WATCH: How Sherry Pollex is Using Her Cancer Diagnosis as Fuel to Help Others Fight this Disease
"Maybe this is my purpose here on earth...to use my disease to help other people,"
Five years ago, Sherry Pollex sat in her doctor's office and heard the words you never want to hear. She had cancer. She sat opposite her doctor and alongside her long-time love, NASCAR champion Martin Truex Jr. as her doctor spoke grave words. "You have stage IIIC ovarian cancer and if you don't get to a major medical center, you're gonna be dead by Christmas," they were told. It was August then. As she recalled this encounter with Southern Living on a recent phone call, she said that she did have "that why me moment for a hot second," but then her thoughts immediately turned to other people.
"And I thought, why not me? Why not me? It happens to children who are three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten years old. I'm 35. I've lived 35 amazing years of my life. God has blessed me with so much and I've had the opportunity to give back to so many people. Maybe this is how he's going to use me to finish out my life. Maybe this is my purpose here on earth. Is to use my disease to help other people," she said.
Indeed, she had seen young children battling cancer, firsthand. She and Truex had already been heavily involved in charity work centered on fighting pediatric cancer. It started in 2007, as many other drivers in the NASCAR community were helping raise funds for sick children in the Charlotte area. But in 2009, Pollex had an idea.
"I thought gee, it would be really cool to do something different besides a golf tournament or a poker tournament. You know most of the drivers do dinners and I just wanted a different idea."
Pollex owns a boutique in Mooresville, just north of Charlotte. "There really wasn't anything that I loved more in life outside of philanthropy than fashion. And I thought, you know what, I can just get some clothes from the store, get some models, and throw this little fashion show in the country club. That's how it started. It was at River Run country club in 2009, and we had about 50 people there and we raised $7000."
After the Catwalk for A Cause was a success, Pollex knew they were onto something. It's only grown from there. A few years in, she had another idea. They would invite children in the area currently undergoing treatment for cancer to walk as models in the fashion show.
"So, people could actually see where their money is going. This is who you're donating to. You're directly affecting our community, and these children, and their lives." And then, another idea. "We thought, how cool would that be to engage the whole NASCAR community. And even outside of that. Maybe get some NHL players, NFL players." Each year, the fundraiser got bigger and brought in more money.
So, by the time Pollex was diagnosed in 2014, she and Truex had been supporting others fighting cancer for years. They knew the struggle well. But now, the disease had hit their home. And she knew exactly what they had to do. Truex was due to race at Watkins Glen International in New York the very next day after they found out about Pollex's cancer.
"I remember looking at him and saying, what are you going to do when you get to the track? What are you going to do? And he was like ‘I'm not going to say a word.' Because we don't really know what could happen yet," she said.
"And we looked at each other and we were like, there is no way we can keep this private… What cowards would we be if we hid my diagnosis from everybody and we didn't let people know what we were battling in our own home? Because our biggest thing all the time was telling people, Cancer doesn't discriminate, right? It doesn't matter what race you are. It doesn't matter what social status you are. It doesn't matter how old you are. It doesn't matter when it hits your home, it's just a complete game changer."
From the beginning, Pollex and Truex have been open and honest about her diagnosis, her treatment, and even her reoccurrence in 2017. She maintains a website called SherryStrong to chronicle her journey as well as provide information to help others living with cancer support their bodies the best way they can. She shares nutrition tips, inspirational messages, the latest on integrated therapies, and more.
She is now in remission and on oral chemotherapy and feeling pretty good, she assured us. "I take two pills in the morning and two pills at night and this drug has been really good to me. I've had very minimal side effects. And so far, it's working. We don't know how long its gonna work. My cancer tends to be very smart, so it learns to mutate itself against the drug. So, we're hoping it doesn't do that anytime soon."
She continued, "But for now it's working, and I could get up to three years on it—which is amazing for a recurrent stage IIC ovarian cancer patient. I feel like I'd be really happy with that but obviously I want more. So, my hope is it that lasts longer than that but for now I'm just enjoying this time that I'm able to be healthy and help other people."
That is precisely what she is doing. She and Truex have spread their blessings. Through various fundraising efforts and their own generosity, the couple have established a Special Needs Fund at Levine Children's Hospital in Charlotte. The fund aims to take the burden off parents who struggle with missing work to be by their child's bedside. This fund pays all non-medical expenses so these parents do not have to worry about paying the bills and can focus on their child. They are also spearheading the first integrative pediatric oncology program at Levine Cancer Center. "We're educating kids and their parents about all these different things you can do to complement their chemotherapy treatment. Their conventional treatment. So, we have reiki specialists, yoga, massage therapy, art therapy, music therapy, we're doing all these amazing things for kids, acupuncture. Parents are offered these services regardless of their ability to pay."
They are also in the process of building the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation Pediatric Emergency Department at Novant hospital in Huntersville, which is their own neighborhood. And at the Novant hospital in Charlotte, where Pollex is being treated herself, they are building the Sherry Strong Integrative Oncology Clinic. "I can't even look at the renderings of it without crying. It makes my disease and everything I've been through worth it. To walk in that building and cut the ribbon there one day, and see that women are going to have access to all of the integrative therapies that I'm able to do to compliment my chemotherapy, regardless of their ability to pay is so incredible and so humbling. And makes me realize that God has me on the right path."
It's been ten years since they launched Catwalk for a Cause. And with Pollex's cancer, their mission has evolved. But this event remains for, and about the kids. The 10th annual Catwalk for a Cause was held this past Wednesday night. For the 10th anniversary, the theme was "Fight Night and ten kids walked the runway with NASCAR drivers including Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman, Kyle Larson, and Joey Logano. Fox Sport's Shannon Spake served as the evening's emcee and had this to say about the impact of this event:
"There is nothing more powerful than the love we have for children. Sherry and Martin give these amazing kids, who are battling an unthinkable disease, a night where they are the stars...a night when they take center stage...its such a beautiful and inspiring event and one that I am honored and humbled to be a small part of".
As in past years, there was a silent auction and a live auction to raise more money on top of that collected from ticket prices. Last year's efforts resulted in nearly $700,000. Pollex's ultimate goal is one million dollars in a single night. It's still too soon for the final tally of this year's event, but here's hoping.
The show ended with a performance by American Idol contestant Shayy Winn, who is now legally blind as a result of a tumor that was removed from behind her eye. Winn sang "Rise Up" by Andra Day, and this year's kids as well as Catwalk Alumni children joined Winn on stage holding signs declaring what they want to be when they grow up (and beat cancer.)
"The biggest thing for me for the 10th anniversary is that I wanted the kids from the past to come back so that people could see that these kids are surviving pediatric cancer. They are in remission. We are making a difference in our community. And we're helping get better drugs and better research through all these things. So, don't give up on giving back."
If you would like to join Sherry Pollex and Martin Truex Jr. in their efforts, you can donate here.