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Posted on 02/13/13

Cancer is a Word - Determination is a Better One

sherry mcdaniel She says she wasn't crazy about hair anyway which is why she kept it cropped to an inch. But the first time Sherri McDaniel's 19-year-old son saw her bald, caused by the powerful drugs carried through her blood, he cried. So did her nephew. Suddenly, the disease they couldn't see was right there in front of them. Their mother, aunt had cancer.

McDaniel, 50, was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer in September 2012. She had surgery in October and began chemotherapy in November which ends in early March. Then she endures eight weeks of radiation.

But since her diagnosis, what has inspired her classmates, instructors, friends, family and strangers is her will. Sherri McDaniel wants a respiratory therapy degree from Rockingham Community College and when she learned of her disease, she was just two semesters away from earning it. She had been looking forward to a May 2013 graduation. She was so close when the disease knocked her to her knees.

But, despite breast surgery; despite severe fatigue, nausea, and drug induced grogginess; despite doctors' orders to stop driving; despite the disease causing her to lose the only financial support she had; despite all of that McDaniel still finished her fall semester – sometimes coming to school in a mask to protect her from germs. She did it for her son, to show him that you don't quit when life gets tough, and for herself, because she wants her degree so badly.

And despite that graduation is now May 2014 rather than 2013, she is grateful.

"RCC has been great! They arranged for me to complete my fall clinicals before I had surgery."

McDaniel was able to wait on her fall semester coursework until she was healed enough from surgery to continue. And when she continued, she did not slack off. She made A's.

Classmates, members of a classmate's church family, friends, McDaniel's own family, and instructors have given support, driven her to and from school, and/or helped out with expenses. Cone Health Cancer Center paid her rent one month and the Barry Joyce Foundation in Stoneville helped with her Duke Power bill.

"You know," she said, "most of the time you take life and people for granted. You get up, get dressed, go to work or school or whatever and don't think much about it." She pauses a moment. "But when you face something serious like this, you don't take a day for granted. You might think, ‘I don't feel very good.' But then you might realize, ‘Well I don't feel as bad as I did the other day!

"And when people help you the way they've helped me, it's overwhelming. You remember just how good people are."

Triple negative breast cancer disproportionately attacks African-American women, only accounts for 15 percent of all breast cancers, and along with all other cancers, does not run in McDaniel's family. Therefore, she was asked to go to Chapel Hill Medical Center for DNA testing to see if she has an errant gene that can be passed to future generations.

McDaniel is not going to think about genes, income, her need for a job or the other uncertainties that could bring her down. She's profoundly thankful each day for a multitude of blessings. And she is determined to focus on the future she's working so hard to obtain.

Others are focused on McDaniel and the incredible inspiration she has become to them.

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