‘You are a statistic of one’

Sherry Pollex on her cancer battle and her commitment to increasing access to integrative medicine

Sherry Pollex was healthy — or so she thought.

She exercised and ate well. She was young and active. Her only bouts of illness were the occasional cold or sore throat. In fact, if she ever thought about something as life-threatening as cancer, it was in her work to fight the disease among its youngest victims.

Pollex and her former partner, NASCAR driver Martin Truex Jr., co-founded the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation in 2007 to help in the fight against childhood cancers. Their annual fundraiser, Catwalk for a Cause, puts the spotlight on young cancer survivors and has raised millions to fight the disease. Over the years, their focus hasn’t wavered, but it did expand when Pollex got a diagnosis of her own.

“I was not feeling well for probably about four months and had seen my general practitioner. She referred me to a GI doctor, and that doctor referred me to an ob-gyn and then back to a GI doctor. I was in the patient pinball process for three months or so of doctors saying it was IBS or celiac disease or ovarian cysts. And the pain just kept getting worse,” Pollex said.

After she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, stage 3C, in August of 2014, she was referred to Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center for surgery and treatment.

“It was really scary. Not only was I a 35-year-old woman who was perfectly healthy, but I had never known anyone who had ovarian cancer. And anytime you ask Dr. Google a question about a disease that doesn’t have a good survival rate, you’re down a rabbit hole of asking, ‘What if that’s me?’” Pollex said. “But it wasn’t long before I got to a place where I realized I needed to listen to my doctors and start researching this disease. I started to get into integrative medicine and told myself, ‘You are a statistic of one. There are outliers who beat the odds, and there’s no reason you can’t be that person.’”

One of those doctors was Matt McDonald, MD.

“When I walked in the room and met him, I knew that he was going to be my doctor because he treated me like his daughter,” Pollex said. “I told him I knew my survival rate wasn’t good, and he said, ‘I will never tell you how long you’ll be on this Earth because I am not your God.’”

She also met specialists in integrative medicine who encouraged her to look beyond surgery and chemotherapy at ways to enhance her health as a whole.

So, while she went through a rigorous treatment process that included an eight-hour debulking surgery to remove the tumors in her body, a radical hysterectomy and an appendectomy, followed by six rounds of intensive IV and inpatient chemotherapy, she incorporated many integrative practices along the way to mitigate her side effects.

Her specialists, those at Novant Health and others outside the hospital, put together a program that included acupuncture, yoga and meditation. She changed her diet and incorporated medicinal mushrooms and Chinese herbs.

“The more I ate right and juiced and the more I worked out and did these things, the better I felt. When that starts to happen, you become an integrative medicine lover for the rest of your life,” she said.

Pollex went into remission, but a year and three months later, her cancer came back. This time it was in her spleen and on the outside of her liver. She had a liver resection and a splenectomy and then began six rounds of IV chemotherapy. Eight weeks after finishing treatment, she began an oral PARP inhibitor that she’s been taking since 2017.

“I’ve done extremely well on it. I feel so blessed to be able to live a normal life, and I still do all my integrative treatments,” Pollex said. “I’m very careful about what I put in my body and what’s in my house and my environment. No sugar, no dairy, no wheat. I eat as many vegetables as I can and a lot of healing herbs, like ginger and turmeric.”

Her experience has made her want to help others incorporate integrative medicine in their cancer journeys. In 2018, Pollex and the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation made a philanthropic investment to create the SherryStrong Integrative Medicine Oncology Clinic within Novant Health’s new Agnes B. and Edward I. Weisiger Cancer Institute.

“You don’t just have to run right into surgery and chemo. You have options, and they’re all going to be right here, in the same building,” Pollex said. “I think a lot of people’s biggest concern is that they can’t afford integrative medicine, so we wanted to open a clinic that would make it affordable to everyone in our community.”

Pollex recently finished picking out the finishing touches on the new clinic — the tile and the carpet and the lighting. It’s been an emotional process—one that reminds her of all those she has the potential to help. 

“My hope is that when other patients come in, there’s this healing energy and peacefulness that comes over them,” Pollex said. “This isn’t a hospital. This is a place to come to get well and feel well. This is a place of hope.”

Because of her commitment to giving back, Pollex often hears from others who are looking for a way to make an impact but aren’t sure how to do so.

“I think the most important thing is to get involved in what you’re passionate about,” Pollex said. “It doesn’t have to be a financial contribution. There are a million different ways to offer your time and talent in the community. And you don’t have to look far to find people who are in need.”

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