For me, cancer had a funny way of being the ultimate wake-up call. It’s been like a gift and a nightmare, all wrapped in one pretty little shiny box. The gift taught me to live in the moment, to always be present and never miss the birds flying outside my window on a bright blue-sky day, or the ladybug crawling on my arm bringing me protection and good luck. It made me realize I needed to start SherryStrong.org.
The gift of cancer also taught me to never take for granted my life or my health — or anyone else’s in my life. It taught me that I could use my voice and this platform to help other women battling this horrible disease.
The gift of cancer taught me to not wait one single moment…to make that memory I’ve put off for the past year with a loved one. (Road trip anyone?!) It taught me that loving who I am, even with all my faults, is so important. We have this one life to live, God gives us this one body to nourish and care for, so why not do it right and put ourselves first?!
Life is so precious. I promised myself when I got sick, I’d wake up everyday grateful & would make a memory with someone I love! Go Do it ??
— Sherry Pollex (@SherryPollex) April 1, 2016
But most importantly, the gift of cancer taught me to CHOOSE JOY!!! Every day I wake up, I choose joy in my life. I celebrate the small blessings. Our attitude is a huge part of who we are and how we live our lives every day!
I decided right away (ok, well, after I had a few fits about feeling sorry for myself) that I wasn’t going to let cancer take anything else away from me. Cancer could take away my right to bear children, my body parts, my hair, eyebrows, eyelashes and so much more, but it wasn’t going to take away my grateful attitude! My choice of waking up everyday and making the best of the situation I was in. I encourage you to do the same.
So, I’m glad you’re here, because we have lots to talk about!
SherryStrong.org exists to empower women to know their bodies, recognize the symptoms of ovarian cancer and learn how integrative practices may complement conventional medicine.
I’ve spent almost two years thinking about all the things I’d like to change about cancer:
- How I would love to change our healthcare system
- How I want to educate women about the choices they have for their bodies
- How I want to educate women about integrative medicine and care
- How I want to educate and teach women about food being medicine, acupuncture, exercise, massage therapy, supplements, rebounders, infrared saunas and so many more things we can do to improve our well-being!
Ovarian cancer is stealing women’s lives and while I am here to try to change that, in the meantime, I refuse to let ovarian cancer steal our peace, our dignity or our feelings of control. My goal with this website is to bring those elements back into our lives. Your life. The lives of your loved ones touched by ovarian cancer.
But we’re also going to work hard, because not enough people (women and men) know the symptoms of ovarian cancer.
- Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)
There’s an acronym to remember the most prevalent symptoms: BEAT.
- B for bloating that is persistent and doesn’t come and go
- E for eating less and feeling fuller
- A for abdominal pain
- T for telling your doctor
What else are we going to talk about here?
We’re going to talk about the hard stuff. The treatments. The emotional havoc. We’re going to be real about the friendships we gained and those we saw fade from our lives. We’re going to talk about — gasp! — intimacy. We’re going to talk wigs and eyelashes and eyebrows and all those little things that feel so big when they’re taken from us as women. (Have you read my post, “Can we have a moment of silence for our hair, please?”)
READ MORE: Here’s why I practice gratitude!
We’re also going to get spiritual. I don’t mean religion; I mean your inner voice. I’ve discovered so many new ways to strengthen myself from the inside out, and I want to help others do the same. (Check out my posts on meditation and yoga!)
Let me tell you a little about myself.
I’ve always been passionate and sassy… I’m that girl who tries to pack 25 things into her day but she really only has time to do 15 of them. I’ve never been able to sit still; I like to move and get things done.
When I met Martin, my life became complete. He’s the calm one in our relationship, while I’m the frantic, crazy stressed worry-wart all the time! Not my best qualities! I was a woman with a mission: to make the most out of life, with him by my side. We were happy and healthy – isn’t that all anyone wants?
That’s the thing about life. We may be able to control the speed at which we hurtle around the corners, but we can’t necessarily control what’s waiting for us on the other side.
At 35, I heard the words “ovarian cancer,” and my life changed forever.
Some people fall apart with that kind of diagnosis, and believe me, I’ve had my moments. But just like Martin finds his zone when he’s on the racetrack, I’ve always been able to find my zone when faced with a challenge. I brushed aside the tears and started crafting a plan with my doctors. I knew I was willing to do and try anything to beat this disease, or at least live a long fulfilling life with it.
