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December 13, 2011 > One woman mission seeks community help

One woman mission seeks community help

By Jessica Noel Waymire

Sherry Higgs is a woman on a mission. Diagnosed with a rare, aggressive form of breast cancer just three days before she was to start a new job, Sherry wasn't certain she would make it to 45, or live to see her daughter Sofia's ninth birthday. With the help of the staff at Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) and the support of family and friends, she has survived the darkness and found her passion. Now, she is working on a plan to improve services for patients in need of cancer treatment and is asking the community to step forward and join her.

Sherry is a lively, passionate, animated woman. You couldn't tell by looking at her that just two years ago she began her journey through cancer treatment. It began with a cough that just wouldn't go away. After seeing the doctor, Sherry noticed swelling in her left breast. She felt some lumps along the side. After the initial distress subsided, she called the clinic the next day. A mammogram and ultrasound confirmed that things "did not look good." By the end of the week, the diagnosis was official.

This particular type of breast cancer, inflammatory breast cancer, is extremely aggressive. Sherry had a clear mammogram in early 2009, which meant that the cancer in her breast in February 2010 was very recent. Treatment began immediately - chemotherapy, followed by surgical removal of the tumor, a double mastectomy, and breast reconstruction. By the fall, Sherry had completed many rounds of chemo and taxol therapy and was on the long road to recovery. She continues to meet every three months with her oncologist to ensure that the cancer has not returned.

Throughout this experience, Sherry was sustained by the love and support of her friends, family, and church community. When her partner was unable to give her rides to the clinic, friends offered to help. In facing this challenge, Sherry got the inspiration for what she calls "Treatment Rides," an idea for a program that would provide rides for cancer patients who have no way to get to much needed treatment appointments. Since Sherry was being treated at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation, she decided to start in her "own backyard" and formed a donation program with PAMF to begin funding the project.

"Charity begins at home," says Sherry. "I'm meeting these people and I want to focus on their needs. Then I want to expand to the bigger picture." Sherry's big-picture plan incorporates many of her experiences as a cancer patient. She saw crucial needs that were going unfulfilled in her time at PAMF, and hopes that with the help of the community, those needs will be met. Some things that Sherry would like to see funded in addition to the Treatment Rides are a one-on-one counselor for cancer patients, more support groups for different types of cancer, and a new infusion center.

Cancer treatment is a long and difficult process. Patients have to make many adjustments to things that we often take for granted. Sherry, having made positive changes in her diet at home, would love to see healthy options incorporated at her favorite dining spots around town. She says, "I'd love to see organic milk at Starbucks and be able to order veggies for breakfast at Dino's." And there have been other changes - she has relinquished the red hair she loved so much and exchanged chemical laden makeup for more natural varieties. "I want to bring chic-ness to the new you, because at first I didn't feel pretty. I felt like my clothes didn't fit me, then I discovered flowy clothes. You learn ways to substitute, when you first go through all this. That process can make or break you. Either you'll look in the mirror forever and say I don't like what I see or you'll come to terms with things and find what makes you feel beautiful again."

The Treatment Rides project has amazing potential. Sherry has an incredible vision and the heart to see it through. But she needs the help of her community. Currently, donations can be made through Sherry's blog, "Love Strong, Live Now, Laugh Often" on WordPress. Looking forward, she is hoping that business and corporations will step forward and help fulfill this vision. This would be a great project for a pro-bono, humanitarian lawyer. If you would like to help Sherry and the Treatment Rides program, check out her blog and send her a comment or e-mail.

For more information or to make a donation toward the Treatment Rides program, go to http://lovestronglivenowlaughoften.wordpress.com.

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