Pregnant, mom-to-be Jessica Sherrie was experiencing back pain last month which she hoped would improve after delivery. And when it didn’t — she discovered she had stage 4 lung cancer.
“At one point the doctor brought up like ‘Oh it could be cancer’ and I was hoping it wasn’t obviously,” the 35-year-old told TODAY. “In the back of my mind it started creeping up like, ‘Oh I could have cancer.’”
She decided to share her story in hopes that others would seek out treatment if something felt “off or wrong.”
“I hope that people are not scared to go to the doctor and find out if they have cancer because that could save their lives,” said Sherrie, who lives in Glendora, California. “I hope I can inspire people to take action right away when they experience symptoms.”
At first, Sherrie didn’t think much of her back pain as she had surgery for scoliosis in 2018 and was pregnant. And while she knew back pain was common in late pregnancy, she also was nervous leaving her house at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Once I had my daughter and the medication wore off, I still had pain,” Sherrie explained. “I assumed it was my from my bad back.”
When the pain persisted, she visited her doctor and underwent numerous scans and tests. When she learned she had lung cancer last spring, she panicked as her in-laws had died of lung cancer.
“I just immediately was like, ‘Oh this is a death sentence,’” Sherrie, recalled.
But the doctor assured her that it was non-small cell lung cancer, a less aggressive type of lung cancer. But she still had tumors in her brain, spine and hips, making it stage 4, or incurable.
“I was pretty freaked out,” she said.
And while it does sound terrifying, Dr. Erminia Massarelli said that new treatments can help to make some late-stage cancers a more manageable illness.
“We tend to treat it like a chronic disease. So, basically like diabetic people need insulin in their lives, so a chronic form of cancer needs chronic treatment,” the co-director of the City of Hope Comprehensive Cancer Center’s lung cancer and thoracic oncology program shared. “We tend to tailor the treatment so they don’t have as many side effects.”
Sherrie started treatment immediately. She first had radiation before she ended up at City of Hope, where she started chemotherapy. But she had a reaction to that type and spent nearly a month in the hospital.
“I couldn’t have visitors,” Sherrie said. “It was pretty scary and sometimes I felt really alone and just frightened.”
And while it was difficult, she kept thinking of her infant daughter, Regina.
“I was like ‘I’m going to beat this. I’m going to get out of here,’” she said. “That’s been my mentality this whole time. I have to get healthy. I have to get through this because I want to be there for my daughter.”
With a background in the creative and educational fields, Amelia Finefrock is freelance writer, singer-songwriter and nanny based in Chicago.
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