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Aztec woman shares her battle against cancer with other patients, survivors

Hannah Grover
The Daily Times

AZTEC — Despite a diagnosis of stage 3 ovarian cancer nearly five years ago, Sheridy Walker tries to keep a positive outlook on life. "I always tell God if I had to do it again, I would," said the 53-year-old Aztec woman.

One positive side effect of the disease, she said, has been meeting other people in similar situations and encouraging them to fight the disease. One way Walker has done this has been through Relay for Life, a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society.

At this year's event, Walker and her team, the Teal Deal, started walking around the indoor track at San Juan College's Human Health and Performance Center on Saturday afternoon. More than 20 teams participated in the annual event, which lasts for 12 hours.

"It's a chance for the community to come together and fight for something that we all need," said Mychelle McGee, the event lead for the local Relay for Life.

Prior to being diagnosed, Walker hadn't heard of Relay for Life. But the summer after her diagnosis, she was invited to the survivor's dinner, which honors those diagnosed with the disease, survivors and those whose lives have been claimed by the disease.

At the dinner, survivors line up in groups. At the front are people who have just been diagnosed with cancer or who have been cancer-free for fewer than five years. Behind them are those who have been cancer-free for five to 10 years. The groups continue lining up in increments of five years, up to 25 years.

Those who have been cancer-free for more than 25 years form a single group known as the Silver Survivors. Walker remembers one woman in the group who had been cancer-free for nearly 50 years.

The event chairperson then asked each group to turn and face the survivors behind them.

"The lady who is 50 years cancer-free is great hope for those who have just been diagnosed," Walker said.

Walker describes Relay for Life as an incredible event for everyone.

"I feel like cancer's touched everyone," she said, adding that she has never met anyone who doesn't know someone with cancer.

In her own family, one of her grandmothers had breast cancer and the other had leukemia, and her mother had melanoma. As a result, Walker had a genetic screening for more than 15,000 types of cancer-causing mutations. None of the mutations linked to the cancers that doctors eventually found were in her DNA.

Still, Walker sees cancer as something God gave her to reach others.

She was diagnosed at a routine doctor's appointment when her oldest grandson was 2 and one of her daughters was adopting a child. And, at the time, she was involved in her church and directed the choir.

"I freaked out," she said of the diagnosis.

After surgery in Albuquerque not only confirmed the cancer but also revealed its severity, Walker said she was praying in hotel room when she saw two eagle wings wrap around her.

"The rest of the time, I've walked peace-filled," she said.

That moment inspired the title of an e-book she wrote about her experience with cancer, "Shadow of His Wings."

In addition to writing the book, she started touring the country talking about her experience and encouraging others with cancer. And she also serves on the local committee for the Relay for Life survivor dinner.

"It's a battle unlike anything you can imagine, yet it touches everyone," Walker said.

After a short, cancer-free period, the disease returned last year, and Walker said doctors told her she will likely see it resurface every three to five years.

But Walker said she tries not to think about it and instead focuses on living her life "as if today's my last day." And when she talks to people diagnosed with cancer, she encourages them to do the same.

"Just because they tell you you have cancer doesn't mean you're going to die," she said.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 and hgrover@daily-times.com. Follow her @hmgrover on Twitter.