Keeping Faith Through The Tough Times

By Anne Granado

Cheri Rainer is a wife, mother, employee, and friend. On top of everything she has accomplished with these different titles, she can now add another one: breast cancer survivor. Cheri was diagnosed with Triple Negative Invasive Ductal Carcinoma in January of 2022. She rang the bell at the cancer center victoriously, signaling that she had finished her chemotherapy in July. Now, she is sharing her story, hoping it inspires other women to keep up with their routine mammograms, a dreaded yearly task that saved Cheri’s life. 

Cheri grew up in Elgin, Illinois, near Chicago. Then, her family moved to Magnolia, Arkansas, during her junior high years, and she graduated from Magnolia High School in 1981. Cheri married her high school sweetheart, Jay, in 1983, while he was a student in pharmacy school. “We started dating at only 16 years old and dated for four years. We just celebrated our 39th anniversary this past June,” Cheri says. “We have called Texarkana home since 1994. Jay is a pharmacist at Red River Pharmacy, and we raised our three children in Texarkana. All three of them graduated from Pleasant Grove.” 

While their three children, Ryan, Morgan, and Hannah, were growing up, Cheri was mostly a stay-at-home mom, but she occasionally worked various jobs. When Hannah started first grade, Cheri went back to school, even though she was in her 40s, and earned her bachelor’s degree and teaching certification. “I taught 4th grade for four years; then I took off for three and a half years to help my parents when my dad had stage four prostate cancer. I drove them to DFW for appointments and treatments and to LSU Shreveport for a trial study. Then, my parents stayed with me while my dad did radiation for pain control at T. Webber Cancer Center at St Michael’s in Texarkana,” Cheri says. “In 2015, I returned to work as a Branch Office Administrator for Edward Jones. Though I loved teaching, I needed a job that was over when it was time to clock out, and teaching is a career that you end up taking home with you.”

Cheri’s father was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1999, diagnosed at stage four in 2012, and passed away in 2015. “He lived with prostate cancer for 16 years,” Cheri says. “Later on, when I underwent genetic testing, I discovered that certain gene mutations are tied to breast cancer and prostate cancer, and others.”

After her father passed, Cheri focused on her passions and her family. Jay and Cheri are active members at Highland Park Baptist Church, serving in the choir and on the praise team. The two love traveling and watching University of Arkansas baseball and football on the back porch. Cheri “dabbles” in painting and loves to spend time cooking for her family. But Cheri says being a grandparent is the best part of her current reality. “My ‘grandma’ name is Honey. Once a year, I put together a ‘Honey Camp’ with my grandson, and we both really look forward to it,” Cheri says. “We didn’t get to do it this summer because I was in the middle of chemo and radiation, but I know we are both looking forward to getting back at it next summer!” 

Cheri’s grandson lives in Waco with Cheri and Jay’s daughter, Morgan, and her husband, Sean. Morgan works for Baylor and is also a freelance writer and copy editor, and Sean just earned his Ph.D. and is teaching at Baylor. Cheri and Jay’s oldest, Ryan, and his wife, Leah, moved to Texarkana this past summer from the Nashville, Tennessee, area. Ryan works for Lifeway, and Leah works for Danny Gokey, and they can work from home. “Our youngest daughter, Hannah, and her husband, Jarod, call Ft. Worth home, but they have been in Everette, Washington, for the past two baseball seasons due to Jarod being a pitcher in the Mariner’s minor league team, the Aquasox. Hannah is a graphic designer,” Cheri says. “Even though they each have busy lives, all my children were there for me at every step of my diagnosis and treatment. Each of them even arranged to come to a chemo treatment with me, which provided us with some one-on-one time that we don’t get very often. My family is such a blessing to me.” 

In January 2022, Cheri went in for a routine mammogram, ordered by her primary care physician. “I faithfully get a mammogram every other year, but to be honest, I hate them and only went because my doctor told me to,” Cheri says. I am thankful that my doctor sent me for that test. My tumor was found on the mammogram that I had on January 11. It was deep in the breast and could not be felt by anyone.”

