, it was time for me to take care of her. I worked hard to make her battle as comfortable as it could be and kept an upbeat attitude — Sherry needed all the positivity she could get. Still, she impressed our whole family with the way she tackled her journey head-on, reminding us that we would get through her cancer together.
For some cancer patients, there’s time to research the best path to healing. For Sherry, we didn’t have that luxury. Within six days of her diagnosis, she underwent a seven-hour debulking surgery to remove the cancer. When she was sent home with an abundance of medication and not much knowledge on the side effects, we dove headfirst into educating ourselves about plant-based minerals and supplements.
Through her treatments, doctors kept a close eye on her bloodwork results and tumor markers. That’s when we learned we could enhance her recovery with holistic practices. Her approach to healing has helped her immensely, and understanding alternative medicine has since been an ongoing education for our family.
Sherry and I are always learning more about ovarian cancer, but so many women aren’t even aware of the symptoms or what they should watch for. In March, the National Academy of Medicine released a report that revealed significant knowledge gaps when it comes to ovarian cancer.
There are so many cases in which women have no idea until it’s too late, and that’s deeply troubling. That’s how Sherry began her journey — totally in the dark. Now, we both have so much knowledge that we’re compelled to share with women everywhere.
Sherry is a vocal ambassador for OVA1, the only FDA-cleared blood test that can help assess ovarian cancer risk at any stage and with any subtype. Although she did not receive the test herself, she knows that OVA1 results can not only help doctors create better treatment plans, but also provide reassurance for women who face pelvic mass surgery.
On top of that, Sherry also started SherryStrong.org with the goals of raising awareness about ovarian cancer’s symptoms and providing education and patient care.
SherryStrong also provides patients with chemo care kits. Through Sherry’s own experience and talking with other patients, we picked out items chemo patients need during their treatments and created these kits to give them some relief and happiness.
But our biggest venture yet is implementing integrative care centers. More and more people are realizing that using holistic practices — alone or in addition to their conventional treatment — are producing the most beneficial outcomes. We want to educate people on how to support their mind and body throughout their treatment. Our plan is to provide hospitals in our community with resources for patients to fight cancer holistically — yoga, meditation, acupuncture, and nutritional guidance. Hearing doctors and nurses comment on how well these patients are doing lets us know we’re really making a difference.
Sherry is incredible. She’s always ready to share her knowledge on ovarian cancer, her passion about her foundation, and her willingness to fight for other women, even while she’s fighting her own battle. I’ve never encountered anyone like her. Sherry was an amazing person before cancer, but battling this disease has only magnified her selflessness, courage, and strength.
Jill Burgdoff is the big sister of ovarian cancer thriver, Sherry Pollex. Everyone Knows Someone who has been impacted by ovarian cancer. Now it’s time to raise our voices and bring more awareness to this disease. Share #WhoYouKnow that has been impacted by ovarian cancer with a tweet, picture, video on social media. Celebrate the survivors in your life and honor the memories of the women that have passed away during Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.