Sunday, March 15, 2009

Scary Business

Sorry for the wait. The last couple of weeks have been crazy busy and if you have been reading Sherri’s blog, you know that part of the “crazy” and some serious time pushing aside the “busy” was dedicated to waiting, worrying, praying, and hoping. [Let’s see if I can get this time line right.] On Friday, 2/27, Sherri called me after work from her car. This is not unusual at all, in fact most of our phone conversations happen either late, after the kids are in bed, or from the car en route to gymnastics, baseball, CCD, etc. But this time, she called me, not on the way to PTA (she is the president – and she calls me an overachiever?), but on the way to DFCI…Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. “Okay. Why?” Sherri always tells me about her regularly scheduled follow up’s – this was not a follow up. She explained that she thought she had found something under her arm and that she spoke with the doctor that day and that the doctor wanted her to come right in. Whenever there is the slightest feeling of urgency with doctors, I get very nervous because it often seems like the whole medical profession is about making people wait.

I think the ride in to Longwood was the hardest for her. You have to imagine the memories and fear that are associated with that drive. I think she just needed someone to be with her and keep talking. Wonder why she called me? (Ha!) I am not sure what I said or that it was at all helpful, but I kept talking! The first time Sherri told me that she “found a lump” I immediately listed a thousand reasons why it was going to be nothing and that she would be just fine. So when she called and said, “I have cancer,” I was at a complete loss for words (believe it or not) and then spent months thinking about what I would say if I could go back in time. This time I knew I would not make empty promises. I would not swear that “it’s gonna be nothing”. I did remind her that she had a double mastectomy for a reason and that she has so little breast tissue left (I think I have read that recurrence after mastectomy is 1%). But this time, I also reminded her that if it was something, she could do it and do it with grace, just like last time. Her support system was proven tough, as was she, but not to worry too much yet.

I encourage you to check out the rest of the story on Sherri’s blog. On Wednesday, 3/4, she went wig shopping with her friend Patty who is just beginning treatment, and then Sherri had an MRI. She did not get the results until Friday, 3/6, but it was good news. NO CANCER! I was working in my office with one of my students, Courtney, when Sherri popped into the doorway with two thumbs up. I had managed to hold it together until that very second. The tears came and I had no choice in the matter. Luckily, Courtney is a very mature high school junior who did not get weirded out by 2 crying and embracing teachers. Courtney knows that Ms. Ziomek is a survivor and that the 2 of us are doing the walk together. She also has a family history of breast cancer and therefore had a pretty good idea what had happened prior to this exchange. I explained it to her anyway after Sherri headed off. Courtney understood the importance of that good news, and also understood the tears. (You are a remarkable young lady, my dear! Thank you.)

I am really relieved for Sherri and her family and cannot imagine what that all feels like. How do you push that persistent fear of recurrence out of your mind and live your life? I had my first mammogram this February and was petrified. Your mind goes to the “what if” place and you start to think pretty terrible thoughts. You have to try hard not to let yourself go to that dark place. I was really scared for Sherri. She has an amazing family and they are so supportive, but she also has 3 small children who need her very much. I need her. I’ll be honest…Selfishly, I started to think about who I would get to talk the 3-day with me if she were sick. She would have never let me drop out. I was imagining all the people who would step in for her (because we do have amazing friends, family, and colleagues), but I wanted to walk with her! I pictured myself tying to train without her and it made me so said. “Don’t worry yet,” I kept telling myself. “Stop thinking like that!” After talking with Sherri, I found out that she never thought about not being able to walk. She was wondering about walking bald. That’s Sherri for you!

I wish I had a camera on the day I showed up to surprise Sherri at her last chemotherapy. I ran into her amazing husband, Andy, first (also a colleague of mine) and followed him to the infusion floor. There she was, looking completely relaxed as she waited for bags of poison to empty into her system. Reclined, eyes closed, head scarved, and iPod jamming - she looked like she was at the spa, for crying out loud, waiting on her pedicure. The best was her little black t-shirt that read: walking my internal red carpet. This is Sherri. She is in control, ready for the challenge, and happy to just be.

This is why it is no surprise that while reading my latest copy of Shape magazine, I flipped the page to find the princess herself emblazoned on the pages of the magazine, arms raised in victory.

Okay, seriously? I have never read Shape magazine a day in my life but the poster child has indeed struck again. Only Sherri can turn having breast cancer into a fun, spirited, nationwide media event. Walking her internal red carpet, indeed.

I am glad you are healthy, Sher!

Thanks for reading. More later…


  1. Courtney just reminded me...she is actually the one who took the pictures of Sherri and I with the apples. We got a lot of laughs that day and hoped that Courtney would not try to explain to anyone what she had done other than go to class that day. Out of context it does not sound good! "Today at school I took pictures of two teachers with apples over their...oh nevermind - it's a long story."
    Too funny! You rock, Court!

  2. It's been a few days since I read your blog and logged on today to read of Sherri's saga....I'm so relieved to hear she's OK!

  3. Thanks for all of your support, Erica!