The past year since her breast cancer diagnosis has been a "nightmare" for Sherry Kinard, but the American Cancer Society has helped her through it.
"They have been very beneficial to me throughout my journey," said Kinard of the services offered by the ACS.
That's why Kinard, this year's grand marshal for the survivor's lap at Barnwell County Relay for Life, encourages the whole community to come out Friday night to raise money for cancer research. The event is from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. at Veterans Park on Hwy. 278 in Barnwell.
While she's been aware of Relay for Life and donated to it in the past, this will be Kinard's first year attending the event. In addition to leading the survivors lap, Kinard is the captain of the team her church, Elko Baptist, established.
To understand her commitment to this year's Relay, it's important to go back to April 2012. "A year ago this time my life was so turned upside down," said Kinard, who remembers riding by last year's event on her way home from the doctor.
Kinard was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer exactly one year ago after her annual mammogram, something she's done since she turned 40, detected a small tumor. Her doctor said the mammogram saved her life because the tumor would have been undetectable through a self exam.
In the months after her diagnosis, Kinard would receive four rounds of chemotherapy and 34 radiation treatments. Though her journey over the past year hasn't been easy, she said the support she's received from the ACS has helped her get through the most difficult time of her life.
Early on in her battle with cancer, Kinard participated in a Look Good...Feel Better event the ACS sponsored in Barnwell with the help of area cosmetologists. She went in thinking it would be a somber gathering, but that wasn't the case at all. She said the ladies there talked and shared stories about what to expect as she continued her journey. "It made you feel better," Kinard said.
Two ladies from the ACS's Reach to Recovery program, which partners specially-trained cancer survivors with current patients, also shared their experiences and advice with Kinard over the phone. "I had so many questions," including whether to receive chemotherapy, said Kinard, who hopes to volunteer with the program herself.
The ACS resources are in addition to the support she received from her family, friends, coworkers, church and others in the community who would call to ask how they could help. "It was hard to get out of bed some days; that's where the support comes in," Kinard said. "It was a comfort to know I had support."
She especially credits her husband Kenneth and son Lance for being there day after day, never leaving her side. Her mother Georgia Carroll, also a cancer survivor, provided love and support too.
Her coworkers at Richardson, Patrick, Westbrook & Brickman, LLC, where she is a legal secretary, have also been with her every step of the way. They kept her work environment positive, including surprising her one day by wearing Team Sherry T-shirts. "I always knew when I went in there I would be encouraged," said Kinard of her office, which is a sponsor of Relay.
Kinard's hairdresser was there for her during a tough moment for many female cancer patients - the loss of hair following chemotherapy. "That was very hard for me," she said, but her hairdresser made it easier. One night around 9 p.m., Kinard said she called her hairdresser, who came right over and cut her hair off.
While she can't receive the "all clear" status until her five-year mark, Kinard said she is doing well. "I feel very blessed I'm here. (Cancer) is something you can beat," she said. "There is life after cancer."
Kinard said she may never know why God allowed her to have cancer, but she knows he has a reason. The experience has made her a stronger person, deepened her faith in God, and taught her to never take for granted what she has, especially her family and health.
"We've come through this stronger," said Kinard of her family. "I hope (God) can use us to support and encourage others."
One way she hopes to help others is through a cancer support group her church is trying to start. The idea formed after Kinard and another church member were diagnosed with cancer within a few weeks of each other. "We want to share as people who've gone through it," said Kinard. The team will have a sign up sheet at their tent Friday night for anyone interested in learning more about the group.
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