Survivor Vows to Help Others Fight Breast CancerJan 4, 2013
When Sherrie Grasty was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 40, she vowed to beat it, and then do everything in her power to help others beat it, too. Since then she has served on committees, given speeches, prepared dinners, organized volunteers, and spent countless additional hours working for groups including the American Cancer Society. Grasty’s main goal is to increase awareness and early detection, especially among African American women. Declines in breast cancer deaths in the US since the 1990s have been slower among African American women compared to white women, due in part to differences in screening and treatment.
‘When the power goes out’
Before her diagnosis, Grasty was already an active volunteer through her church, her employer, and her children’s schools, Boy Scout troops, and sports teams in her hometown near Philadelphia. Her sons, Marcus and Myles, were 10 and 8 in 2001 when Grasty first noticed a lump in her breast. A mammogram and a biopsy confirmed she had a large tumor that had spread to her lymph nodes. She would need surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and hormone therapy. She also decided to enter into a clinical trial.
In a 2010 speech to a local American Cancer Society Making Strides Against Breast Cancer volunteer committee luncheon, Grasty described this dark period in her life: “When the power goes out, all that we took for granted is no longer. It is hard to get around, you are uneasy, and your senses are disturbed. It is dark, and I am sad and confused.”
Grasty’s treatment lasted more than 5 years and during that time she endured side effects that left her sick and tired. Her surgeon connected her with Reach To Recovery, an American Cancer Society program that matches trained volunteers who are breast cancer survivors with newly diagnosed patients. That’s how Grasty met Mary, who helped her understand what to expect from treatment, and how to deal with the loss of her hair. Those experiences help Grasty now when she talks with other breast cancer patients.
She said, “I decided that when I got well I wanted to work with Reach To Recovery because it’s such a valuable tool to talk with other people and help them feel better about what’s going to happen.”
Grasty became a Reach To Recovery volunteer and a member of the Executive Committee for Making Strides Against Breast Cancer in Philadelphia. She also volunteers with the Look Good Feel Better program. This free, community-based service helps women learn beauty techniques to help restore their appearance and self-image during chemotherapy and radiation treatments. The program is a cooperation with the Personal Care Products Council and the Professional Beauty Association. Once or twice a year, Grasty and fellow volunteers prepare dinner for patients staying at an American Cancer Society Hope Lodge.
‘Knowledge is power’
Grasty encourages all African American women to get recommended breast cancer screenings and consider participating in clinical trials. She said that even African American women who are aware of breast cancer risks may be reluctant to trust a clinical trial.
She said, “You have to be knowledgeable and aware of the latest research. Knowledge is power. You and the doctors are working together for the greater good of your health and your survivorship. I’m blessed to live in an era where there are treatments that can help me live.”
As a new Stakeholder on the Development, Differentiation, and Cancer peer review committee, Grasty helps the American Cancer Society evaluate grant applications to help identify the most promising cancer research proposals.
Recently, Grasty received a Jefferson Award for Public Service, regarded as one of the nation’s highest honors for community service and volunteerism. She said, “I will use my power to shine as much light on the breast cancer cure as I can. I hope everyone will use their individual power for the same cause, because as individuals use their power, the energy as a collective is great.”
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