Her double mastectomy was the easiest part. That’s what Cheryl West says of breast cancer treatment, which tells you just how difficult her road has been. Two weeks before her annual mammogram, Cheryl saw a bruise in the mirror and felt a lump. She decided not to wait to see her doctor, and is grateful she didn’t.
“They set up a mammogram and ultrasound immediately, and two days later the radiologist confirmed it was cancer,” says Cheryl, a 23-year employee of St. David’s Heart and Vascular working in provider enrollment.
Cheryl was willing to have a double mastectomy to ensure all the cancer was caught. But then the doctors told her the cancer had spread, and its path was not traceable with a body scan.
“They explained to me that it was like a potato that grows eyes,” she says. “All they could see was the potato — not the eyes or how far they reached. So I had to wait.”
Cheryl’s chemotherapy lasted for five months, and after that she underwent 28 days of radiation. The side effects were brutal: nausea, exhaustion, burns on her skin. At one point she was on 21 medications to combat the effects. She had reached her breaking point.
“I couldn’t talk or eat, and just swallowing food was a chore,” says Cheryl. “I really felt like I was dying, and I was ready to give up.”
It was then that she remembered the Hope Fund. For years, Cheryl had been asked to give at work, but she donated her time and money to other causes, so she held off. Then, two years ago, one of her co-workers asked: “What if you ever need it?” That question changed something for Cheryl.
“I started donating, and I’m so thankful I did,” she says. “The Hope Fund was so generous in my time of need. At first I thought, ‘I’m paying my bills; I don’t need help,’ but when I had to stop working my insurance ran out, and the bills kept coming. I didn’t have an extra $600 here or $300 there. You may not need the Hope Fund right away, but the wonderful thing is you know it’s there when you do need it.”
Her co-workers rallied around her and her son Michael, 37, who has intellectual disabilities and lives with her. Cheryl’s daughter Chelsea and her son Michael really stepped up to take care of her.
“During those low points the only reason I kept going was my kids, and I’m thrilled to say that now I’m doing well – working from home and driving to Austin for radiation. Next week is my last treatment and my birthday, so I am going to celebrate. I was bald and now I’m gray, so I’m getting my hair dyed pink!” she says, laughing. “I can’t think of a better ending to my story.”