I had a seven-hour debulking surgery five days after I was diagnosed. I went through 17 months of chemotherapy. I lost my tastebuds, my appetite, my healthy weight and my hair. I also lost my feelings of immortality. Cancer is the ultimate humbler. You wake up everyday staring death right in the face. If that doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will!
For all that I lost physically, I gained a lot emotionally in a really small amount of time. What’s it like to hear the words “ovarian cancer?” I know this: no two women will follow the exact same path, but we will experience so many of the same bumps! I promise!
My path bounced me from one doctor to another as they tried to accurately diagnose my symptoms – the biggest of which was severe abdominal pain. I had been going to my OB/GYN for four months telling him how much pain I was in, only to have him tell me I had “normal” ovarian cysts that would eventually go away on their own.
By the time we found out I had stage 3C ovarian cancer, my family and friends were devastated. I learned a lot about who would be there in the long run to support me — and it helped me write this post about tips for partners of women fighting cancer.
So, back to the diagnosis. I’ve always been a very game-on person, and I just wanted to know what came next! What did I need to do to tackle cancer? To beat it? I shed tears plenty of times and had a lot of great friends and family here to comfort and support me. My mom, sister (read about Jill here!) and brother-in-law never left my side. When Martin was traveling, they were here. I never had one moment where I felt alone! I felt so loved. Trust me, I know how lucky I am.
I also felt a consistent determination to keep moving forward.
We all have different levels of support and different circumstances. But isn’t there one common denominator? We want to live. We want to beat cancer! If you’re like me, we want to do what we can to make sure cancer never attacks another woman again.
That’s why I’m here, launching SherryStrong.org. I learned so, so much about the power of nutrition and integrative practices like acupuncture, which saved me from horrible neuropathy. (Read about my experience with acupuncture here!) I’ve connected with so many women who come from all different backgrounds and are moving forward with treatment and life in different but similar ways.
You got a diagnosis. You got treatment. You survived. Now you’re trying to live normally again. Or maybe you just got your diagnosis and you’re wondering, what does the road ahead look like? Every path will look different, but every path will have so many similar landmarks. Waves of despair. Fits of rage. Moments of self-pity, self-loathing and just deep, deep sadness.
Yes. I’ve been there, too.
Also? Moments of hilarity! My mom and I had one of the most body-shaking laughing fits one morning as she drove me to chemo in the pouring rain and nearly got us both killed on the slippery roads. I mean, I really didn’t want to go to chemo that day but c’mon! Chemo beats car crashes (almost) every day!
The truth is, my “new normal” is so much more in tune with my body and, crazily, I feel healthier than ever before.
Even scarier than being diagnosed has been finishing treatment, though. Suddenly, people called me “cancer free.” But that’s not the truth yet, is it? I mean, I’ve stopped the treatments that are supposed to get me to that “cancer free” state, but did it work? How long will it stay away?!
There are days when I’m terrified. I feel like for the past 17 months this drug has been keeping my cancer away, and then I rang the bell signaling the end of treatment, the nurses walked me out of the hospital and I found myself standing on a cliff staring down at the abyss. I eventually had to learn to step off that cliff and hope the treatments worked.
You have to learn to trust in your doctors, and research every possible avenue to keep this horrible beast away. And what’s right for one woman may not be right for another! We are all different human beings, which means each one of our cancers is different. That’s what makes this disease so hard to treat: there’s no “one size fits all” treatment that works for everybody.
I can’t be the only one that feels this way. That’s why I want as many women and their loved ones on this path with me. (And here’s a cool list of ways you can help a friend or loved one with cancer!) The hashtag #SherryStrong kept me going more times than I can count, and now I hope those words will inspire you or your loved one, too. The messages of hope I received on Facebook and Twitter from people all over the country, encouraged me everyday. Now I hope I can do that for others, too!
So, let’s jump together. We’ve got work to do. The first thing you can do is memorize the BEAT symptoms and share them with every single woman you know. That step alone can lead to early detection and successful, life-saving treatment. But then stick with me and learn about how we need to advocate, as women. (Have you ever heard of oral chemo parity?)
Are you in? I am.