05/14/04 — Survivor finds hope in fight with cancer

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Survivor finds hope in fight with cancer

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on May 14, 2004 2:02 PM

The 11th annual Cancer Survivor's Banquet was both a joyous and a solemn occasion. Those attending celebrated survivors and also remembered those who have lost the battle with the disease.

About 600 attended from as far away as Smithfield, Albertson and Wilson.

Sherl Sauls, a resident of Saulston who is a five-year cancer survivor, told of her bout with cancer.

Sherl Sauls

Sherl Sauls

In 1998 cysts were found in her ovaries and kidneys. The pain would come and go.

She saw a gynecologist and a urologist who tested her about every six months and told her they would monitor her condition.

Then one day, after picking up her X-rays on her way to the urologist, Mrs. Sauls sat in her car and read the radiologist's report. It said renal cell carcinoma could not be ruled out.

Mrs. Sauls knew something was wrong, but cancer had never entered her mind.

She confronted her doctor, who said he didn't have the same opinion as the radiologist. Mrs. Sauls insisted on a biopsy anyway.

"After my husband, Douglas, and I prayed and cried, I decided to get a second opinion," she said. Her doctor referred her to Duke hospital.

"The nurse called me and told me I wouldn't believe it, but she had gotten me an appointment with the chief urologist there and had gotten it within three weeks. She said that never happens," said Mrs. Sauls. "I told her it does if you are talking to the right person, and I am talking to God."

It was Christmas time, and Mrs. Sauls felt it would be her last. She asked her family not to talk about the problem, and she did everything she could to make memories with her family.

In January, she met with the urologist at Duke for the tests. In February the doctor told her it was kidney cancer. Surgery was scheduled.

"You're numb when you hear those words," she said. "In the car my husband and I hugged and cried. But I knew I would fight this thing and fight it all the way."

Mrs. Sauls was scheduled for surgery March 18. The night before, she and her family stayed in a hotel in Durham. "You don't think things are funny at the time," she said, "but later you can laugh at certain situations.

"That night I was drinking that good old stuff to cleanse my soul before surgery," she said, referring to the laxative she was required to take. "And here was my family trying to decide whether to have seafood or steak for dinner. My dad told me to pretend that stuff I was drinking was a steak; it was not funny at the time."

When Mrs. Sauls woke up after the operation, reality hit.

"It was real now," she said. "When you are told you have cancer and are getting everything ready before surgery, it's not really real. But after surgery, it was. I cried and cried."

The doctor had tried to save her kidney, but the cancer had split it. He also had to remove one of her ribs and some lymph nodes.

But Mrs. Sauls would not have to face chemotherapy or radiation treatments. She stayed in the hospital five days and recuperated at home for two months.

"One thing I learned from my cancer," she said, "is how much those marriage vows mean. My marriage was tested during my cancer, and I am so thankful for my husband who slept on the floor in my hospital room.

"And my family and church family were so supportive."

But that wasn't the end of Mrs. Sauls' ordeal. Three months after her surgery, her mother was diagnosed with advanced-stage ovarian cancer, which usually can't be fixed.

But her mother is still alive.

Then a year after her mom's bout with cancer, Mrs. Sauls' father was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

He is still alive, too.

"The biggest thing is that we all have to have hope," she said. "That's what keeps up going. You have to have determination to go on.

"And you can give someone else hope by telling your story to them."

Mrs. Sauls said that her cancer made her a better person. "I now have a better relationship with God and with my family. I got back to the basics of life. I also have a better appreciation for every little thing there is in this world. I would not have had this appreciation if I had not had cancer."

During the banquet, the Charles B. Aycock Alumni Singers performed several gospel numbers. The group was formed in August 2000 and is composed of former members of the school's Falconettes and Falconaires from 1962 to 1990. Jimmie Ford was master of ceremonies. Sunburst Foods provided a chicken dinner, dessert and drinks.

Something new to the banquet was a white tree trimmed all in purple -- ornaments, ribbons, stars, garland -- and topped with a purple cone. Purple is the Relay for Life color.

The banquet closed with Anita Lanier singing "One Moment in Time." The lights were dimmed, candles were lit on the tables.

The room was quiet as she sang these words:

Give me one moment in time

When I'm racing with destiny.

Then in that one moment of time

I will feel eternity.