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Football for Cure makes difference for local patient



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Sheri McDonnell (click for larger version)
July 23, 2014 - Clarkston gridiron heroes host their Sixth Annual Football for a Cure to raise money for McLaren Breast Center and McLaren Cancer Institute in Clarkston, Aug. 16. In this week's edition we sit down with a patient from McLaren.

When Clarkston resident Sheri McDonnell was helping McLaren Breast Center and McLaren Cancer Institute in Clarkston with their annual fall event, she didn't know she had breast cancer.

"It was kind of ironic," McDonnell said. "Here I was running around and I had it."

She added she had an appointment with a doctor because she noticed her left breast was getting bigger. But the soonest she could make the appointment was December.

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"It didn't feel like a lump at first - it just started getting bigger," she said, adding she didn't know if it was genetic because family members had cancer or from medication she was taking.

Regardless, she made an appointment and by the time the appointment arrived, it was feeling like more than just a lump and had an abnormal mass.

After the mammogram, she was sent for an biopsy where they found lymph nodes in two different spots testing positive for estrogen positive - HER2 - breast cancer.

"They said this type is so fast you can have a mammogram and it won't show up. Then, six months later, it can be there," McDonnell said.

She had treatments of chemotherapy to shrink down the lymph node before going into surgery, July 21.

"I have never had surgery in my life," she added. "I have never been under anesthesia. I am scared to death to have this surgery not to mention lose my breasts."

She will then have radiation, which she plans to have at McLaren Breast Center and McLaren Cancer Institute before she begins taking Herceptin once a month to battle HER2.

"I love McLaren," McDonnell smiled, explaining she has gone to them from the beginning.

She was sent to St. Joseph Hospital by her doctor for her cancer treatment but she didn't feel it was right for her.

"I came to McLaren on my own," McDonnell said.

She knew the center because she had helped Mary Melega, from the Independence Township Senior Center, for the last few years with Pink & Pampered and she knew Deanna Hart, Patient Navigator for McLaren.

She was introduced to the nurses for her first appointment.

"The nurses are great - like Geri and Deb," she smiled. "They are awesome. They worked with me on nausea medication or anything given before infusions. We tried different things until I would feel the best I could because the medication that was supposed to make me feel better for nausea was causing me problems. It got to the point I was hardly taking anything. Geri even gave me her book from when she took a class on breast cancer. I learned about everything."

She chuckled calling it the whole process Casual Chemo.

"Everything is casual," McDonnell said, adding a great example is when she has to give blood once a week and they give her a day and a time frame to come in.

"It is very laid back which is good because I was a little overwhelmed when I went to St. Joe's. Even in the waiting room I was uncomfortable there," she said. "It is hard to explain. It was a lot more tense. It is a scary thing when you have cancer. I just wasn't comfortable. I came here to McLaren and I was immediately comfortable."

She added McLaren has a lot of great events including Pink & Pampered and Look Good/Feel Good.

"It made me feel good because I could help because I went to cosmetology school when I was younger," McDonnell said. "There was a girl there I helped with her makeup. McLaren does a lot of good things. They have a wig room, too."

McDonnell admits having cancer has changed her life and she isn't doing things she was doing before.

She received her Art History degree in 2012 and after a few internships at the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum she was working there.

"Right before Christmas I quit because I knew I couldn't do it," she said. "I couldn't drive all the way downtown and go through all this treatment.

"I thought 'finally, I had kids. I had been going to school periodically my whole life. I am done with school and working at the DIA.' Boom. I am now at home going to doctor's appointments and going through chemo. Some people do work and maybe if I was closer I would. It was my dream job. We will see what happens."

She is an artist mostly working with encaustic paint and hasn't done a lot with it in the past year.

"I haven't felt good and I work with a blow torch. It's a bit toxic. I just started to do a few things in the last month or so and finishing up a few things. I am hoping when the surgery is over I can do a few more things. I know Depot Street Arts has started up. I haven't gone yet but I am hoping. We will see what happens when this is over," she said.

She is looking forward to the upcoming Football for a Cure when the Clarkston Varsity Football team plays to raise money for McLaren.

"It is wonderful they do it," McDonnell said. "For a high school aged student it is above and beyond. I know. I have a 16-year-old. There is a level of not quite getting what is going on with me. Young people should be aware of cancer because it is happening to their parents, their grandparents, other family members. It raises awareness with an age group to make it less scary for them, too. Young people involved is a good thing."

She invites the community to go to the event to cheer on the players, Aug. 16 at the high school stadium at 7 p.m.

"Cancer effects everyone," she said. "At one point of your life you are going to be personally effected. To come out and help does so much more good than you realize.

"Having cancer you do tend to feel alone," she continued. "Having the support you have from the community, your friends, your family, your doctors means a lot."

Wendi graduated from the University of Michigan-Flint with a degree in communications. She wrote for the Michigan Times college paper and Grand Blanc View before joining The Clarkston News in October 2007. Follow Clarkston sports on Twitter @CNewsWRSports.
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