Heidi Sermersheim is an absolute inspiration to our team at the Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction. Dr. James Craigie wrote a recommendation letter on behalf of Heidi for her Cancer for College scholarship application, and Heidi was selected as the recipient! She received funds to continue her education, and we are so proud of her! Take a few moments to read her inspiring interview, and feel free to share this story with the loved ones in your life.
Congrats on your recent scholarship! Tell us a little about your award and what it means to you personally.
In April I received a generous regional ‘Carolina’ scholarship of a one-time $1000 donation through Cancer For College for the 2013-2014 academic year. I am significantly humbled to receive this honorable scholarship award, and deeply appreciative for the financial support. I plan to use this scholarship to help cover the additional expenses beyond the initial tuition costs, while continuing my education in Human Services at Southern Wesleyan University. Without the generosity of scholarship patrons like this, there would be many students, much like myself, struggling to meet various educational expenses.
Tell us a little bit about your story and how you survived through breast cancer?
There were five children in our family, four girls and a boy. By birth order, Gail was second to the oldest and I was the youngest. Despite the age difference of 14 years, we were connected genetically, shared a spiritual bond, and had become the best of friends.
In 2004 Gail was diagnosed with breast cancer. At that time, she was forty-eight years old. Gail was a nurse, so she began to strongly encourage the women in her life to obtain a mammogram. Her persistent encouragement inspired me, and I, reluctantly, scheduled my first and consequently the last mammogram of my life. Two weeks later the results of my mammogram revealed suspicious spots in need of biopsy. Within three months further tests had revealed that I too, had the most aggressive form of what is classified as ‘triple negative’ (high grade – ER/PR-negative, HER2Neu negative) infiltrating ductile carcinoma breast cancer.
I found myself following behind my sister, stepping carefully in her footprints, mapping out my own cancer treatment and surgery. Soon, Gail and I were side-by-side in our journey, as our bi-weekly chemotherapy appointments were only offset by one week of each other. After six months of treatment, we were blessed to have 2 years of remission.
Unfortunately, her cancer returned with a vengeance in 2006 and sadly, Gail passed away. Gail’s compassion for life, desire to mentor, and willingness to share her experiences provided me with a heightened appreciation for the “gift of the present.”
Did you have breast reconstruction surgery? If so, what type of breast reconstruction did you have? Would you recommend it to other women who might be contemplating natural breast reconstruction?
Yes, after my diagnosis and meeting with multiple physicians, oncologist and plastic surgeons along with a significant amount of research; I chose to have bi-lateral skin-sparing mastectomies, with immediate DIEP reconstruction. I was blessed to discover Dr. Craigie and Dr. Kline of the Center for Natural Breast Reconstruction. Their office staff graciously coordinated the details of my surgery. The overall attention to detail, kindness and care which I received from Dr. Craigie and his professional staff was absolutely priceless. I simply cannot express the impact this has made on my life, during treatment and my recovery. Not only would I recommend this procedure to other women, I have recommended it and will continue to do so.
What is the one thing you want all women to know about breast cancer?
First and foremost, aggressive breast cancer among young women is on the rise in America. One of the best ways for detection of breast cancer is through a mammogram, in my case, my first and last mammogram saved my life!
Upon receiving a breast cancer diagnosis, become your own best advocate by asking questions (remember there are no ‘dumb’ questions) and seeking out answers. Knowing all the surgical and reconstruction options is very important in making an informed decision.
I must add that, during this journey, I became significantly aware of the importance in human compassion during cancer diagnosis and treatment. When diagnosed with breast cancer, women often experience a feeling of their womanliness being robbed by breast cancer surgery and treatment. Flap reconstruction procedures are better than former surgical reconstruction options. However, in my opinion DIEP is the gold standard of reconstruction because it provides the least problems, offers a faster return to normal activities, and has a better long term surgical outcome than most other reconstruction options available.
You have achieved so much and given back since being diagnosed with cancer. What is next for you in life?
Surviving the diagnosis of breast cancer has helped to clarify my personal worldview and pinpoint my calling in life to serve others. In doing so, I am currently enrolled in a bachelor’s degree human services program, with aspirations to complete a graduate degree in social work, counselor education or youth development leadership. I plan to combine my degree with my life experience, in order to advocate, mentor, and assist people by teaching and helping with navigating higher education and oncology healthcare systems. By obtaining a bachelor’s degree in higher learning, I believe that my life will be enriched and I will be better prepared to fulfill this mission.
The journey of life and learning continue to propel us forward and provides opportunities to examine our mirrors of reflection introspectively and reflectively. All-the-while, our heart’s motive is revealed to us and becomes better illuminated and more transparent with time. I am forever grateful to live on my sister’s coattail, because my cancer diagnosis helped me blaze my life’s pathway. It is through her death and my battle with breast cancer that I have grown into a better person with an intimate knowledge of God’s grace, love and mercy. Overall, the ‘gift’ of breast cancer has bestowed upon me a ‘bucket list’ of goals, higher aspirations, and provided multiple opportunities to give back. Indeed, I am blessed.
For more information about me, please feel free to explore my website: www.heidiwalkersermersheim.webnode.com