Sherri, the Stereotype

When I started blogging a few months ago, I wasn’t sure what theme would emerge. But one day I tried out a tag cloud and the word cancer screamed in 48-point type. (I decided the tag-cloud widget was not for me.)

My irresistible topic turned out to be the stereotypes that are laid on patients like a big glop of mayonnaise.

The brave, sunny cancer survivor. The trooper. The fighter. The optimist. Glass half full? Hell, the glass is spilling over with blessings and platitudes and concern for others and a bag of candy corn. A veritable positive-thinking forcefield!

Such a point of view is difficult to pull off even in the best of times. Try doing it with the anvil of cancer hanging around your neck.

I got lots of mileage out of that theme. The fly in the ointment for me was not anonymous flamers, but rather the exceptions I just can’t explain. Like Sherri Eberhart.

Sherri is no idiot. She is not deluded. She is not pious. Her feet are firmly on the ground.

But Sherri is a trooper. Sherri sent her husband, poet and Kansas City Star book editor John Mark Eberhart, to a movie while she was in the hospital recovering from surgery. To cheer him up.

Sherri volunteered to help get an ovarian-cancer awareness group off the ground even though her cancer was breast, not ovarian.

Sherri would deliver a pronouncement with such a devilish grin you’d swear she’d just dinged someone. But if you thought over what she said, you realized she’d taken the most charitable view.

Sherri was amused by life, even in the throes of a nasty recurrence. She survived six years. At this hour her family is gathering at her house, and I’m about to get dressed and go there.

Just days ago Sherri left with her husband for a vacation. Their sudden return to Kansas City was shocking. But then again, perhaps not so shocking. Who in the world would travel to New Mexico when (apparently) deathly ill? Sherri. Of course.

Tomorrow I’ll go back to defending the right of cancer patients to be sad and furious and frightened and tired. But today I’m paying homage to the little package of happiness known as Sherri Eberhart.

[Ed. note: Sherri Eberhart died at 6:20 a.m. on October 13. Read her obituary and sign her guestbook here. Family suggests donations to Kansas City Hospice or Turning Point. Read more about Sherri in John Mark Eberhart’s essay here.

“Goodbye for Now” by Robert Coleman Trussell was a favorite of Sherri’s. At the request of John Mark, Trussell performed at the funeral. Download a free mp3 file, compliments of the singer/songwriter at his website: In loving memory of Sherri Eberhart.]


About Quixotic Chick

I write. I take pictures. I survived cancer.
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4 Responses to Sherri, the Stereotype

  1. Ken Eberhart says:

    Sherri was my sister in law. I will not be alone in missing her presence in this world. She brought life and the affirmation of its worth to us all. She will be remembered as a champion of fighting for the cure of breast cancer, not only for herself, but for women throughout the KC metro area. She was a deeply empathetic, caring, and loving woman, and her memory should serve us all as an example of what a woman faced with an early death from this life should aspire to: a constant attetntion to the value and belief that life is sacred, beautiful, and eternal.

  2. Thank you for your comment. I’m very sorry for your loss. And ours.

    Yesterday I told your mother-in-law: “Thank you for bringing Sherri into the world. She’s an absolutely wonderful person.” She replied, “I’ve always thought so, but then I’m biased.” Biased? Obviously not, since so many agree.

    The hospice nurse was surprised by Sherri’s strength. But none of us was surprised!

    I asked her mom if Sherri was stubborn when she was a little girl. “Well, she didn’t like to lose,” she said. Then John Mark told us about a time when Sherri destroyed a tennis racket after a match.

    Sherri was equal parts sweetness and fire. But I never saw her use that fire in an unkind way.

    Yesterday I told Sherri: “We love you so much. And we’re going to go on loving you.” John Mark said, “That’s right. That doesn’t stop.”

    I hope she heard me.

  3. Moira says:

    I am certain she heard you Donna. Words like yours are what help people make a peaceful transition.

    Sherri was all of those things you and her brother-in-law described. I loved being around her, I loved getting her beautiful emails, I loved her passion, commitment and brilliance.

    I wonder who coined the phrase “only the good die young”?


  4. Re only the good die young: A discussion about that quote appears here.

    Yesterday I saw a picture of a glamorous college-age Sherri playing Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Leather capri pants. Martini in hand. She could have stepped right off the set of Mad Men.

    The beautiful eulogy, delivered by her former theater teacher and mentor, revealed that towards the end of her life Sherri expressed regret that she had not accomplished more.

    The overflow crowd (perhaps twice what the chapel was designed to hold) from many walks of life was testament to her biggest accomplishment. She made friends and kept them. Sherri loved people.

    Can there be a greater accomplishment? I think not.

    Yesterday her mother told me that Sherri didn’t much care for organized religion, but she was the most spiritual person she knew. Sherri believed her purpose in life was to serve God. And yesterday it was clear how she did that.

    The best way any of us can honor Sherri’s memory is to comfort a friend. Or a stranger.

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