Sherry Wilmot had found breast lumps in the past — all benign — so she figured the one she discovered in January, 2019, was more of the same. She waited four months until her regular OBGYN visit at UnityPoint Health – Cedar Rapids located in the MedQuarter Regional Medical District in May for her scheduled mammogram.
After all, she’d just had a clean mammogram the year before.
She never got the mammogram — her doctor didn’t share her nonchalance over the lump and immediately sent her to the nearby Helen G. Nassif Community Cancer Center for full evaluation and biopsy.
Sherry was at work in accounts payable at the Vinton-Shellsburg school district when she got the call that changed her life. Four masses, three of them invasive ductal carcinoma, the fourth less invasive.
“That wasn’t the news I wanted to hear,” she says. Her triple-positive, multi-focal breast cancer diagnosis set in motion a remarkably intense and seemingly endless series of events she’s still dealing with today.
The Side Effects Overachiever
Treatment began at Nassif one month after the phone call. “The first round of chemo and immunotherapy was a four-drug cocktail delivered every three weeks, 5-8 hours a visit, from June to October.”
Then, in November, 2019, Sherry had her first surgery.
“I had a double mastectomy, which also included biopsies of surrounding tissue and lymph nodes and initial reconstruction procedures,” she explains. “The ‘good news,’” she continues, “was that the cancer hadn’t spread to the lymph nodes.”
Over the following year, more surgery, chemo and other drug therapies followed. She’s had to sleep on her back for long periods of time. As treatment followed treatment, her body began to rebel. Continuous headaches, neuropathy, severe acid reflux, tinnitus, loss of fine motor and balance control — she’s received treatment for all these and more while battling her cancer.
My friends and family called me “The Side Effects Overachiever,” she relays.
“But it has been so helpful to have all these providers in one place for coordination and timing of my many appointments over the past two years,” Sherry explained.
The Bright Side of a New Horizon
Sherry has drawn strength from her faith. And one of the great realizations she’s had is the extent of support, love and caring expressed by former strangers, friends and loved ones.
“My cancer care team — my surgeons and their staff, my cancer nurse, the chemo infusion team, the staff at my appointments — they’ve been amazing. As have all the specialists I’ve seen to treat side effects.”
Her employer and coworkers “… have been so supportive. They’ve covered for me through all my dozens of appointments.”
But the response of her loved ones from day one of her diagnosis has left the deepest impression. “My friend June, my sister Deb, my parents Lynette and Richard — they’ve been there for me every step of the way,” she says.
Sherry is still taking a targeted anti-cancer treatment, still takes physical therapy, still needs a final reconstruction procedure. “But I consider myself cancer free, though I’m continuing with certain treatments,” she explains.
While not wishing it on herself or anyone, she notes that “This experience has changed my outlook — I’m more in the moment. Mowing the lawn, doing the dishes, acquiring stuff … not so important. I want experiences with my family and friends.”
“I’m really looking forward to this summer.”