18 Feb Never give up: Stringfellow cites faith in cancer battle
by Taryn Brown
Surviving a cancer diagnosis is a well-fought accomplishment. Surviving it four times, some would call a miracle. Sharon Stringfellow has beat cancer four times and credits it all to her faith in the Lord, support from her loved ones and an attitude of never giving up.
Starting at age 29, Stringfellow began having skin cancer spots due to being in the sun for a lot of her childhood.
In 1995, she was first diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after her dear aunt passed away from the same diagnosis. She had a lumpectomy and underwent her first rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. After her first surgery, she vividly remembers a woman coming by to visit her to say, “I just wanted you to see someone who had chemo and lived through it.” Stringfellow barely knew this woman, but needed that visit more than she could ever imagine. Up until that point, every person she knew who had undergone chemotherapy had passed away — her mother, father-in-law, mother-in-law and aunt.
“Without knowing what she had done for me, this woman gave me a lifeline, something I could cling to and think maybe I could survive this, too,” she said.
Stringfellow admits she did not go to church very often as an adult, but after beating breast cancer and reflecting on what she had been through, she realized she needed to do more than simply send her kids there. One Sunday, she went to the Church of the Nazarene, where her son attended, and she said she was welcomed with open arms. The same woman who gave her the encouraging message of surviving, Phyllis Petry, was a member and is one of Stringfellow’s dearest friends today.
“I loved the teaching, I loved the friendliness and I felt that perhaps God had gotten my attention,” Stringfellow said. “Over the years, my belief that Jesus is the son of God has grown, and I hope it continues to grow until my last breath, then how wonderful it will be to see Him face to face!”
Sixteen years later in 2011, Stringfellow was diagnosed with endometrial uterine cancer. She had a hysterectomy and once again underwent radiation. The next year she was diagnosed with breast cancer in the other breast, just three months after her husband suffered a heart attack. She had another lumpectomy and another round of chemotherapy and radiation between 2012 and 2013. In 2015, she was diagnosed with breast cancer again in the same breast as her first diagnosis 20 years earlier and chose to have a bilateral mastectomy followed by chemotherapy in early 2016.
Unity Health family practice physician Dr. Jim Citty is Stringfellow’s primary care doctor who found the first lump. She chose to stay in Searcy for treatment, where general surgeon Dr. William Gibbs performed both lumpectomies and the mastectomy. She received treatment from CARTI, located in the Pyeatt Family Cancer Center, in Searcy, where Dr. Stacy McCord was her oncologist and Dr. Cheryl Payne was her radiation oncologist. Having the option to stay close to home for treatment was a blessing for Stringfellow.
“He [Dr. Citty] told me he would send me wherever I wanted to go for treatment, but if I was thinking about Memphis or Little Rock, I might also consider Searcy because they have everything I need . . . I preferred being closer to home,” she said.
Stringfellow knew she was not alone through any of her diagnoses even when she felt like she had it handled on her own. She leaned on and reached out to her doctors, family, friends and God. Family and friends brought meals, took her to radiation treatments and chemotherapy and sat with her.
“Leaning on my family and friends didn’t hurt my pride, it brought me closer to those I love,” Stringfellow said. “They uplifted me with emails, cards, letters, Facebook posts, phone calls, and one friend would send me the best songs to encourage me, but most importantly were the prayers on my behalf. It was a huge blessing to me, and hopefully they also felt blessed to be such an outstanding help during my hard days.”
To see Stringfellow today is to see someone who does not let multiple cancer diagnoses get her down. She has been married to her high school sweetheart for 41 years. They are blessed with three grown children and four wonderful grandchildren. She and her husband have owned a “mom and pop” furniture store, Stringfellow Furniture, in Heber Springs since 1982. She drives a 24-passenger bus for the Community School of Cleburne County (since 2005), transporting others to and from church.
Stringfellow is a light and encouragement to anyone she is around. Her advice to those going through similar situations is to keep trying every day. She said try to stay in touch with family and friends, try to be keep a positive attitude and try to exercise because it helps physically, emotionally and mentally. She also encourages individuals not to worry too much as the Bible says, “NEVER GIVE UP!” — which has become her motto.
“No matter what difficulties are faced, I know there is something better ahead, but until that time comes, I am going to do my best here in this life. That’s my biggest job,” she said.