Sherry's Story

Cancer Patient

When Sherry Vernelson found out she had breast cancer, she decided right then and there to take charge. It wasn't going to get the best of her. And it didn't.

Sherry Vernelson

Been there, done that.

Women hear it at a young age – once you’re 40, you should get an annual mammogram. It’s pretty good advice. Just ask Sherry Vernelson. It was her once-a-year routine mammogram that probably saved her life.

It was April 2012. Sherry got her annual mammogram and didn’t think any more of it until she was called a week later to go in for a repeat mammogram. “I wasn’t really worried about it,” she said, “because through the years, it was not uncommon for me to go back for another mammogram.”

Sherry had the repeat mammogram, plus an ultrasound, a couple of weeks later. That same afternoon, she got a call to be at Dr. Nizar Habal’s office the next morning at 8:00. “I was like ‘whoa, he’s a breast cancer doctor,’” Sherry said.

She told her family what was going on. Together they prayed and put it in God’s hands. “God knew what was happening,” she said. “And if he brings you to it, he will see you through it.”

Sherry had a biopsy the next morning, and although the word “cancer” was not mentioned at this visit, she could tell something just wasn’t right. She was told she would get the results in a week or so. As she was leaving the office, however, they said they could see her in two days for the results. “God allowed all these doors to be opened quickly so I would not need to wait for a week for the results,” she said.

On May 3, at her results appointment, Sherry was diagnosed with breast cancer – called Invasive Lobular Carcinoma – in her right breast. There were precancerous cells in her left breast. Less than one month after a routine mammogram, Sherry and her family started on the breast cancer journey.

The months of May and June were filled with MRIs, bone tests and other scans.

Sherry chose to have a double mastectomy, a decision her doctors completely supported. That surgery was June 19, 2012 at Vidant SurgiCenter. She went in about noon and was home by 5 that afternoon. Sherry found out her cancer was Stage 2. Doctors removed 29 of the 30 lymph nodes in her right arm. They were all positive for cancer.

Up next were 16 chemo treatments. Four were the “red devil” treatments; that’s what the cancer patients call them, Sherry said. Those are the bad ones, where you lose hair and get sick. She had one every three weeks. The last 12 treatments were once every week. After chemo, Sherry tackled 34 radiation treatments, every Monday through Friday until she was done.

In such a short amount of time, she went from just Sherry, to Sherry the cancer patient, to Sherry the survivor.

“You have to have a positive attitude and a wonderful support group,” Sherry said. And she had it. “My family and friends and my co-workers at Minges were so supportive.”

She likes to tell the story about when she lost her hair, including her eyebrows and eyelashes. “I had a wig but didn’t wear because it was hot,” Sherry said. “I wore a hat during that time and I was having a hot flash so I took it off.” She told her co-workers not to be in shock when they walked by. And they didn’t even bat an eye. They made her feel so comfortable that she just went bald.

For now, Sherry has scans and blood work every six months to make sure the cancer has not returned. She will take a pill called Armidex for the next 10 years. “I feel like God allowed this to happen for a reason,” she said. “I am a survivor and will be glad to talk and encourage anyone going through this horrible disease. My God is good.”

Looking back on her journey, Sherry can recall each doctor’s name involved in her care. She remembers the nurses and the friends she made while in treatment. Her care in Greenville, she says, was simply wonderful.

When she heard the plans for the new Cancer Center on the campus of Vidant Medical Center, her heart was full. Being able to receive all the cancer care you need in one centralized location is going to be such a blessing for families and caregivers, Sherry said.

The ground breaking for the Cancer Center is scheduled for March 2015. The Vidant Medical Center Foundation is currently raising funds for the project. Their goal is $50 million. Sherry is a long-time donor to the Foundation. She has supported Children’s Miracle Network and the Children’s Hospital projects in the past. She looks forward to seeing the progress of the new Cancer Center and knows it will only improve the cancer care for patients in eastern North Carolina.


God knew what was happening. And if he brings you to it, he will see you through it.

Sherry Vernelson
Cancer Patient
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