Cancer survivor spreads awareness across region

After winning her own fight with cancer, a local woman is working around-the-clock to raise awareness and support for other cancer patients in Knox County.

Sherry Payne was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer in November 1998. Payne recalls initially thinking the pain she was experiencing as stress-related, but as it increased, she went to her doctor just to be safe.

“It was some of the worst pain I’ve ever had. I could not get out of bed. I still don’t know why I didn’t go to the ER, it was that bad,” recalls Payne.

After performing several tests which revealed nothing, Payne’s doctor opted for a colonoscopy, something most 44 years olds do not have to worry about.

Payne states that when she went for the colonoscopy, the procedure couldn’t be performed.

“When they went in, the tumor was so big, I was completely blocked and that’s what was causing the pain,” continued Payne, who said if she had waited just two more weeks, she would’ve become septic and would not be alive today.

The day following the failed procedure, Payne’s doctors confirmed she had cancer and would need immediate surgery. In Lexington, doctors removed her entire colon just days before Thanksgiving and then she started chemotherapy in January. Both Payne’s family doctor and oncologist estimated she had two to three years to live.

Despite the odds, Payne and her team of doctors were ready to fight. Payne’s oncologist began 48 weeks of treatment with a brand new, trial medication which Payne states saved her life.

Once her treatment concluded, Payne knew she wanted to help those in similar situations as her own. She took a home-based job with the American Cancer Society for Eastern Kentucky. Through her job, Payne learned that ACS funded the research for the drug that saved her life. She also learned she received her diagnosis at exactly the right time, when the drug was first made available in trials. “If I had been diagnosed a year earlier, I wouldn’t be here.”

Now going into her 15th year with the ACS, Payne works to let others fighting cancer in eastern Kentucky, including Knox, know they are not alone.

“When I went through this, I had no idea what chemo was. That’s the scary part, not knowing…The family, too. I think they suffer more than the patient does because we know we have to do what we have to do, but they don’t know how to make you feel better and they don’t know how to get rid of the worry,” said Payne. “I try to just be a resource…It’s always good to talk to somebody that’s been there.”

As a Community Health Advisor, Payne also works make sure people in the area are getting regular screenings for cancer.

Despite the hardships during and after her fight, Payne is able to find a positive outlook on the entire situation.

“I’m not glad that I had cancer, but I appreciate all the good things that came from having cancer,” said Payne. “The people I’ve met since I had cancer would never be part of my life and some of them are extremely important to me.”