Stories of Hope
Fighting Cancer By Helping Others
Article date: May 1, 2001
I knew God meant to keep me here so I could help other people. Even to this day, I feel like my work’s not done. That’s why I’m involved in the American Cancer Society.
Cherilyn Pollard Unites Survivors and the Community
Many people have very personal reasons for participating in the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life, and Cherilyn Pollard’s reason is the most personal of all.
Nine years ago, Cherilyn was 25 years old, pregnant, and diagnosed with breast cancer. “I found the lump in my breast before I knew I was pregnant. My gynecologist assured me that, at 25, there was no way I could have cancer.”
Cherilyn then discovered she was going to have a baby. She continued to do monthly breast self exam. “Right before the fifth month checkup, I realized the lump had gotten larger. Then my doctor panicked. I had a mammogram one day and saw a surgeon the next day. Until I woke up after the mastectomy, I was still thinking it might be nothing.”
More bad news was yet to come. The next day, she was told by her gynecologist that she had one week to terminate the pregnancy and start cancer treatment. A few days before, Cherilyn and her husband John learned that the baby was a girl and had named her Kalyssa. “She was already named, and we had all these pink clothes.”
It was a terrible moment for everyone. Fortunately, the surgeon disagreed and said the Pollards would be able to keep the baby. They decided to deliver the baby seven weeks early and start chemo after the delivery. A few days after the mastectomy, Cherilyn was visited in her home by an American Cancer Society Reach to Recovery volunteer who had also had breast cancer and was there to offer information and support.
Cherilyn’s mother, Carolyn Bayer, was a strong support during this time and accompanied her to all of her doctor’s visits. “She was my child and I was going to do whatever it took to get her through this. We both wanted to save our daughters.”
Many tense days followed, worrying about the baby, worrying about whether or not the cancer was spreading. When Kalyssa was delivered, the baby who was expected to weight three pounds was actually more than five pounds. “She was perfect. There were a few rocky days in intensive care, but she was only in the hospital for two weeks,” said Cherilyn.
Following the birth of Kalyssa, Cherilyn started chemotherapy. Her oncologist told her he had never seen anyone so sick. Her husband John said, “When she was going through chemo and was so sick, I started thinking she might not make it. At that same time, we had a little baby to take care of. That kept me going.” Finally, an anti-nausea drug was found that worked for her.
Cherilyn’s mother was constantly going back and forth between her daughter’s hospital room and the baby in intensive care, even though preemies were not allowed to be held. A nurse finally asked her if she would like to hold the baby. “I would have given my eye teeth to hold her, but I told them that her mother should hold her first.” They then went to Cherilyn’s room and returned with her in a wheelchair. She was very weak and sick but glad to hold the baby. Says her mother, Carolyn, “I remember I was videoing and couldn’t see a darn thing for all the tears.”
A few years later, Cherilyn attended an American Cancer Society Dialogue meeting for cancer patients and their families. “I went there thinking I could help someone else. I realized quickly that we were all helped.”
Mary Endres was a nurse and the facilitator of the Dialogue group. Mary and Cherilyn began to brainstorm on ways to increase local volunteerism. They established and have co-chaired the American Cancer Society’s Cooke County Relay for Life for the past four years. “It was phenomenal how Relay took off and continued to go wild. The whole community looks forward to it,” says Cherilyn. This year, the event grossed over $100,000.
Besides being in charge of luminaries for the Relay for Life event, Carolyn Bayer is a Road to Recovery driver for the American Cancer Society and drives cancer patients to treatment.
Cherilyn also is the local American Cancer Society president and helps with the Road to Recovery transportation program, the Reach to Recovery breast cancer program, and is the co-chair of the state Relay for Life Committee.
Baby Kalyssa is now not only a beautiful, healthy 9-year-old, but is also the child who raised the most money for the Relay for Life event. One of the special moments in this 24-hour event is the lighting of luminaries at night. Decorated bags in honor of survivors or in memory of those who did not survive are illuminated. Kalyssa’s bag, which she decorated herself, said “Thank you for me, Mommy.”
Says Cherilyn, “I knew God meant to keep me here so I could help other people. Even to this day, I feel like my work’s not done. That’s why I’m involved in the American Cancer Society.”