Dr. Sheri Prentiss: When Everything Changed

Dr. Sheri Prentiss MD, MPH, CPS/A, CPE, FACPE is board certified occupational & environmental medicine physician, public health expert, and a breast cancer survivor. Dr. Prentiss has been featured in The New England Journal of Medicine, MORE, Essence, Oxygen, Today’s Chicago Woman, Weinberg Magazine, and the Chicago Tribune among other notable publications. She has also been featured in hundreds of television and radio interviews reaching millions with her expertise in helping individuals unlock their potential, boost their self-esteem, set new directions, and prepare for life-long achievements.
To book Dr. Sheri for your upcoming event or to order her highly acclaimed memoir, “When Everything Changed: My Journey from Physician to Patient” please visit www.drsherimd.com.

Surviving breast cancer is a difficult, life-changing event – for anyone. Personally, I underwent a partial mastectomy, a lymph node dissection, 15 rounds of chemotherapy and 33 treatments of radiation. I now have clinically disabling lymphedema (persistent swelling) of my right arm and hand and can no longer perform hands-on treatment of my patients.

But the most difficult part of surviving breast cancer was losing my mom while I was undergoing chemotherapy. My best friend, my voice of reason and the person who could always help me find the answers to any problem, was no longer here. My mom was gone and I was alone. Weeks before my mom died I was also diagnosed with a congenital heart defect that was potentially life threatening but not surgically correctable. Coming so close to death caused me to see that although I had spent my life helping thousands of patients and their families in this country and abroad, I merely existed. Helping people became “what I did.”

`I began searching for the higher purpose in my life. My lymphedema had affected my ability to safely care for my patients and my boss at the time called me into his office and said, “A physician who is not clinically capable is of no value to me.” My heart sank. My life’s dream seemed to be coming to an end at 42 and after 18 years of service, I was told I had no value. I had two teenage daughters who wanted to go to college – how could I afford to send them without a job? I was a doctor; I didn’t know how to be anything else. I spent my entire life preparing, becoming and practicing as a physician. After months of physical therapy and struggling with depression, I found myself getting angry. Angry at being told that through my short lifetime of struggles that I had no value.

But I’m alive and cancer-free for a reason. And I’m meant to be part of the solution. Since my diagnosis, I have chosen to LIVE. So I decided to make a difference, not just in my life, but in the lives of others. By helping them through their struggle and showing them their own value, I would find mine again.

For years, I was seen as the invincible physician. Now as a “patient-physician” I’m a stronger advocate for better health awareness and the need for a cure. My diagnoses and treatment have taken away one of my greatest fulfillments in life which was the hands-on care of my patients. But after careful re-consideration of what I still have rather than what I’ve lost, I have a brand new focus and mission in life. I have decided to stop existing and instead have chosen to LIVE!—To Love myself and others; to Inspire those around me; to Voice my dreams and ambitions; and to Enjoy life!

My life-long dream of being a practicing physician was stripped from me in an instant, but stepping up to the plate, even when I was afraid of striking out, has taught me how to “step out and find out!” I L.I.V.E every day and as a result I will leave behind a legacy that will hopefully allow others to journey along a path that is not so harsh, not as lonely and not nearly as painful. In 2017 I founded my own non-profit organization, the LIVE-Today Foundation Inc., an organization that enhances the quality of life for breast cancer survivors, especially those who suffer from lymphedema. The organization contributes to the health and well-being of its recipients by providing much needed and medically necessary compression garments. Our mission is to enhance the quality of life for breast cancer survivors, metavivors and previvors especially those who suffer from lymphedema and to demonstrate how to elevate the journey of life from existing to LIVE(ing) every day.

To find out more about how you can support the LIVE Today movement, please visit www.live-today.org.