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Sherry Cowan and her husband, Matt, were high school sweethearts. They married young, had children young, and did everything young. They had even planned to be empty nesters young – before turning 40. There was just one problem. Sherry was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 37.
“I had one of my very best friends die of breast cancer at 34. My mom had breast cancer when she was 44. That is why I fought so hard to have a mammogram at 35,” Mrs. Cowan said. “Everyone told me it was too soon, but I wanted a baseline. Working in the medical field gave me the confidence to pursue it.”
Mrs. Cowan, who works as an office coordinator in the anesthesia department at Onslow Memorial Hospital, continued her annual mammograms. At her August 2010 screening, something unusual turned up, and she was asked to schedule a follow-up screening in six months. She had that screening done in February, and scheduled a third follow-up six months out. But a couple of months before that third visit, Mrs. Cowan said, she scratched her chest and “felt a knot” in her left breast. On June 9 she had a mammogram and a breast ultrasound. A biopsy was conducted on June 16, followed by an MRI the next day. The results of the test: She was told that between February and June, a tumor in her left breast had evolved to Stage 3. In addition, a biopsy done on her right breast yielded suspicious findings, but the tests were inconclusive.
“It scared me. Losing one of my very best friends at 34 …” said Mrs. Cowan, choking back tears. On July 6, 2011, she chose to have a bilateral mastectomy – a very aggressive approach to her breast cancer, but not one that she regrets. A July 24 PET scan revealed that the surgery was successful. Four of the 12 lymph nodes removed were cancerous. In August of that year, she began chemotherapy at Southeastern Medical Oncology in Jacksonville. “I did the chemo until November 17. It didn’t make me sick, but I did lose my hair. I used to be a dirty blonde, but now my hair is darker and curlier,” Mrs. Cowan says.
In December she started radiation at Onslow Radiation Oncology and continued to work throughout her treatments until February. “I could not have asked for a better group of people. They are so genuinely there for you. They explain everything. They know everybody by name. It’s like a family.”
Mrs. Cowan, a native of Onslow County and a resident of Hubert, said that having chemo and radiation done locally was very convenient. It allowed her to continue working and be close to her family. “The support of your family, taking it day by day, not dwelling on it, and having a positive attitude is what gets you through it. I felt very comfortable here and trusted God. I’ve been very blessed,” Mrs. Cowan said.
After having breast reconstruction at Duke, Mrs. Cowan is looking forward to getting back to her original plans. “The kids are both in college. And this is the time for Matt and I to have our time.”