Sometimes bad news and hard times ultimately serve up more inspiration than grief. Just ask Sherri Van Dorn.
The longtime La Quinta, Calif., resident has been involved in her community through her church and her children’s schools for many years. But after overcoming cancer thanks to the care of City of Hope’s medical team, Van Dorn is more determined than ever to help others.
|Sherri Van Dorn battled cancer and now inspires others. (Photo by Debbie Long)|
“I try to keep my eyes and ears open, not to miss an opportunity to give back,” said Van Dorn, who works as executive assistant to the chief of police in Indio, Calif.
Before she could turn to helping others, Van Dorn herself needed help. In January 2007, doctors diagnosed her with mantle cell lymphoma, a rare and aggressive cancer of the blood and immune system.
Forty-six years old at the time, she had no significant symptoms. But within a month, her life was reeling in the whirlwind of cancer treatment, as she received round after round of chemotherapy.
At City of Hope, Van Dorn would find the help she sought. She participated in clinical trials of radioimmunotherapy, which aims to deploy genetically engineered antibodies to deliver doses of radiation to cancer cells while leaving healthy tissue largely unscathed.
Only months after learning she had cancer, she received a hematopoietic cell transplant at City of Hope. Doctors reinfused her own healthy blood stem cells into her body to establish a new, cancer-free immune system. With a series of sometimes harsh treatments behind her, she faced a tough road back to regaining her strength.
“The entire year was basically dedicated to kicking cancer’s butt,” she said.
Through it all, faith and family were her pillars of support. Engaged shortly before the cancer diagnosis, she and her fiancé quickly married in March 2007. Family came from all over the U.S. to be with her that summer.
Her family was at her side for nearly every minute, thanks in part to a special City of Hope accommodation: Her parents stayed in a recreational vehicle parked on campus.
“My husband and my family gathered around me to help me through those difficult times,” she said. “Having them there was a real gift. It made the whole experience a little bit brighter.”
According to Van Dorn, the humor of the City of Hope staff also buoyed her spirits as she fought cancer.
“I know it sounds kind of strange,” she said, “but the nurse or the radiologist who was there to chitchat or joke a little bit, not matter how bad I felt — they really made it more bearable.”
Still free of cancer more than two years after her stem-cell transplant, Van Dorn continues to seek out ways to use her second chance at life to assist others.
Each year, her family organizes a blood drive benefiting local hospitals. She speaks to groups on behalf of City of Hope. She also acts as an advocate for lymphoma patients in her community, offering them information, comfort and encouragement.
“I remember how precious it was to meet people who were dealing even with another form of cancer,” she said. “I feel blessed to talk to people, maybe give them hope where they were thinking there was none.”
For Van Dorn, the important part of facing a crisis is to maintain a positive outlook.
“That’s the one gift I would want to give everyone. Not to give up, to think positively and to be thankful for each and every day,” she said.
“If I’m having a challenging day, at least I’m here to have that day.”