Bryant teacher named 'Hero of Hope'
Nov. 5, 2010, began as any other day for 36-year-old Sherri Cathey, a teacher at Bethel Middle School. Staff and students were out of school that fall day and, like most teachers, Cathey mother to four daughters - was trying to squeeze in all of those necessary doctor and dentist appointments. She never made it to the dentist. Within minutes of seeing her doctor for pain under her arms, it was determined she had swollen lymph nodes. The doctor ordered Cathey to go directly to Baptist Breast Center and to call her husband, Mike, to meet her there.
She vividly recalls the scenario. “I was to have a mammogram. They directed me to a changing room to wait where there was only a bench, a Bible and a can of spray deodorant. So, I went for the Bible.”
Cathey had never had a mammogram, as she was younger than the recommended age of 40, nor did she have an extensive family history of breast cancer. After the procedure, she was sent back to her bench to wait for the results.
“Before long, the nurse came back and said the doctor wanted to do an ultrasound. Then I had to wait again - by myself, because there were too many women for Mike to come back. I sat there alone, crying and watching the clock tick,” she says. “The next thing I knew they, they led me back to a closet and informed me they wanted to do a biopsy. I asked the doctor, ‘What if it’s not cancer?’ She replied, ‘I don’t believe it’s not cancer.’ It was a shocker. All I could think was ‘I’m 36, I have four children - one of them is a two-year-old.’ It was really hard on Mike. He had just lost his mom and best friend to cancer.”
The following Monday, Cathey had the biopsy, and as predicted, it was cancer. Immediately she began the first of 16 weeks of chemotherapy and elected to have a bilateral mastectomy, as it was an aggressive form of breast cancer.
Throughout her journey with breast cancer, Cathey continued teaching, being an inspiration to her students. She, along with fellow teachers Lynn Cardin, Kay Binns, Andress Whaley, Sandra Shipe and Sotonya Gordey organized the Bethel Hornets for Hope Relay for Life team, earning $575 last year and more than $3,000 this year.
“We as teachers have pledged to do anything and everything we can to help her fight through this battle with cancer, Cardin said. “We could not have a better champion and hero to stand beside us in our lives.”
Cathey said her Career Orientation students voluntarily participated.
“The Bethel teachers and students are so supportive and caring…their cards, emails. I am speechless,” she says, her voice breaking. “There aren’t words.”
“She uses this awful thing as an opportunity to shine her light and kindness on others,” Julia Nall, student, said.
Brooke Snyder, another student of Cathey’s, shares Julia’s sentiment. “One thing I noticed was that she was not down and sad; she was always positive.”
While she still suffers from neuropathy in her hands and feet, due to the extensive nerve damage from the mastectomy, July 12, 2011 was Cathey’s last treatment. “I had a full body scan, and I got my first NED – No Evidence of Disease – in August of 2011.
However, her reprieve from the disease was short-lived, as four spots on her lungs and a “big” lesion in her liver was discovered Feb. 29, of this year.
She opted to undergo Radiofrequency ablation, a less invasive procedure that involves using high frequency electric currents that specifically target and burn the lesions.
A biopsy revealed that the cancer was not breast cancer that had metastasized but an altogether different one – neuro-endocrine cancer, affecting her lungs and liver.
Cathey’s oncologist explained that it was a rare form of cancer and referred the Cathey’s to MD Anderson in Houston.
The Cathey’s made the nine-hour trek to Houston, three times in three months, spending a minimum of 5 days per trip.
“The doctors at MD Anderson determined that this type of cancer was not as responsive to chemotherapy. They sent me home with a prescription. I was upset and crying, my older daughters – both juniors at Bryant – have a lot going on at school. My two little ones want to know, ‘Where’s Mama?’”
The Cathey’s decided to give Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Tulsa a shot.
“Cancer Treatment Center was on the same page as my oncologist. We have less travel. It is less expensive, and I can bring my family, hiring sitters for blocks of time,” she explains.
