When Judy Sherrod’s doctor first told her the lump in her breast was as she had feared, cancerous, all she heard after that was silence.
The doctor’s words fell from his mouth, useless to Sherrod.
“When he said ‘you have cancer,’ I didn’t hear another word,” said Sherrod. “I don’t know what else he said. I don’t remember anything. ... Back in the old days, cancer was a death sentence.”
A few days earlier, Sherrod had felt a lump in her breast after doing one of her regular self exams.
“I found the lump myself; it was in November of ’95,” Sherrod said. “I’ll never forget, it was on a Saturday.”
Sherrod had plans for that day. She was going to go to a co-worker’s wedding.
She never made it to the wedding.
It was Monday before Sherrod told her husband, Charles, she had found the lump. He immediately called Judy’s sister, Karen, a nurse, for guidance.
“Karen said, ‘you need to go have a mammogram,’ so that’s what I did,” Sherrod said.
Sherrod couldn’t feel the lump when she was laying down. She had to be sitting up for her or the doctor to be able to feel it, so the doctor suggested waiting about six months and watch the lump.
“I said, ‘no, I’d rather not watch it; I’d rather you just take it out,’” Sherrod said.
So the tests were conducted.
Sherrod said she could tell by the way she bled, by the way the doctors looked at her, it was cancer.
“For me, I don’t remember if they suggested a lumpectomy (where the cancer lump is removed with surgery, but the breast is left intact),” Sherrod said.
“I said take it off, take it off,” referring to her mastectomy.
After a successful surgery, doctors found no cancer in Sherrod’s lymph nodes, and after her surgery, she took six months of chemo.
“I had my surgery in the first part of November, and I went back to work in January,” Sherrod said.
“Because I needed to go back to work. I needed to get my mind away from sitting here thinking about it.”
Her doctor would later tell her he was glad she was stubborn and demanded to not wait the six months.
“He said, ‘I never would have guessed that it was malignant,’ ” Sherrod said.
Sherrod said she is only supposed to go back to her cancer doctor once a year, but she goes every six months just to be safe.
“It just makes me feel better if I go every six months,” Sherrod said.
Sherrod’s daughter, Holly Sherrod, has regular checkups because of the increased risk of breast cancer in people who have a first-degree relative who has had breast cancer in the past.
WebMD calls direct family history, as in a mother, sister or daughter who has had breast cancer, a “moderately higher risk” for developing breast cancer. The risk increases if the cancer in the family member developed before menopause and or was in both breasts.
“Having one first-degree relative with breast cancer approximately doubles a woman’s risk, and having two first-degree relatives increases her risk fivefold,” WebMD states on its website webmd.com. “Having a male blood relative with breast cancer will also increase a woman’s risk of the disease.”
Other factors that give a “moderately higher risk” are age, genetics and breast lesions.
Holly started talking to her doctor about breast cancer when she turned 30 in 2011.
“I wanted to know when I could start, what could I start doing,” Holly said. “So I had my first (mammogram) in March and something showed up.”
After her mammogram, Holly was called back for an ultrasound.
“I didn’t really think anything about it, but when they called me back for the ultrasound, they wouldn’t tell me anything,” Holly said.
The technician was focused on one spot on her ultrasound. When Holly asked if she could tell anything from it, the tech responded she couldn’t, but she could see what the doctors were talking about.
“And so, I had a total melt down,” Holly said. Her mother, with all of her survivor experience was her first call.
It turned out to be a false alarm, but the experience re-enforced the need for regular check ups in Holly.
Holly was in high school when her mother got cancer. Most of the emotional burden and responsibilities and doctor visits fell to her father and older brother, Brad.
“I feel like looking back, she kind of shielded me from a lot of it,” Holly said.
“I do remember you looking at me and asking me if I wanted to see what it felt like so if I ever needed to know,” Holly said to her mother.
Holly added, she thinks awareness of breast cancer was significantly lower when her mother was diagnosed.
“People who are young need to start early being aware of it,” Judy said. “... but it’s amazing at the number of women who don’t do anything.”
Bobby Bozeman can be reached at 256-740-5722 or bobby.bozeman@TimesDaily.com.