A positive outlook helps you cope with the unexpected



More than once, I have been told I am too happy, that I smile too often, or that I have way too much perkiness. I’ve been compared to an over-active puppy dog; annoyingly full of energy and happiness.

I used to think this was negative criticism, but my perspective and my outlook on life changed when my best friend and sister-in-law Sheri was diagnosed with breast cancer.

It was March, and Sheri had told me the week before midterm break that she had found a lump in one of her breasts and would have tests ran to make sure it was nothing. I honestly didn’t think much of it, after all, Sheri was a healthy, active, 34-year-old mother to two little girls, Taryn and Teagan, and she had no family history of breast cancer

I remember sitting in my friend Katie’s kitchen when Sheri called. She immediately broke down over the phone and told me the test results confirmed the worst; she had cancer. That evening, Sheri pulled me aside and said words to me I never wanted nor expected to hear, “If I don’t beat this…please move in with your brother, because the girls are going to need a mother-figure in their lives.”

For several months, my sister-in-law faced hard-hitting times. She had stage three-breast cancer, which had spread to her lymph nodes and within a few weeks of her diagnosis, she had a double-mastectomy. By Teagan’s second birthday, Sheri was beginning chemotherapy.

After the semester ended in May, I moved to the eastern side of the state to help out. I watched as Sheri lost her breasts, her hair, and her health, and it made me question the fairness of life.  My annoyingly positive outlook seemed to disappear.

Why did this happen to such an amazing young female? It was not fair: not fair to her, not fair to Taryn and Teagan, and as her admittedly selfish best friend, not fair to me. I spent the summer feeling frustrated, angry, and hurt that a person I loved dearly was in so much pain and sickness.

And yet, Sheri didn’t see it that way. As her battle with cancer continued, everyday, she became a little stronger.  She used her life story to reach out to other breast cancer patients, especially those mothers similar to her. They were all just trying to survive, raise their small children, and live life to its fullest. When I asked Sheri about her positive outlook, her never-ending faith, and her desire to help others in similar situations, she simply shrugged her shoulders and told me she is just trying to pay it forward.

It is now the end of October. For many, today is a day of dressing up, eating candy, and watching scary movies. For me, today is the last day of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a month dedicated to many women and families similar to my sister-in-law. Sheri has finished chemotherapy, moved forward with clean health scans, and is completing her last stage of treatment; radiation.

What has this experience taught me? That life is full of unexpected surprises. How we choose to handle these situations may be the only control we truly have in our lives. Watching my sister-in-law use her strength, courage, and even humor has inspired me to try and be a better person. She is an inspiration to me, and so many others, especially her two little girls.

I am certain people still see me as annoyingly happy. I now take that as a sincere compliment. After all, as cliché as this may sound, life is truly a gift and we should be nothing less than positive and full of happiness.

Live your lives to the fullest, surround yourself with good people, and when the unexpected comes, embrace it.

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3 Responses

  1. Jeff Gramlich says:

    Thanks Shaunda. I like your well-written portrayal of Sheri, who is my cousin’s daughter.

  2. JaNay Oestmann says:

    Wonderful tribute to Sheri. As you well know she is a very special person and holds a very special place in the hearts of our family.

  3. Carol Porter says:

    Absolutely beautiful tribute written on a truly amazing and beautiful young lady! Sheri is by far a true inspiration to so many people! I love this girl…..she has changed me in a way I cannot explain. I too cried when I heard about my friend. From that minute on, I prayed harder then I ever thought possible every single day! Nothing is more powerful than the power of prayer. Well, it has most certainly paid off for my dear friend. Her scans have all come back clear. She has beat this, and she will continue to beat this once and for all! Shaunda this was a beautiful tribute you wrote! As you already know, Sheri is the BEST!!!!!

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