Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

October 5, 2012

Stay active, positive in fight against breast cancer

By Heather Mullinix
Assistant editor

CROSSVILLE — Chronicle Publisher Pauline Sherrer credits a friend with possibly saving her life two years ago.

She stopped in to talk to Pauline about her diagnosis with breast cancer about two years following the loss of her daughter and told her she was part of a clinical trial studying the effect of significant stress on breast cancer and fibroid cysts in the breast.

Pauline had gone for yearly check-ups, and though she had fibroid cysts in her breasts, she had always received a clean bill of health, and she admits she had put off a yearly mammogram.

"It had always been nothing," she said.

After talking with her friend, Pauline, who lost her son in 2008, decided it was time to return to the doctor.

"I thought, 'I better pull that card out and make an appointment to go back for a mammogram,'" she said.

She also did a self breast exam and found the knot in her breast was harder than it had been.

"I felt I had a real reason to go for my mammogram," she said.

The diagnostic imaging, follow-up imaging and biopsy found a malignant tumor in her breast and she was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer.

"If my friend hadn't told me about her experience, I might have put off my mammogram another year," Pauline said. "She probably saved my life. The tumor could have advanced to stage 3 or 4 at that point."

Pauline notes people have different levels of stress they can tolerate, and an event may not seem like a major life event, but it could contribute to cancer.

She also recommends women make time in their busy schedules to have regular checkups because early detection is a key to fighting breast cancer.

Pauline was scheduled for a mastectomy and prepared by reading everything her doctor gave her and preparing for the recovery period.

She's happy to report she didn't have complications from the surgery.

"I started the exercises in the recovery room right after surgery. The attendant said I didn't have to start those right then. I said, 'But you don't understand, I have painkillers in me and I can't feel this. I'm getting started now,'" she said.

She did them religiously once she went home. Her husband, John Lyon, kept her motivated to keep doing the exercises, too.

"When I did not feel like doing them, he made me get up and do them, and I'm so thankful," she said. "I don't have the fluid in my arm and I have a full range of motion. I wanted to go back to playing golf and I didn't want to have a stiff shoulder."

That support from her husband, as well as from her family, daughters Tammy Oakes and Kristi Nixon, and her grandchildren, was vital to keeping her feeling positive and helping her to choose to keep a positive outlook, even when she felt bad. John was with her at doctor's visits, treatments and at home, helping make sure there was something she'd eat after chemotherapy wiped out her appetite. Her neighbors were also rallying her on, bringing food during her recovery.

"I would laugh, even though inside I felt like crying," she said. "But I surrounded myself with positive people, and that helped keep me going."

Staying active and keeping a regular routine was important to her and helped her keep a positive outlook. She returned to work a week after her surgery.

"I would feel bad, but I made myself come to work. If I had sat at home, I would have felt worse," she said. "Getting up and coming to work with the people around you supporting you — everybody at the Chronicle supported me — gives you the courage to get up and come back the next day."

Pauline has had to pick up and carry on many other times in her life. She and her husband, Perry Sherrer, purchased the Chronicle in 1981 and made Crossville their home. He passed away in 1984, leaving her with three children to raise and a business to operate.

"Breast cancer was just another thing in my life I knew I had to get up and conquer," she said.

She thanks the employees of the Chronicle, who have been a part of her family for 31 years, for helping her to get through the challenges she has faced.

"The support that I have received from everybody, my business associates, members of the Tennessee Press Association and boards that I serve on, and the employees at the Chronicle, has been fabulous," she said.

She also found support through the Cumberland Medical Center Regional Cancer Center, which offers nutritional supplements, special shampoos, wigs, classes and support groups. Those were also a big part of helping her to stay motivated and positive during her treatments.

"Even if you feel like you have a good support system, don't be hesitant to go to those support groups because you can help other people by sharing your confidence in yourself," she said.

She told of a lady who was depressed about changes to her appearance and didn't feel like leaving her house.

"I got her laughing and she said, 'You know, I think I'll go to church on Sunday,'" Pauline said.

Pauline can relate to the lady's distress. Two weeks after she began chemotherapy treatment, she began losing clumps of her hair.

"I had always felt I kept my hair so that almost every hair was in place," she said. "I've always had a head full of hair. All my life, I've been a professional and, in my mind, my hair played a part in looking professional."

But as her hair began to thin and fall out, she found her head hurt all the time and hurt intensely when touched.

"Every follicle in my head hurt," she said. "When John and I shaved my head, it stopped hurting. That was a relief."

She recommends getting wigs picked out and on hand before starting chemotherapy, while you're still feeling good.

"You can laugh and talk with the people helping you," she said.

After she shaved her head, she was happy to have the wigs handy, and found they made getting up and getting ready for the day so much easier.

"Once I started wearing the wig, I didn't want my hair to grow back," she said.

One side effect she did not experience with treatment was significant weight loss, which she jokes she was looking forward to.

"Most people I talked to had lost 10 or 15 pounds. I lost four," she said. "I asked the doctor about it and he said, 'Pauline, you should be happy you are so healthy.' He didn't want to hear my complaints about how everyone else got to lose weight."

Since completing her treatment, all tests have been negative. She's on preventative medicine for several years.

"Some days, you don't feel like getting out and doing things, but you have to get out there," she said. "And you have to follow up with your doctors."

She urges every woman to be proactive in learning about their diagnosis, treatment and follow-up care, including reconstructive surgery.

"If you are better informed, you can make the choices that are best for you," she said. "Talk to people that have had it and make the decision that is best for you. Ask questions and make sure you are well informed."