The faith to survive

Sherry Scott could feel a wave of peace wash over her as she knelt before a large wooden cross in the chapel of Woodlawn Baptist Church and her pastor anointed her brow with oil.


Her husband, Rance, knelt on one side; her 9-year-old daughter, Carter, on the other. A dozen deacons stood or knelt around her, their hands touching her shoulders and her back. Behind them, spiraling from the front of the church, more than 100 men, women and children bowed their heads in prayer for her.

"Father, we ask for healing," Senior Pastor Tony Christie prayed. "We ask for a miracle."

As Mrs. Scott battles breast cancer, she has had surgery and reconstructive surgery, is getting chemotherapy and will have radiation therapy. It is her faith, though, that will carry her through, she said.

"You just have to believe, believe it is going to be good," said Mrs. Scott, 46.

She is one of an estimated 182,460 women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, one of 4,910 in Georgia. More than 1,000 of those Georgia women will die, according to the American Cancer Society. Those who survive will find tremendous resources to help them, particularly from other women who have faced or are facing the same battle.

The National Cancer Institute estimated that there were 2,477,847 breast cancer survivors in 2005, and with an 88.7 percent overall survival rate after five years, that number probably has increased by hundreds of thousands since then.

When a woman gets that breast cancer diagnosis, though, she doesn't think of any of that, said Pam Anderson, the director of the University Hospital Breast Health Center, who faced it herself 11 years ago.

"That cancer word is absolutely the worst word you can hear," she said, "because you think of death. I thought I was going to die."

Tears flooded Mrs. Scott's eyes and her voice broke as she tried to talk about calling her husband with the diagnosis in May.

"Our lives were never going to be the same from that point on," she said. "But I know we're going to make it through it."

Every step along the way, beginning with an abnormal mammogram in April, she thought something would change.

"You have a bad mammogram. You think, 'Well, they're going to repeat it and it will be OK.' Well, they repeated it and it wasn't OK," she said. "You get the sonogram, and it's just going to be a cyst or something. Well, it wasn't. You go to the surgeon for a biopsy. One step just led to the next. We just kept getting deeper and deeper."

Mr. Scott had the same tone of shock and disbelief in August that he did when he got the call from his wife in May.

"And it's still hard to believe, you know?" he said. "It's been, what, 21/2 months now? It seems like it's been a year."

EVEN THOUGH it was a small, 1.5-centimeter tumor and only one of the nearby lymph nodes tested positive, she chose a double mastectomy and breast reconstruction at the same time.

"I can't imagine waking up and not having anything, as a woman," she said.

Post-surgical pain was a big concern, so she and Carter prayed every night, making a declaration of their faith and asking for a good outcome.

"We declared that I would have great surgery with great doctors and great nurses," Mrs. Scott said. "I kept saying 'little pain.' And one night Carter said, 'Why are you praying for little pain? Why don't you pray for no pain?' And I stopped, and I said, 'OK.' We started declaring that I would have no pain. And I basically had no pain. God has just been answering those prayers."

All you have to do, she said, is ask.

"The answers are there if you just search for it. The strength, everything that you need, all you have to do is ask. All of that is there in the Bible: You ask and you shall receive," she said.

Another key part is outreach. In early August, Mrs. Scott joined other women with cancer at the American Cancer Society office in Augusta for a class called "Look Good, Feel Better." The class provides free makeup and tips on how to deal with the wide-ranging and sometimes surprising effects of chemotherapy and other cancer treatments.

Mrs. Scott and Carter sat across the table from Pam Shivers, of North Augusta, who had been diagnosed about a month before. The women spoke in a strange language peculiar to breast cancer patients.

"Were you HER-2 negative or positive?" Mrs. Shivers asked, referring to a gene that can be targeted by a particular cancer treatment.

"Negative," Mrs. Scott said.

"How about the ER and PR?" Mrs. Shivers asked, meaning the cancer cells have receptors for estrogen and progesterone, which can also dictate treatment.

"Positive and positive," Mrs. Scott said.

"You were positive for both?"

Mrs. Scott nodded.

"Your margins were clean?" she asked, meaning the surgeon didn't see cancer around the edges after removing the tumor.

"The margins are clean. I had five out of 13 (positive lymph nodes), which is not bad," Mrs. Shivers said, meaning the cancer had spread to some of the nearby lymph nodes.

"That's not bad at all," Mrs. Scott said.

"That's what I was told," Mrs. Shivers said, prompting a laugh from Mrs. Scott.

"What about yours?" Mrs. Shivers asked.

"I had one out of 14," Mrs. Scott said.

"That's phenomenal," Mrs. Shivers said.

Mrs. Shivers is only 41 and, like Mrs. Scott, a mother, with a 7- and an 8-year-old.

"I wish I could talk to her more," Mrs. Shivers said recently. "With family and work and being sick from the chemo, it's hard to get together with people."

PART OF THE cancer society event allows the women to bond while they get tips on dealing with all kinds of cancer-related problems, such as the familiar hair loss, which often includes eyebrows and eyelashes.

For eyebrows, moderator Jane Westendick said, use a light touch with the eyebrow pencil.

"Take your eyebrow pencil and just feather it, feather, feather lightly," she said.

Synthetic wigs are easier to care for than those with real hair, and pay attention to the weight and size, Mrs, Westendick cautioned.

"Wigs need to fit you," she said. It might also be time for a change of color.

"Now's the time to try something different," she said, prompting a lot of knowing laughs from around the table.

"My husband said, 'Get five or six,' " Mrs. Scott said. " 'All different.' " The room erupted again in laughter.

"And then I get one," Carter said.

"We'll get him one, too," Mrs. Scott said of her hair-challenged husband.

Shelly Cato and some others who are further along in their treatment commiserate about an injection, called Neulast, that is meant to boost their white blood cell count.

"It hit my knees and my hips and my joints. It's really bad," Mrs. Cato said. "They already hurt before this. I'm walking like an 80-year-old."

Mrs. Scott didn't hear that above the din in the room. She will start her chemo in a few days. First, she will go to Woodlawn for the prayer and healing ceremony.

IT IS A PASSAGE from the Bible -- James 5:14 -- that has inspired her, as the Rev. Christie explains to the 100 or so people gathered that Wednesday night as he reads from that passage: " 'Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church. ...' "

This is what Mrs. Scott has done; she has called for the elders of the church -- " 'and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord,' " he read. "And notice what it says in verse 15: 'And the prayer of faith will save the sick. ...' Amen?"


"It's not the oil that saves," the Rev. Christie said. "There's nothing mystical or magical about the oil. Remember where the power is. It's in the prayer."

Then they gathered around her, hand on back, hand on shoulder, a human chain of bowed heads fanning out from the pulpit in the center, filling the front of the church and stretching down the aisles. Church member Elaine Pearson said she felt it moving through her as they prayed.

"It was like a wave," she said. "It's just power, that's what it is."

The family rose, tears streaming. Afterward, one by one, women came up to hug Mrs. Scott, their tears falling on her, her tears falling on them.

"God's here," she said, her eyes brimming.

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or


October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. A few months ago, The Augusta Chronicle began following recently diagnosed breast cancer patient Sherry Scott as she began her treatment after surgery. Her story will be told in a three-part series beginning today. Mrs. Scott and her family wanted to share what their family is going through in the hopes of helping others facing a similar battle.

TODAY: Getting the diagnosis

COMING MONDAY: The first chemotherapy treatment

COMING TUESDAY: Returning to work