From Doctor to Activist: A Breast Cancer Reinvention Story

Being a doctor was my life's dream, and that's what I did for 18 years.  Then cancer intervened, followed by disabling lymphedema, deep soul-searching, and life-changing participation in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure.

by Sheri Phillips, M.D.
Sheri Phillips, M.D., a breast cancer survivor, is now national spokesperson for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure

I’ve always exercised and kept my body in shape. For the most part, I’ve always eaten well. I have no family history of cancer or of any major medical issues, as far as I know.

And yet, I’m a three-year breast cancer survivor.

Surviving breast cancer is a difficult, life-changing event for anyone. I underwent a partial mastectomy, a lymph node dissection, 15 rounds of chemotherapy and 33 rounds of radiation. As a result, I now have clinically disabling lymphedema of my right arm and hand, which has impacted my career as a physician because I can no longer perform hands-on treatment of my patients.

But the most difficult part of surviving breast cancer was losing my mom while I was undergoing chemotherapy. My best friend, my voice of reason and the person who could always help me find the answers to any problem, was no longer here. My mom was gone and I was alone.
Just one year ago, I was searching for the higher purpose in my life. My lymphedema had begun to affect my ability to safely care for my patients and my boss at the time called me into his office and said, “A physician who is not clinically capable is of no value to me.” My heart sank. I’ve wanted to be a physician since I was two years old. I studied hard for years and worked my way through school to achieve this goal. I spent my entire life preparing, becoming and practicing as a physician, and my life’s dream seemed to be coming to an end at age 42 —all because of breast cancer.

After months of physical therapy and struggling with depression, I found myself getting angry. Angry at being told that through my short lifetime of struggles that I had no value.

But I’m alive and cancer-free for a reason.

So I decided to make a difference, not just in my life, but in the lives of others. By helping them through their struggle and showing them their own value, I would find mine again.

For years, I was seen as the invincible physician. Now as a “patient-physician” I’m a stronger advocate for better health awareness and the need for a cure. My diagnosis and treatment took away one of my greatest fulfillments in life which was the hands-on care of my patients. But after evaluating what I still have rather than what I lost, I have a brand new focus and mission in life. I have decided that I will spend the remainder of my lifetime helping people with this disease and their loved ones gracefully walk the bridge from pre-breast cancer life to life as a survivor.

I’m alive and cancer-free for a reason. And I’m meant to be part of the solution.

I participated in the Susan G. Komen Chicago 3-Day for the Cure in 2010. At the end of the event, I knew I’d found my calling. I was meant to help change lives on a national scale. I could share my story, share my voice, share my life, and share my victory with thousands of others that needed help. So I applied and was chosen to be the National Spokesperson for the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure.

I am now honored to represent the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure as the 2011 national spokesperson. This role affords me the opportunity to raise awareness and educate thousands of women and men throughout the country about breast health and how they can join the fight to end breast cancer.

From being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 to being named the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure national spokesperson in 2011…now that’s reinvention!

Don’t realize at the end of your life that you’ve spent an entire lifetime merely existing. Instead, LIVE the life you’ve been blessed with and “Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance, and when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.” ~ Lee Ann Womack

Don’t miss out on MORE great articles like this one. Click here to sign up for our weekly newsletter!

Read more inspiring breast cancer reinvention stories here.

First Published October 11, 2011

Share Your Thoughts!


Post new comment

Click to add a comment