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Cancer Survivor in Her Seventies Walked Down the Aisle by Oncologists

By: Ariana Cao

On June 11, 2023, Shaw got married to her new husband Bill in her seventies. Her two oncologists were by her side, walking her down the aisle.

Sheri Shaw-James, a retired high-risk obstetrics nurse, was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma of the rectum, a rare malignancy, in February 2021. “Cancer was the last thing on my mind because I’d recently had a normal colonoscopy,” she said. “It was shocking to get such a serious diagnosis.”

At that time, Sheri was in a new relationship with Bill James. They quickly started dating after they became friends by having met online in 2020. Bill is the man who she felt comfortable with and felt like would be her friend for the rest of her life.

After the diagnosis, Sheri decided to break up with Bill, to avoid him being stuck with her cancer. She wanted him to be free to continue to move on in his own life.

But Bill refused. “I told her, ‘No, I’m not going anywhere. I wanted to be there to support her through it, no matter how long it took,’” said Bill.

Sheri and Bill loaded his car with enough clothing for two to three months and drove to Houston, where they decided to seek treatment at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Within 48 hours, the doctors' team figured out Sheri had Stage 3 cancer and they quickly developed a treatment plan. For five days a week, she would receive around-the-clock chemotherapy through a personal pump, as well as radiation treatment. Once a week, she would also receive infusion chemotherapy at the hospital.

Due to Covid-19 rules, Bill was prevented from accompanying her to the clinic, so he dropped her off every morning and picked her up every night. Sheri was old, but she was brave, full of hope. She never gave up, Bill said, and that’s when he really fell in love with her.

Emma B. Holliday was an oncologist who had worked at the clinic for 12 years. While tending to Sheri, they built a close relationship as Sheri confided her fears during the treatments to her. After sharing stories of their children and grandchildren respectively, their relationship grew closer and Sheri’s trust in Dr. Holliday continued to build.

Van Karlyle Morris was Sheri’s other oncologist, who had worked at the cancer center since 2011. Sheri told Van about the journey of her looking for her biological family and Van cheered her on. As Sheri said, “There is such a deep connection you feel to the people who are with you at the lowest point in your life.”

According to Sheri, she didn’t experience serious hair loss during the chemotherapy treatments, but she experienced nausea, fatigue, and bouts of vertigo. “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.” She said.

Fortunately, on Sheri’s next appointment in June 2021, she was declared cancer-free, though she still has tests and a check-in every six months.

In January 2023, Bill proposed to Sheri. “How could I say no?’” Sheri said. “He’d been by my side every minute.” Bill’s meticulous care and company moved Sheri deeply.

As they were making their wedding plans, Sheri said that she wanted her doctors to be there with her on her big day to walk her down the aisle. Though she had family members to do that, she still wished it would be her doctors since they were the ones who gave her a new life.

Morris and Holliday were delighted by their patient’s request. “When she asked me, I definitely teared up. It’s the first time I’ve ever been invited to participate in a patient’s wedding.” Holliday said. This was the same situation as for Morris. They bought their plane tickets and flew to North Carolina the day before the wedding.

“It was such an emotional moment, to see the smile on Sheri’s face as we were walking up the aisle with her,” said Morris. “To see her through the darkest challenge she may have faced, then come to her wedding was definitely a high point.”

Shaw-James said she felt triumphant, though her battle scars of cancer still exist.

“Walking through that garden was one of the most moving days of my life,” said Sheri. “It was a huge honor that they agreed to be with me and share in my happiness.” The sight touched the audience at the wedding deeply, and Sheri said there weren’t many dry eyes.

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

Source: patient marries, walked down aisle by oncologists at wedding - The Washington Post.pdf

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