Cheri was stunned when additional tests were ordered because she usually never gave the mammogram a second thought after leaving the Imaging Center. This time, she went back for an ultrasound a few days later and then had a biopsy the following week. “I told my grown children I had to have a biopsy. I remember getting on FaceTime with my son and his wife in Nashville, and I could not get the words to come out because my youngest daughter was sitting next to me, stroking my long hair. We all got choked up,” Cheri says. “That weekend, at separate times, one of my sons-in-law and my daughter-in-law prayed over me, and it touched me deeply.” 

The tumor they found was small (only 1.8 cm), and right away, the doctors believed they had caught it early. Cheri’s first biopsy told them it was cancer. Unfortunately, they did not get enough information from the biopsy samples to make a treatment plan, so Cheri went to a breast surgeon in Little Rock and had a lumpectomy in February. The pathology report came back with Triple Negative Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. “I was so calm the day we went in to get my results. I felt like God had prepared me for that day. He told me it was cancer, but everything would be ok, and He filled me with a peace I could not explain,” Cheri says. “My doctor, whom I have seen for over 20 years, seemed to have more anxiety than we did.”

Cheri says that Jay was by her side, and when they were given the diagnosis, he told her that this was something they were going to get through together. “I had so much support from my friends and family. Jay made sure that I never felt like it was something ‘I’ was facing; instead, it was something ‘we’ were facing,” Cheri says. “I had a lumpectomy and opted for conventional treatment (chemo and radiation) that my oncologist recommended. My cancer was aggressive and could spread quickly, so I did not feel I had time to consider other options.”

Though Cheri does have a family history of breast cancer and other cancers, it was interesting to her that the genetic test came back negative. Her paternal grandmother had breast cancer, and Cheri found herself thinking about her grandmother quite a bit during this time. “We did not live close to my grandparents, and I don’t know much about her breast cancer journey,” Cheri says. “I wish I knew more. Even other family members do not remember specifics.”

The plan that Cheri’s doctors outlined for her included eight chemo treatments and 21 radiation treatments. Though she went to Little Rock to a doctor specializing in oncology breast surgery, she chose to see oncologists and have her treatment at T.Webber Cancer Center at St. Michaels in Texarkana. “I would like to mention that my care in Texarkana was fabulous,” Cheri says, “Triple Negative Breast Cancer has fewer options for treatment, so I would have been given the same chemo drugs no matter where I went for treatment. Staying close was important to us so we could keep our lives as normal as possible.”

In February, Cheri went to see Lacretia Barry. She has a wig ministry for women who lose their hair due to medical issues. “I took my best friend and my daughter-in-law, and we had a precious afternoon with Lacretia. She helped me choose a wig, and she prayed over me,” Cheri says. “I am so thankful for her ministry. Texarkana is so blessed to have her ministering to women in this way.”

Cheri had four treatments of AC (aka Red Devil) and four treatments of dense dose Taxol, and she tolerated chemo well. She says that she did not have nausea and vomiting that many people experience. “I had treatments every other Thursday, and I normally took off work chemo day and the following day. During the first four treatments, I had fatigue and weakness, and of course, I lost my hair. I experienced leg weakness and major bone pain during the last four treatments. There were days I could barely walk from the recliner to the bathroom, and I had to use a walker. During that time, I did miss a few extra days of work but thank God; there were not many days like that.”

Cheri is so thankful to her boss, Greg Cordray, at Edward Jones, who worked with her and her treatment schedule so that Cheri could still work. “My job at Edward Jones was a reason to get out of bed, get dressed and be as normal as possible. My boss was very understanding and reminded me that nothing in the office was as important as what I was going through. Clients and colleagues called to check on me and even prayed with me over the phone. Many prayed for me every day,” Cheri says. “During the months I was in treatment, I took intermittent FMLA, so I could work most of the time through chemo and radiation without a problem (except when I got COVID). I will admit that there was not much else that I did during the week except go to work. After work every day, I rested and made sure to rest on the weekends.”

