Two Troubling Discoveries
In January of 2020, get-well cards lined a full wall of windowsills in Cheryl and John Wells’ Leadville home. The early afternoon sun shed light on a sunroom filled with vibrant green plants and family photos of world travels and local adventures. As they shared their story, Cheryl and John sat alongside one another, holding hands through long pauses of tears and supportive smiles.
Cheryl had just recently completed nearly half a year of chemotherapy and radiation treatments at Shaw Cancer Center. The protocol came after a tough diagnosis of advanced stage endometrial cancer in early 2019, two years after Cheryl had a hysterectomy to remove her cancer-lined uterus.
“It was a really hard diagnosis,” Cheryl said. “I never expected to have cancer; I guess nobody really does. We just have to get through it.”
A Life Outside
John and Cheryl have been married for 35 years. They met in Leadville, in the winter of 1983. “I think I made it three months before I asked her to marry me,” John said. “And I’ve spent my whole life trying to keep up with her.”
Over the years, the couple has spent most of their time outside skiing, hiking and climbing.
John and Cheryl often cross-country ski just down the road from their home at the Mt. Massive Golf Course. They come home and enjoy Cheryl’s homemade bread, warmed up and topped with butter and cinnamon. John rubs Cheryl’s feet to help her get the feeling back from the neuropathy resulting from her cancer.
“Whole Body” Approach
Cheryl’s original biopsy and hysterectomy were done in Denver. She said the care was fine but not consistent, as she worked with three different OB/GYN oncologists in a short span of time.
When Cheryl got the results of her 2019 lymph node biopsy, her oncologist in Denver asked here where she wanted to start her treatments for the advanced stage endometrial cancer.
“We said, ‘We want to go to Shaw.’”
Cheryl appreciated the “whole body” approach at Shaw Cancer Center, where she was getting emotional and mental support along with cancer treatments.
Cheryl and John both participated in Spirit of Survival activities, and Shaw exercise physiologists Sarah Giovagnoli and Erin Lepper developed a special workout program that was specialized for Cheryl and her recovery.
It was Kristi Grems, a licensed professional counselor at Shaw, who helped Cheryl and John in ways they didn’t know they needed. John didn’t think they would qualify for financial aid, but with Kristi’s help, the couple was able to retrieve all copays and deductibles from an adult buy-in Medicaid.
“Kristi pushed in a gentle way,” John said. “She guided us through that process. It’s just invaluable.”
Cheryl’s blue eyes pooled when she recalled what she said was perhaps her most memorable moment at Shaw, during a seven-hour chemotherapy session.
“Kristi always came in and checked on us to see how we were doing,” says Cheryl. “I remember one of the days I was in chemo, I had just lost my hair, and she brought me hats. I couldn’t go out and get them, so she brought me all these hats to try. And it was really nice. And I still wear them every day.”
Grateful for Shaw
Two weeks after radiation therapy, Cheryl could already feel her strength coming back. Dressed and ready for a short cross-country ski session, Cheryl grabbed one of the hats Kristi got her during that day of chemotherapy. She slipped it onto her head, now graced with the first stages of fresh, growing hair.
“We’re very grateful for everything Shaw Cancer Center has done for us,” said Cheryl. “My hope moving forward is that I can recover my strength and be back to doing all the things we love to do. I’m really looking forward to being a fully contributing member to our community.”
John and Cheryl still have a lot of the world left to see, and they are hoping for grandkids soon. “We need to be strong and healthy so we can introduce them to the outdoors like we introduced our kids,” said John. “So, travel and grandkids. Now, let’s go ski.”
“We saw the staff at Shaw more than we saw any of our family members through all of this and so they’ve become our family members.”John Wells