June 21, 2008

The Battle Against Cancer

By Mike Fletcher, Kokomo Tribune, Ind.

Jun. 21--As a nurse, Sherri Parish knew what cancer can do to a person.

She saw the sickness, the loss of hair and the agony on the faces of cancer patients.

But until she lived through it herself, she didn't fully realize the consequences.

"It scared me," the 47-year-old said of being diagnosed with breast cancer.

"I wondered what would happen to my kids and grandkids," she said. "The chemo made me deathly sick for days and days. Losing my hair was the hardest.

"I guess it was vanity," she said of not wanting to lose her hair.

"Being a nurse, I'd see cancer patients all the time. I felt for them, but I never really knew until it hit me what losing my hair would do. I would not go anywhere unless it was to a doctor's appointment. It was very rare for me going anywhere else."

Now, a cancer survivor, Parish is one of approximately 600 cancer survivors participating in the Relay for Life at Kokomo High School's Walter Cross Field to raise money and awareness for cancer victims.

In all, more than 4,000 visitors are expected to take part in the 24-hour Relay for Life event that concludes at 3 p.m. today.

"I'm looking forward to the walk," she said Friday prior to the Survivor Walk.

"I know I'll cry during the walk, but I know I'm a survivor. I went last year for a couple of hours. I didn't have any hair and was going through chemo."

Parish was diagnosed as having breast cancer April 11 last year.

"I found it myself while I was stretching," she said of a small bump of her breast. "I called my boss and ask her if she would feel it. She did and said I needed to get a mammogram.

"I went in to the radiologist and had an ultrasound. The next day I went to Dr. Whitten in Noblesville and he took it out and had [a biopsy]. Then I found out. I was diagnosed right before my birthday."

Parish said she went through 16 weeks of chemotherapy in Riverview Hospital in Indianapolis and 91/2 weeks of radiation through Dr. Steele at St. Joseph Hospital.

Now, her hair is growing back and she's cancer free.

"Without my daughters, I couldn't have done it," she said of Rachael, 27, and Lacey, 20.

"Rachael especially. She was with me a lot and took me back and forth to chemo. She sat with me during the chemo and when I was sick," she said. "My mom, Joyce, and my sister, Becky -- they did a lot for me too. My mom took me to chemo and Becky did a lot of landscaping. I bought all these plants before I was diagnosed. I was too weak to do it. My sister did 99 percent of it."

Parish also thanked her cousin Sharon Coy for helping her through those bad times.

"I had to be with somebody through this and she completely took care of me. I don't know what I've done without her."

Through it all, Parish said the experience has changed her outlook on life.

"I can survive anything now," she said. "I am a strong woman. If it comes back again, I'll fight it again. I have too much to live for. I don't look forward to tomorrow. I live for today. It has changed me tremendously. With this and the death of my daughter [Brooke], I'm a completely different woman. I want to see my grandbabies graduate, get married and live their lives."


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