Sherry B. Williams has a big message in a small package. The four-time breast cancer survivor wrote and self-published “When Cancer Calls,” a 38-page booklet she calls light-hearted, faith-based and easy to read for anyone diagnosed with cancer.
During October, Williams will be speaking at breast cancer awareness events throughout metro Atlanta, signing books and discussing her cancer journey.
It’s a story that began in 1999 with the Atlanta native’s initial diagnosis. A full-time senior sales director with Mary Kay Cosmetics in Chicago, Williams had just turned 40, was driving a signature Mary Kay pink Cadillac and, with no family history of the disease, was stunned when her doctor found a lump undetected by her annual mammogram.
She would receive that dire diagnosis three more times by 2004. In addition to 20-plus traditional surgeries, including lumpectomies and a bilateral mastectomy followed by reconstructive surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Williams also included alternative options in her recovery. After relocating to Phoenix, she sought treatment at the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona Medical Center. As she explained, the facility focuses on combining conventional and alternative medicine along with nutrition, exercise and spirituality.
Today, Williams says she is cancer free.
“Most cancer survivors say, ‘I am in remission,’” she said. “In the words of the well-known motivational speaker Les Brown, a cancer survivor, ‘Watch your words. Remission is a temporary state.’ Since I do not want to be temporarily done with cancer, I use the phrase ‘I have conquered it!’”
Now living back in Atlanta, near siblings and her 80-year-old mother, a recent breast cancer survivor herself, Williams is a public policy consultant. She also maintains a “very part-time” Mary Kay business because she loves the company and its “incredible caring people.”
“When I was diagnosed the second time in Chicago and both times in Phoenix, the women of Mary Kay showed up to help me like the U.S. Army,” said Williams, who is single. In addition to driving her to chemo and radiation treatments, her Mary Kay compatriots also helped in other critical ways.
“They raised money for me to be able to afford Zofran, my anti-nausea medication, when my insurance company refused to pay for it,” she said.
Williams remains similarly devoted to the slim book she wrote in 2005 to give hope to other cancer patients.
“When people are diagnosed with breast cancer, or any cancer, they don’t need ‘War and Peace,’” she said. “They are overwhelmed and unsure of their next steps. They need hope about how to cope from a survivor. Clinicians can’t say, ‘I know how you feel.’ When people are diagnosed, they need hope from a survivor who is willing to share in their journey to wellness.”
Her website, www.whencancercalls.info, lists nine speaking engagements during October. And her message at each will stress one crucial point: early detection saves lives.
“Despite many advancements in treatment and treatment technology,” she said, “too many women, and a few men, are still being diagnosed too late to have a fighting chance to fight and survive.”
Williams, who discovered her last three cancers herself, hopes to become the national spokesperson for early detection.
“Who better than a survivor, not a clinician (that many people who are most at-risk do not trust) to actually use their story to motivative people to do their monthly self-breast exams and get their annual mammograms,” she said. “I absolutely love writing and being a motivational speaker where I dialogue with and give hope to those touched by cancer.”
Contributing journalist Kathy Des Jardins Cioffi, owner of Johns Creek’s KRC Communications. Connect with her at krccom.com.