After 16 years working as an advocate for breast cancer patients, Sherry has gained a lifetime of friends.
What are your job responsibilities? I am a nurse practitioner and was hired to open the High Risk Program at the Revlon/UCLA Breast Center 20 years ago. I work under the directorship of Helena Chang, M.D., and see 60 patients a week, an average of 12 patients a day, for follow-up and newly diagnosed appointments in the High Risk Program, Follow-up Breast Cancer Program and the Multidisciplinary Breast Cancer Program. Most of the clinics we have at the Breast Center are multidisciplinary. Patients may be seen by me and their physician, as well as other clinicians such as a psychologist, nutritionist and physical therapist, as they are treated in a holistic way.
Why is this job perfect for you? In 2001, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I have no prior family history of breast cancer and had given myself a breast self-exam and found a little nodule in my right breast, which didn't show up on mammograms or ultrasounds. I had a lumpectomy and went through radiation and now I'm fine and can share my life experiences with my patients. When patients find out that I've had breast cancer, and am functioning at the level I do, it gives them a lot of hope.
What do you find most rewarding? I treasure the connection and relationships I have with my patients. I enjoy watching their progress, watching them go through every step, and seeing them come out feeling well. I have the honor of being their friend and part of their family as I get to experience the happy and difficult moments with them. I just love what I do, and if I can help someone in any small way, that's all I can ask for. In the High Risk Program, I have the opportunity to monitor women who have firstdegree relatives with breast cancer. A patient of mine had a mother, grandmother and two sisters with breast cancer. After seeing her for about five years in the High Risk Program, one day, I felt a lump in her breast. I sent her for an ultrasound and a mammogram and sure enough, both were suspicious. She had been trying to become pregnant for years with no success. The tumor she had was aggressive and she needed chemo, radiation and a mastectomy. The likelihood of her becoming pregnant was very slim. She went through nine months of grueling treatment with support from our entire team. She described feeling like the Breast Center was her second home. She and her husband stayed strong and about a year after she was diagnosed, she was able to get pregnant, without the aid of fertility meds, at age 42. She now has a gorgeous 2-year-old son, who lights up every room he walks into.
How do you help patients cope? I teach the Surgical Education Program every Tuesday afternoon. I walk patients through their day of surgery so they understand exactly what they will be going through, what it's like to be put under anesthesia, what the surgery experience will be, what it's like to come out of recovery, and how recovery will be when they go home. Everyone goes through the whole experience differently and after the initial shock, some deal with it better than others. Going through each step of their treatment with them seems to help make the experience a little easier.
How do you handle the heartache? I have been married for 40 years and have raised seven children and 11 grandchildren. My family is a huge part of my life. I'm an avid reader, skier, movie buff, and my husband and I love to travel. I try to balance work and life by allowing myself to get away periodically. It's very important to me that I can connect with my patients, and to be involved in every step for them.
Is there anything else about your job you would like to share? I wish more women knew about breast centers. I sometimes worry about where patients choose to get their care, many people are not aware of what the Breast Center can provide for women diagnosed with breast cancer, and for well women. It's very important to do preventive medicine through education and awareness. Anyone can self-refer or be referred by their physician to take advantage of the benefits we offer here at the Revlon/UCLA Breast Center.