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At her wedding, her two oncologists walked her down the aisle

By: Isaac Yuan

Sheri Shaw James, age 70, was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma of the rectum, a malignancy. However, that didn't stop her from living a happy rest of her life.

Shaw James is a retired nurse. When she was first diagnosed with cancer, she was surprised, since she had a normal colonoscopy, and also because it was shocking to get such a serious diagnosis.

She started her relationship with Bill James, age 77, online in 2023. “I wasn’t necessarily looking for romance,” Shaw James said. She had been divorced twice already. The reason she liked James more than her previous partners was because she thought “Bill seemed like the one who would be my friend for the rest of my life. I always felt comfortable with him.”

However, after her sudden cancer diagnosis, she thought of breaking up with Bill since he would be stuck next to her in the hospital if they didn’t. She told Bill about this and said there would be no hard feelings. James declined, saying, “No, I’m not going anywhere. I wanted to be there to support her through it, no matter how long it took.”

Shaw James, just like she predicted, had rectal bleeding and needed to go to the hospital. She decided to go to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. She checked into the Ballard House, a building for people undergoing long-term medical treatments.

She started her testing the next day. The doctors concluded that she had Stage 3 cancer, and she had radiation five days a week, plus chemotherapy five days a week through a personal pump. Bill James picked her up at either 7 or 8 p.m. She was always exhausted, but also equally determined. “That’s when I really fell in love with her,” he said. Shaw James also continued to bond with her oncologists, Emma B. Holliday and Van Karlyle Morris.

After her last radiation treatment two months later, Shaw James and Bill James celebrated, and in June 2021, she was declared cancer-free. Bill James proposed to Shaw James in January 2023, and she accepted. “He’d been by my side every minute,” she said. When she made her wedding plans, she asked her oncologists to come with her. They were both very delighted by her request and agreed almost immediately. They flew to North Carolina, and Morris and Holliday walked her down the aisle. Morris said, “It was such an emotional moment, to see the smile on Sheri’s face as we were walking up the aisle with her. To see her through the darkest challenge she may have faced, then come to her wedding was definitely a high point.” Shaw James and Bill James now live in Seven Springs, N.C.

“It took a lot to reach this moment, but I didn’t do it alone,” Sheri Shaw James reflects. “I’ll feel a special connection with the people who gave me a second chance for the rest of my life.”

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