By Todd Cohen
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Six years ago, at age 31, Jennifer Sherrel was diagnosed with breast cancer, and underwent a mastectomy and chemotherapy.
Three years later, finding the cancer had spread to her liver and bones, doctors gave her two to six months to live, and she underwent chemo a second time.
Currently taking medication once a month for her Stage IV cancer, Sherrel says what energizes her now is her work as a volunteer for Carolina Breast Friends, an all-volunteer group formed in 2003 to provide inspiration to breast-cancer patients and survivors.
“In the midst of our adversity,” she says, “if we give to others, it helps our healing process, as well as others.”
With over 200 members, the organization meets on the second Tuesday of every month at 6:30 p.m. at Myers Park United Methodist Church, typically to hear speakers addressing issues of interest to cancer patients and survivors, such as sex, cooking, acupuncture and alternative medicine.
The group also takes on projects to serve breast-cancer patients and survivors.
It has distributed over 1,000 “comfort bags” to patients containing practical items they might need during their treatment such as hand sanitizers, mints and eye masks to protect against puffiness from chemotherapy.
The group also has distributed over 1,800 “inspirational” jars containing pieces of paper from every member containing information that includes the age at which they were diagnosed, an inspirational quote and their email address.
“It’s a way to connect our members,” says Sherrel, who has received over a dozen email messages from other patients.
The group also offers a mentoring program that matches women of similar age and diagnosis, and provides a fund for uninsured and underinsured patients needing financial help while undergoing treatment.
Sherrel now is heading the group’s inaugural “Oysters on the Lawn,” a fundraising event that will be held Oct. 20 at the Mint Museum of Art.
Proceeds from the event, which already has landed $190,000 in sponsorships, will be used to develop Project Pink House.
Inspired by the late Kristy Adams Ebel, who founded Carolina Breast Friends and died last October at age 36, the facility will house meeting space, social activities, services and a library and computers that survivors and patients can use to conduct research on the disease and its treatment.
Ebel “wanted to start a positive group that would go out and do things and not just sit around and talk about our illness,” Sherrel says.
Teresa Earnhardt, president and CEO of Dale Earnhardt Inc., is honorary chair of the event and will host a pre-event VIP cocktail party for donors who contribute $10,000 or more.
The Ginn Co. is the main corporate sponsor for the event, which will feature Big Swing and the Ballroom Blasters, a 17-piece band, while Pearl Vodka will provide in-kind vodka bars and recently hosted an industry party to encourage restaurant owners to participate.
Charlotte Arrangements is producing the event, which can handle up to 1,500 guests.
Sherrel, who worked as an emergency-room nurse at Gaston Memorial Hospital in Gastonia and as a senior-nurse consultant for Empath, a California consulting firm that redesigns emergency-room processes, says Carolina Breast Friends so far has helped her beat the odds some of her doctors gave her.
Diagnosed the first time only six months after her wedding, she says, she was “bald and throwing up on my one-year wedding anniversary.”
But volunteering to support other breast-cancer patients and survivors keeps her going, she says.
“Never underestimate a woman who’s lost her hair twice,” she says. “One day it’s going to take my life, but it’s not going to beat me.”