Cancer Patient’s Oncologists Walk Her Down the Aisle At Her Wedding
By: Grace Gao
Many say that people begin to limit their social groups as they age. Statistics show that as people get older, they tend to lose friends as they invest more of their time in specific relationships, rarely meeting new people or forming more relationships. In contrast, Sheri Shaw-Jame’s story is proof that we can find love and long-lasting companions at any point in our lives—with an extra dose of optimism, of course.
Shaw-James was diagnosed in 2021 with squamous cell carcinoma of the rectum, a rare type of cancer. The 70-year-old later said the diagnosis was unexpected and surprising, as she had recently gone in for a checkup.
When she was diagnosed, she had been in a relationship with Bill James, whom she had met online. While she stated that she initially was not looking for romance, she grew to like Bill as a lifetime companion. After being diagnosed with cancer, Shaw-James decided to end her relationship with James, worried that her critical condition would get in the way of his life.
“I knew that he really wanted to travel, and I didn’t want him to be stuck dealing with my cancer,” Shaw-James said, “I didn’t think that would be fair to him.”
Instead, James refused and promised to stay by her side through the ordeal. When Shaw-James decided to seek treatment at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, James packed his bags alongside her. Although COVID-19 rules prevented James from entering the clinic, he drove her to and from the hospital nearly every day.
During these long treatments, Shaw-James began to make friends with her doctors. It was during one of these lonely periods that she began a friendship with her radiation oncologist, Emma B. Holliday.
“Dr. Holliday shared stories about her four children, and I shared stories about my five grandchildren,” Shaw-James said. “We bonded through that, and my trust in her continued to build.”
She also became good friends with her other oncologist, Van Karlyle Morris. Shaw-James, who had been adopted at an early age, told Morris that she was trying to search for her biological family. Morris was very excited for her and continuously supported her along the way.
Shaw-Jame’s medication didn’t cause hair loss but would often result in other medical complications such as nausea or fatigue.
“When I was feeling nauseous and weak and could barely eat and hardly walk, they were always there to offer encouragement and hope. We became partners in getting through it.” Shaw-James said.
After her last radiation therapy, Shaw-James celebrated excitedly with her newfound friends. James brought flowers for Dr. Holliday and thanked for profusely for helping Shaw-James.
After her appointment in June 2021, Shaw-James was declared cancer free. Shortly after, James proposed to her. As they planned their wedding, Shaw-James knew she wanted her doctors to walk her down the aisle on her special day. Holliday and Morris were both surprised and flattered when asked.
“When she asked me, I definitely teared up,” Holliday said. “It’s the first time I’ve ever been invited to participate in a patient’s wedding.”
“We get a lot of hard questions as oncologists, but this was probably the easiest one to answer,” he said.
As James-Shaw walked down the aisle to be wed with her two doctors on each side, she felt triumphant, wearing her battle scars with pride.
“It took a lot to reach this moment, but I didn’t do it alone,” she said. “I’ll feel a special connection with the people who gave me a second chance for the rest of my life.”