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TheRetrospect.com: Collingswood Family Wants to ‘Pay It Forward’ After Beating Cancer

Editor’s Note: The following article originally ran on TheRetrospect.com on October 11, 2013.

Collingswood Family Wants to ‘Pay It Forward’ After Beating Cancer

Oct. 11, 2013

Sometimes a town can help someone beat cancer. Collingswood’s Ricci Sheridan is sharing her story to help others faced with similarly daunting circumstances.

The 43-year-old wife and mother of two young daughters has, fortunately, been cured of a nightmare disease — stage 3B breast cancer. Sheridan said the care, love and support of her family and community in the last year was “both overwhelming and humbling.”

“Everyone was so kind,” added her husband, Kevin, Jr., a Collingswood plumber. “We received such great individual support from so many people in our community, not just family and friends.”

In May 2012, a routine mammogram appeared to be normal, showing no abnormalities in Ricci’s breast. But, in July, she felt a mass in her breast that was alarming.

Ricci’s visit to her doctor revealed a mass that needed to be evaluated. Additional tests, including another mammogram and an ultrasound, were scheduled immediately.

While the mammogram showed nothing unusual, the ultrasound revealed a large tumor. The doctors knew Ricci had cancer, a result confirmed through a biopsy.

More grim news followed: The cancer had already spread to her lymph nodes. The disease was triple negative breast cancer, an uncommon, aggressive and fast-growing form of breast cancer that is on a rapid rise.

“I had always had regular mammograms, five of them, none of which ever showed a problem,” she explained. “In addition to my young age, none of my close relatives ever had breast cancer. We learned that I had dense fibrous tissue, which may hide tumors on a mammogram.

“Women with dense fibrous breast tissue should ask their doctors if everything that can be done is, in fact, being done.”

Ricci and Kevin were shocked and numbed by the diagnosis. Together, they began to prepare for battle against triple negative breast cancer.

“Jane Wilson (a Collings-wood resident) is a friend of a friend and a health care advocate,” Kevin said. “She reached out to us and guided us through the process of choosing the best medical team. The best advice she gave us was that we need to take a deep breath, and take our time to make the best decisions we could, as you only get one shot at picking a team.”

Not long after talking with Wilson, they were going full speed ahead. With the help of Kevin’s lifelong friend, Walt Eife, and his friend, Jack Tarditi, they chose Dr. Generosa Grana, an oncologist, and Dr. Kristin Brill, a surgeon, at Cooper Cancer Institute.

“The entire professional staff at Cooper made my journey not only possible but doable,” said Ricci.

After intensive research by Kevin, Ricci ended up in a clinical trial that used chemotherapy drugs not yet approved for breast cancer treatment. “Without the trial, the best I could hope for was to get four doses of chemo to shrink the tumor to where they could operate,” Ricci said.

Her involvement in the clinical trial meant undergoing six months of chemotherapy, then a bilateral mastectomy, followed by six weeks of radiation.

The Sheridans believe that an important aspect of fighting cancer is maintaining physical conditioning. Ricci turned to a friend, Collingswood trainer Pete Pernice, for intense personal training that gave her the strength in body and mind to endure the rigors of the chemo drugs.

Ricci and Kevin were also blessed by many mostly unknown people who prayed for them and their daughters.

Ricci noted, “My father, through social media and his church in Georgia, led an extended group of prayer warriors from all around the world.”

The Sheridan family will never forget the many people and organizations in Collingswood who responded to their plight — the faculty and staff at Zane-North Elementary School, where their daughters Samantha, 10, and Danielle, 8, are students, St. John’s Church and men’s group, the Collingswood Garden Club, their friends and neighbors, and the people they never knew who dropped off meals to their home every night for six months courtesy of close friend and organizer Kate Allendoerfer who sent requests via www.takethemameal.com.

Ricci and Kevin are sure that there are others unmentioned who helped as well. So, they wish to thank them also.

“On February 20, 2013, exactly eight months after the diagnosis, Ricci Sheridan was told that she was cancer-free. Her post-operative pathology report stated that the tumor and lymph nodes had a pathologic complete response to the chemotherapy treatment, meaning no evidence of cancer was found.

“I don’t know how people undergo cancer treatments by themselves,” Kevin said. “People want to help. Our experience certainly proves it. Just the example of providing meals is one way to show they care. We really appreciated it and we won’t forget it.”

“Your help can provide hope to many. Please do so, as so many have done for us,” added Ricci.

Ricci and Kevin vow to ‘pay it forward to someone else’ for the help they received.

They would be glad to tell their story and offer assistance to others who have a cancer diagnosis.

“I learned more than I ever hoped to know about cancer and the process for receiving the best treatment possible. I would be glad to share my knowledge with anyone who needs help,” Kevin said.

Ricci has already assisted a new friend currently undergoing treatment for breast cancer and feels honored to be able to do so. Additionally, she feels privileged to have been asked to be on the host committee of The Pink Roses & Teal Magnolias Fundraiser on October 27 at the Crowne Plaza in Cherry Hill. The event will honor her oncologist, Dr. Generosa Grana, and raise over $500,000 in proceeds that will benefit breast and gynecological cancer research and clinical trials at Cooper Cancer Institute.

Ricci said her journey continues and she feels blessed by the positive results.

“I’m looking forward to a long, healthy, happy life in Collingswood surrounded by an amazing community of family and friends,” she said.