Sheila J. Richards

Sheila J. Richards

I had my first experience with cancer as a mother of four girls just as they were starting to become young women. My oldest was fifteen and my baby, eleven. As they were reaching self-sufficiency, I decided it was time for me to do what I always dreamed of – going to college for that degree that would set me on my way to the future.

Recently divorced, I realized that I was now the only breadwinner and responsible for starting my girls on the path to their own futures. I had a hard row to cultivate but I worked hard in college and held straight “A’s” through four long years.

In my final year at Northeastern University, I felt a lump in my breast. My doctor confirmed his diagnosis of Breast Cancer and performed a double mastectomy. After spending a month in the hospital which included reconstruction, and another at home recuperating, I finally got to finish my degree by cramming six courses into the final semester. Quite a work-out, but I graduated on time and with High Honors. At the same time, my oldest daughter graduated high school with honors. We were on our way.

I stayed cancer-free for 34 years and, in that time, created a career, in journalism and marketing that I loved. My children grew, married, became mothers and developed their own careers in their chosen fields. The oldest became a nurse, my second was a shipping vice-president, my third became a physical therapist, and my baby developed a career in hairdressing and beauty consultation. We all had a bright future, blessed with wonderful children (grandchildren) and lives.

Then, the ceiling collapsed. I worked daily with quite a lot of pain; sometimes I could not use my arms, other times my body was wracked with an indescribable dull and painful throbbing. I couldn’t understand what was happening and kept returning to my primary care doctor. When he finally
realized what was going on, he sent me to a cancer specialist who tested me and found that the breast cancer had come back with a vengeance. It had spread into my bones. This was bad, it was an incurable form of Breast/ Bone Cancer, and I was in stage 4, and not going be able to live much longer.

I have used all the tools in my arsenal including my love for God and his angels, complete love for my fellow man, a peaceful understanding and acceptance of my life, praying for forgiveness of the pain I caused and received, and, especially, a complete enjoyment and happiness for the wonders of this world. I have also used the miracles performed by my special cancer doctors who fight hard in giving me a life worth living. I have survived for nine years and am still counting.

A hard won battle that sometimes leaves me with a sense of sorrow and aloneness. This is an unhealthy attitude at best but a weakness that I succumb to especially when the pain overcomes my resolve.

At times like these, I think of all the other people who have it harder than I. I also think of the times I have been helped by a kindness of strangers.Strangers who care, understand, and help in ways immeasurable, filled with love and thoughtfulness. The PLU is just such an organization that unexpectedly helped me with monies and a delicious Thanksgiving dinner enjoyed fully by my family, who realize how blessed we truly are.

The PLU is full of those who care, those who help others through such enterprises as The Hope Lodge, providing cancer patients with friendship and caring that goes beyond the needed material things to an understanding that somewhere, when you are at your lowest, there will be special people, like Ginny, who are in this fight standing right beside you. Let’s hope they will always be there. I thank God for these earth-bound angels.

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