Sherry Hartfield’s cancer provided a platform ‘to reach others for Christ’
On February 24, the late Sherry Pierce Hartfield will be recognized at the Jackson Cancer League’s 2018 Cheers for a Cure Gala. Sherry, who passed away after a more than five-year battle with an aggressive form of breast cancer, would likely have been honored to accept the award.
But she would be more satisfied knowing her battle with the disease allowed her to better serve God and touch the lives of thousands of people who also are struggling with cancer.
“My mother began praying that God would use her and give her a platform to reach others for Christ. She said when she was diagnosed, that this was the platform,” said Cora Beth Hartfield, Sarah’s daughter. “She used her diagnosis to share (the Gospel) with others.”
Cora Beth served as Sherry’s primary caretaker in her final years and was assisted by her sister, Meade Hartfield, an attorney in Birmingham.
In the years following Sherry’s diagnosis, she helped raise tens of thousands of dollars for cancer research, as well as help raise awareness for the disease itself.
She did everything, from cancer walks to talking to complete strangers. Sherry’s success is evidenced in part by the 800 or 900 followers on social media, by the hundreds of people who attended her funeral and by the thousands of people who have reached out to her daughters since Sherry’s passing.
“She lived it. She loved people. She loved on people. Our Scripture was Psalm 118:24, ‘This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it,’ ” Cora Beth said. “That’s how we lived the last five and a half years.”
Sherry was diagnosed with stage IV inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) in the spring of 2012.
She had gone to the doctor for a routine blood pressure checkup, when she mentioned a rash. Sherry thought it was shingles, but her doctor sent her immediately to an oncologist, who diagnosed her with stage IV IBC.
IBC is a rare form of breast cancer, making up one to five percent of all breast cancers diagnosed in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute. Typically, the disease is very aggressive and is already in the third or fourth stage by the time it’s diagnosed, the institute’s Web site states.
For Sherry, the disease had already spread throughout her body, so surgery wasn’t an option.
“It’s ... labeled the silent killer. She didn’t have a lump and it didn’t show up in her mammogram,” Cora Beth said.
However, Sherry was undaunted, and had a fighting spirit until the end.
“We would go to the Hederman (Cancer Center) and go to the second floor to get treatment. Every time, she would take the stairs, before and after chemo,” Cora Beth said, adding that her mother wanted to take the walk as long as she was able to do so. Only until her last week of life did Sherry have to be taken to the second floor and was unable to walk.
“She had quality of life,” Cora Beth said.
Sherry was a graduate of Central High School, the University of Southern Mississippi and Mississippi College. She spent her career in Jackson Public Schools, serving 30 years as a teacher and principal. Her stops included Spann Elementary and Davis Magnet Elementary School.
She was retired for more than a decade prior to her diagnosis.
Doctors initially gave her months to live.
“She was a fighter. She was the most gentle and kind woman, but if you got her fired up, and it was something she believed in, she’d come out swinging.”
Sherry beat the odds. Those diagnosed with Stage IV IBC have a median survival rate of 21 months. Sherry lived three times as long as that, and used her remaining years to raise money and awareness.
She and her supporters formed “Go Team Sherry,” which raised $30,000 for cancer research through participation in walks and other events. Pink bracelets featuring Psalm 118:24 were made and distributed to hundreds of people. The bracelets were worn by Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, TV talk show host Leeza Gibbons and fellow cancer survivor and ABC Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts.
Sherry also shared her story with complete strangers. “A woman we met last February … texted me the other night to see how (mother) was,” Cora Beth said. “She was a total stranger.”
A special drink, the Pink Ta Ta, was created in her honor at Table 100, with a portion of the proceeds from purchases of the beverages going to Susan G. Komen.
In August, Sherry’s efforts were posthumously recognized by Komen, when she was named “2017 Survivor of the Year.”
Sherry passed away on August 12. She is survived by three brothers and two daughters. One brother now is battling cancer himself.
“They all got to come over the day before she passed. My sister and I were there with her when she took her last breath. She was actually able to tell us she loved us (before she passed),” Cora Beth said. “Her body raised up and we watched her spirit leave … It was incredible.”
Cora Beth and her sister are still mourning the loss of their mother.
However, the sisters are comforted by Sherry’s lasting legacy and the many lives she touched.
Go Team Sherry is planning one more walk, at the Susan G. Komen race in April. “We had an army of angels lifting us up all the time, not just in prayer, but (by) physically being there,” she said. “There have been thousands of people there for us.”
The 2018 Cancer League Gala is slated for Saturday, February 24, at the South Warehouse. It begins at 6:30 p.m.