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Cheryl Wild

Touch it. Experience it. Own it.

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I’m breaking out of jail now,” calls Cheryl Wild. “I’ll see you in 15 minutes.” No, I am not an accomplice to a prison break. It’s just Cheryl Wild’s tongue-in-cheek way of letting me know she’ll make our interview for this story. She volunteers at the Douglas County Correctional Facility, working with women inmates through a program called “Good News Jail Ministry.” She teaches cognitive renewal once a week to help incarcerated women change their thinking from that of victim and blame to ownership.

 She also serves on three different boards: The Humane Society board, the Joslyn Art Museum Board and the governing board of Inclusive Community. She rescues abused dogs, (two of her three dogs are adopted) and helps Inclusive Community fight prejudice and promote understanding between all races and creeds.

This list of organizations is what remained after she “tried to cut back” after being diagnosed nearly two years ago with aggressive breast cancer. “Aggressive breast cancer travels and is fast moving,” Wild explains. The cancer presented in between Wild’s yearly mammograms, in May 2009. Almost immediately it migrated to her lymph nodes. After the biopsy, doctors performed a lumpectomy in June. Wild felt fortunate to be able to keep her breasts, although in a smaller form. Looking on the bright side, she says, “I wanted to be downsized.” She started chemotherapy in early July and ended treatment in November.

On the heels of chemotherapy came radiation treatments through January 2010. Since then, she has been on a drug treatment, a form of Tomaxifin, which strips her body of estrogen. Consequently, she has to face the joys of menopause for a second, more virulent time. Her bones ache. Her fingers often “stick” in what she describes as a “trigger pose” due to stiff joints. She continuously experiences hot flashes. And she’ll be going through her second menopause for five years. It’s one of the facets of cancer people don’t think about, says Wild. Those who have not dealt with cancer think it is all over once chemotherapy and radiation stop. They forget about the drug therapy. “When you are done, you’re not done,” notes Wild.

The most challenging aspect of her treatment was chemotherapy. “There were times I just couldn’t manage all the side effects,” she owns. The combination of fatigue, nausea and pain made her want to check into the hospital and raise the white flag in defeat. Then there was the effort of trying to maintain some sense of normalcy throughout the illness.

She recalls a particular instance in which she psyched herself up to attend a party, putting on her wig and make up, getting dressed up,
and plastering a smile on her face. The stress of enjoying a single night out, of simply being Cheryl Wild and not someone battling cancer, made her actively ill. Her husband had to pull over so she could get sick.

Regardless, Wild refused to host a pity party. “I never cried. I whimpered when they had to shave my head, but I didn’t cry,” she states. “I saw other patients stripped of their youth,” she elaborates by way of explanation. Children undergoing transplants and their parents maintaining brave faces despite knowing the danger their children faced. Teenagers spending more time in hospitals than in the halls of their high schools. Young women she met while receiving chemo treatments but who were not there at the next appointment because they did not make it. Given her own long and full life, Wild could not give in to self-pity. “You realize how big the world of suffering is,” she shares.

Wild readily admits the cancer treatment has been her biggest challenge physically. Yet it pales in comparison to a personal tragedy that taxed her both spiritually and psychologically. When she was 27, her schizophrenic younger brother killed their mother and took his own life seven years later. She felt adrift. People know how to offer their condolences when a parent or sibling dies from old age or illness. Despite their desire to help, friends and family did not know what to say to her. They could not relate to her loss.

But she never felt alone after her cancer diagnosis. “There is a sisterhood of understanding because cancer touches so many lives,” Wild explains. “I had worked through bitterness and anger at God before,” she continues, referring to her mother’s and brother’s deaths.
So when her doctor told her she had cancer, her response was acceptance. “I thought, ‘Okay. I’ll work through this. I’ll be a woman of faith.’”

“I had so many role models in other friends who had cancer,” Wild recalls. “I walked through it in a community.” Subsequently, she admits she was not surprised when she was diagnosed: “‘Now it’s my turn,’ I thought.”

Wild’s attitude did not surprise long-time friend, Melissa Marvin, who describes Wild as tenacious, resilient, and resolved. Wild had a large etwork of friends to support her in the days after her diagnosis. They drove her to and from treatments, cooked, pulled weeds, sent heart-felt notes and humorous cards.

Wild admits it is humbling to require help. She is more often on the giving end, not the receiving end. Says Marvin: “Cheryl is someone who gives and gives to others.” Marvin took on the task of reigning in Wild’s generous nature so she would not overextend herself. “I played the heavy,” Marvin laughs, often saying to Wild, “Please don’t make me yell at you today.”

But Wild learned to be humble. She learned it was important to let her friends and family show their love and support through all the creative ways they helped. There were anti-nausea drinks and pots of soup, “I Love Lucy” marathons full of laughter, and friends scaling trees that needed trimming. “You can’t ever let someone face this [cancer] alone,” asserts Wild. She is grateful she did not have to.

“I’ve become frantic about using my time wisely,” Wild has observed since her cancer diagnosis. But her definition of using time wisely isn’t ticking off a series of adventures on a bucket list (though she does want to give skydiving a try after she turns 80). Rather, it is about servicing others. Being a good steward of her time, determining how best she can use her days in ways that matter is paramount to Wild. “When I lay my head down on my pillow, I ask myself, ‘What did I do to make someone else’s life better or easier?’” she says.

Ralph Waldo Emerson shunned the societal definition of success as wealth and prominence and opted for a simpler, and more attainable, one. “To know even one life has breathed easier/because you have lived,/This is to have succeeded.”

Cheryl Wild would agree.

-end- metroMAGAZINE




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