Participant since 2014
Before turning 49, Sherri felt a lump in her right chest, only months out from a clean mammogram. After an ultrasound, doctors told her that the lump, “may or may not be cancer.” A biopsy came back as invasive ductal carcinoma. She endured surgeries, hospitalizations, and months of chemotherapy and radiation. She also realized the power of healing broken thoughts and emotions. She did not follow her medical treatment with blind fear, but took time to listen to her body’s innate wisdom. Through a strong sense of self, family support, and connecting to resources like Cornucopia Cancer Support Center, Sherri realized her need and ability to change her thinking and pull from the bounty of wellness within. The branches of her family tree are full of stories of hopes and of struggles, of women who died too soon from a devastating disease. Today, Sherri works to make her branch strong and vibrant, nourished with acceptance, healing, and joy.
Read the rest of Sherri’s story below.
Before her 49th birthday, Sherri navigated the stress of a cross country move and the death of her husband’s father. She settled in NC with her husband and son, committing to find balance in her life after a time of transition and stress. Unfortunately, her body revealed the effects of stress, challenging her decision to seek calm. The morning after a Pilates class, she felt a lump in her right chest, only months out from a clean mammogram. After an ultrasound, doctors told her that the lump, “may or may not be cancer.” A biopsy came back as invasive ductal carcinoma.
Sherri’s family tree holds a graveyard of women who died from breast cancer – a total of 16 deaths that she can count. Her mother, grandmother, aunts and cousins died from breast cancer, many diagnosed before turning fifty.
After her diagnosis and genetic testing, Sherri had a double mastectomy and planned for later removal of her ovaries. Doctors found cancer in nine lymph nodes. Three weeks after surgery, she started aggressive chemotherapy with a combination of three drugs. One of the drugs caused anaphylactic shock and painful cysts along her arms. She continued treatment, administered with large doses of Benadryl to lessen her reaction. She ended up in the emergency department with chest pain related to her chemotherapy.
Sherri says she gave herself permission “to be a victim”, but only for a short time. She allowed time to experience the fear, anger, and frustration that comes from invasive cancer and treatment. She then decided to reclaim her body, her thoughts. She realized how often her internal voice beat her down. Before cancer, she focused on taking care of others, often feeling like her efforts were never enough. She felt caught in a “burnout culture” of always being busy, of always running from one place to another, of defining calm as a weakness or a void needing to be filled.
While undergoing chemotherapy, Sherri shifted into a place of healing. She committed to love herself and “to just be.” She took online classes on bio-energetic health and meditation, and learned to identify and experience joy in the moment. After a lifetime of negative thoughts and after weeks of chemotherapy, she decided to listen to her body.
After five of six cycles of chemotherapy, she needed a break. Her oncologist allowed her to take an extra week to travel to the beach with her family. She enjoyed time with her family and celebrated the natural seaside rhythms. Even though she was meticulous about her food and hygiene, clothing rubbed her skin away creating a cut on her right side. She developed a staph infection with cellulitis, requiring a hospitalization.
Sherri recovered from the infection. She then paused, taking time to listen to and honor her healing voice. She decided not to do her sixth cycle of chemotherapy, as she worried her immune system was far to compromised. She also decided to not take aromatase inhibitors –drugs that block the adrenal system. She was concerned the side effects would hurt her body and quality of life. She instead focused on meditation and breathing techniques to help manage her adrenal response. She did continue her medical treatment, and completed six weeks of radiation along with oophorectomy surgery to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes.
Sherri learned about Cornucopia Cancer Support Center during chemotherapy. Two separate friends mentioned the agency and its services to cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers. At no cost to participants, Cornucopia offers peer counseling, yoga classes, therapeutic touch like acupuncture and massage, support groups, a meal delivery program, life coaching, counseling, and workshops. Cornucopia’s services aligned perfectly with Sherri’s path of slowing life’s hectic pace, finding goodness in simple moments, and cultivating her body’s healing wisdom. Through Cornucopia, Sherri received Reiki and connected to another breast cancer survivor with Peer Connect. She received healing massage from a provider trained to work with breast cancer patients. She spent time on spiritual, emotional, and whole body wellness. Many of the Cornucopia services would have cost hundreds of dollars elsewhere.
Sherri tells of experiments by Matsuro Emoto which examine the effects of kind versus unkind thoughts directed towards water samples. According to Emoto’s results, when frozen, water receiving kind thoughts forms beautiful ice crystals while water receiving unkind thoughts forms non-descript frozen blobs. Our cells are largely made of water, so if thoughts can affect water, then thoughts can also affect our cells. Sherri sees her cancer as both a genetic and genealogic challenge – breast cancer genes passed from mother to daughter represent a family history of the emotional struggles of women in her family.
Emoto’s results seem to defy basic principles of chemistry and physics, and searching the internet reveals bountiful skeptics of his work. However, the scientific literature is full of published, peer-reviewed studies showing connections between our experiences, emotions, and health. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a study called, “The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study.” Results show that children who experience maltreatment and/or family dysfunction are at far greater risk of health problems as adults, including cardiovascular disease, lung and liver disease, hypertension, diabetes, asthma, and obesity. These risks hold true even when controlling for the usual culprits of unequal income, risky behaviors, and access to healthcare.
If trauma in childhood causes health problems in adulthood, then what can be done to heal that which leads to illness? The National Child Traumatic Stress Network focuses on evidenced-based ways to help children who have experienced trauma. The Network provides information on over twenty interventions and resources proven to help children and families who have experienced trauma. The interventions do not include medications, doctors, or hospitals. Rather, they include a wide variety of therapeutic encounters that focus on nurturing family bonds, helping trauma survivors form synchronous relationships with others, teaching adults how to praise affected children, teaching relaxation in times of stress, strengthening emotional bonds, and showing cognitive coping – connecting thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
Adverse experiences cause damage. The damage is best repaired through healing relationships, praise, relaxation, and connecting to others in a positive way.
Like so many others, cancer stopped Sherri in her tracks, shining a spot-light on parts of her life that were blocking her ability to heal. She endured surgeries, hospitalizations, and months of chemotherapy and radiation. She also realized the power of healing broken thoughts and emotions. She did not follow her medical treatment with blind fear, but took time to listen to her body’s innate wisdom. Through a strong sense of self, family support, and connecting to resources like Cornucopia Cancer Support Center, Sherri realized her need and ability to change her thinking and pull from the bounty of wellness within. She still treks to the cancer center for her regular checkups. She also commits to tending to her emotional and spiritual balance. She redefined her imperfections as gifts, as tools for finding happiness and connecting with others. The branches of her family tree are full of stories of hopes and of struggles, of women who died too soon from a devastating disease. Today, Sherri works to make her branch strong and vibrant, nourished with acceptance, healing, and joy.