Meet HEADstrong Hero Cher

“I was blindsided by a diagnosis of Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) on August 31, 2020. 

It was in early June of 2020 that I woke with a sore throat and decided to just take over-the-counter medicine to try to ease it. I was a Community Engagement Manager and it required extensive daily communication, so I wanted to handle the sore throat as quickly as possible. However, each day my throat was getting progressively worse to the point it felt like I was swallowing glass!  Now, I had to miss time from work. 

Because it was the height of the COVID pandemic, I was nervous about going to the ER to get checked, so I still tried to nurse myself at home. Two days later, I developed little red spots on both legs and both arms – it was time for the ER. The doctors in the ER told me I had Scarlet Fever (yes, I could not believe that either) and then they said it was a “virus” and I was given antibiotics. I was also given multiple COVID tests and they were all negative. 

Finally, after no success with a diagnosis, my primary doctor suggested a more extensive round of blood tests. This resulted in her suggesting I make an appointment with the Helen Graham Cancer Center in Newark, DE. My anxiety was naturally high after hearing this. The meeting with hematology and oncology led to having to get two bone marrow biopsies done, one week apart. The pathologist saw blasts of over 30% in my bone marrow, leading to the diagnosis of AML. I was stunned. I went to the University of Penn for a second opinion, and the results were the same. All this starting from the symptoms of a sore throat!

As a single mother, my first thought was about my teenage son and how this would affect his life. He is such a wonderful kid who has always made me proud by his manners, sincerity, and kindness to others. His resilience and support are priceless. I cry just thinking of how he has adjusted his life for me. He even decided on virtual classes and graduates this year. 

I immediately began chemotherapy after the report from pathology, and it has been quite a roller coaster ride. The most significant event was when my white cell count, hemoglobin, and platelets all started to crash. I was told in February 2021 that it was time to be with my family and friends. That was the hardest day of my life. I had so much I wanted to say to my family, I had to make sure there was a Will in place for my son (which I should have done earlier), and I just prepared myself to die. My faith has been an anchor in my life and I held firmly on that during this time. I had a peace I never experienced before. But, of course, I had really hard days too. 

But, it is now 2023 and I am still here! I lost my employment immediately after my diagnosis because of my rigid chemo schedule, which I have been doing for over two years now. My social security disability started six months later. I am grateful for this because I do not know how I would have maintained though it is quite an adjustment.  My chemo regimen is five consecutive days every three weeks, and on the off weeks I get white cell count booster injections each Monday and Thursday. This leaves me very fatigued and nauseous during the chemo week. I also have pop-up infections because of my white cell count being low. I love my doctors and the treatment room nurses – they are terrific. 

Thankfully, through lots of prayer, keeping a positive attitude, being there for others instead of having pity parties, and surrounding myself with supportive persons, I am hanging on in here!  

It was not easy to reach out to the HEADstrong Foundation for assistance. But, I have learned that humility and modesty go a long way. Reading Nick’s story made me cry, but feel grateful. His passion and love were invaluable. 

Thank you for listening to my story, being willing to help, and making sure Nick’s vision carries on.” – HEADstrong Hero Cher