Cathey is currently on a chemotherapy pill. She says her cancer has increased in volume. “The spots on my lungs are bigger. The ones on my liver are the same size, but now I have a third spot, and there are a couple of them on my diaphragm,” she says.
Cathey says she deals with the disease by praying and having realistic conversations with her family.
“There is no way to separate my faith and my journey with cancer. I certainly wouldn’t choose (cancer), but it has increased the breadth and depth of my relationship with God. I try to demystify it with my kids.”
Cathey takes her older daughters, Haylee and Savanna, both 16, with her to appointments and show them that it is reality.
“Everybody lives with pain, but some peoples’ pain you don’t see. It could be a person who is being abused,” she explains. “It’s a different conversation with each child. My little girls, Cameron, 6 and Brynnan, 4, just know I have a ‘boo-boo on the inside’. This is a physical, emotional and spiritual disease,” she adds. “Your family is the reason you push through all this.” It is Sherri Cathey’s spirit of hope that landed her the distinction of Hero of Hope by the
American Cancer Society. Her sister, Lisa Baxley, and her daughters accepted the honor on her behalf, before a packed stadium at the annual Salt Bowl Sept. 21, while she was in Tulsa undergoing treatment.
The Hero of Hope is a cancer survivor with a poignant, compelling story who inspires and encourages others who are fighting the disease.
Binns and Whaley nominated her for the award.
“Sherri is a shining example of strength and grace,” long-time friend and colleague Andress Whaley says. “(She) encourages us all to remain trusting in the Lord, as He must have a plan for her. I pray that His plan is for her to be this ambassador of light and faith, this Hero of Hope, until a cure is found and her cancer journey is finished.”
In Binn’s recommendation letter to the American Cancer Society, she writes, “I stand in awe of the fighting spirit of hope that Sherri has shown in her battle with cancer. As a friend and co-worker, I tried to encourage and lift Sherri up as much as possible. However, it was always Sherri who encouraged me and others in her fight. She educated the faculty and students about cancer and ways to help in the battle. The faculty and students were so inspired by her fighting spirit that over $3,000 was raised for Relay for Life in a two month time period. She has been active through Facebook to encourage her friends to enroll in the Cancer Prevention Study and reached her goal of at least 10 people registering.”
Bethel Principal Todd Sellers is not surprised Cathey earned the award.
“Through all of this, she has been so concerned with her students, which is certainly not expected, but that is just part of who she is,” Sellers says. “Sherri Cathey is far more concerned about the well-being of those around her than she is her own. She is and always will be a hero to me.”
Cathey is on leave from school, as she continues her treatment.
“We are beginning clubs at Bethel this year and Sherri wanted to have a knitting club so that she could teach students to knit and make hats for patients undergoing treatment for cancer,” Assistant Principal Glenda Reynolds says. “This is just the way she is. I am very lucky she has touched my life.”
She is missed by the students as well.
“Mrs. Cathey was my keyboarding teacher last year and my FBLA sponsor. She really cares about her students learning. She’ll come in at 7:15 in the morning if you need help,” Kade Endl says.
“She’s always happy,” Austin Guthrie adds.
Mike Cathey shares that just Thursday the insurance company approved Cyberknife Radiation Treatment for Cathey. The radiation is delivered by a robotic arm mechanism that allows the tumor to be targeted more precisely.
“This is huge,” Mike says. “We have relied on God. We are very blessed. Just yesterday, I was approached by someone who wants to cover the cost of our daughters’ senior rings.”
Sherri Cathey is on a mission.
“I want to teach. I want to be a mom. I want to grow old with my husband and be a grandma.”
Her advice to someone with cancer: “Do something meaningful every day. I get up, get dressed and put on my makeup every day. Don’t let cancer take over your life –Keep on livin’!”
Tammy Shaw is an English teacher at Bethel Middle School in the Bryant School District. Everybody has a story – the ordinary person, accomplishing the extraordinary. To share yours, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.