Another Texarkana ministry that supported Cheri was the Trinity Baptist Church Quilters. On chemo days, Cheri stayed cozy under a quilt that they made. “The Quilters also prayed for me throughout my journey,” Cheri says. “On chemo days, I also held tight to a heart-shaped rock my daughter-in-law found. I wrote ‘Faith over Fear’ on one side and ‘You hem me in, behind and before and lay your hand upon me. Psalm 139:5’ on the other side. I had reminders that I was covered by God, which gave me great comfort.”

Cheri’s strong faith in God helped her get through the physical and mental trials she was facing. “I knew that whatever I walked through, He would be right there with me,” Cheri says. “Right away, He filled my heart with peace. Scripture and worship music also gave me lots of comfort.”

Another source of support came from Cheri’s family and friends, who rallied around her to encourage her on the journey. “My best friend, Melissa Mitchell, was with me when I needed her, and I’m so thankful for her. I even had an old friend from Elgin, Illinois, who would make the trip to Texarkana to pray with me,” Cheri says. “We also had so many people send meals and gift cards to restaurants, and someone even paid for a housekeeper to come every other week while I was in cancer treatment. We had blessing after blessing!”

As early as January, Cheri shared her cancer on Facebook because she felt like the Lord was leading her to. At first, she did not plan on sharing her entire journey, but as time passed, her Facebook community rallied around her with prayers and well wishes. “I connected with other women going through similar situations, which activated my prayer circle. Every day I had messages, mail, texts, calls, meals, or flowers from someone. I knew my circle was praying for me and that moved me,” Cheri says. “Even today, it makes me emotional every time I think of it. Knowing people took time out of their day to reach out to or pray for me touched my heart.”  

Cheri found that one thing that helped her through the mental strain of fighting cancer was to stay as positive as possible. “I had to let some people know that negativity had no place in my journey and not to bring negativity to my door. In order to get through this, I needed prayers and positive encouragement,” Cheri says. “Now, I must admit that I had my share of worry and negative thoughts, and I cried my share of tears. But, I always had to get out of that mindset and trust God. In the beginning, He told me that it would be ok, and I had to believe His words were true.” 

Surrounded by family and friends cheering her on, Cheri rang the bell at the cancer center on July 14, 2022, which is the same bell her father rang in 2014. Then, Cheri completed her radiation treatments on August 24, 2022. “My cancer was removed with clear margins, and my lymph nodes and scans were clear, so we believe I am cancer-free,” Cheri says. “However, Triple Negative Breast Cancer is the hardest to treat and the most likely to recur. I have a 40% chance of recurrence, so I plan to stay in touch with my oncologists and keep up with whatever tests I need. I try to stay positive instead of having a negative doomsday outlook about this, but it is definitely a mental challenge.”

Cheri has several tips for others who may be facing a cancer diagnosis. First, she suggests leaning on God and faith. Second, she urges people not to be scared to let their circle of friends and family know what is going on. “People cannot pray for you on your journey if they do not know,” Cheri says. “Third, let your circle serve you. This is hard, but it not only blesses you greatly but also them. Fourth, listen to your body. Don’t overdo it. Rest when you need to rest.” 

However, her biggest tip to any woman who may read this article or find Cheri’s story on Facebook is to get their routine mammogram on time. “My cancer would not have been found at an early stage if I had not shown up for my mammogram that day. If I had waited, it would have spread,” Cheri says. “Get your mammogram because one of them could possibly save your life.” 

Through it all, Cheri has been blessed by the outpouring of love from her family, friends, Facebook followers, and the cancer ministries in Texarkana. Every person who reached out to check on her, pray for her, or support her has helped her face the fight of her life. “So much of this journey has been a mental journey as much as a physical one. My faith, family, and community encouraged me every day. Cancer becomes mind-consuming and has been a major player in my mind every day since January,” Cheri says. “Now that treatment is over; I tend to think about the future and the possibility of recurrence, especially with Triple Negative Breast Cancer. However, I know God got me through this once, and if it creeps back up, He can do it again. He told me it would be ok, and I am ok.”

2 thoughts on “Keeping Faith Through The Tough Times

  1. THANK you for sharing your story. I was just told, today, that mine is likely triple negative BUT they are running tests on my lumpectomy sample to confirm it. I will find out next week.

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