Runner Sam Sherwood

In 2009, Sam and Dave Sherwood were in the process of moving to Colorado from Nebraska. Sam had not wanted to leave Nebraska, but something told her she had to return to Colorado. All of the signs seemed to point her in that direction. She quickly landed a wonderful job opportunity and the couple found a place to live that would accommodate their daughter’s horse. Within a week, her entire world would be changed forever.

Dave Sherwood with his daughter Carson.
Dave Sherwood with his daughter Carson.

During the moving process, Dave began experiencing back pain. He mentioned it to Sam, but they attributed it to a pulled muscle from lifting furniture and boxes. The pain came and went for several days. Finally, one morning, he woke Sam up at 4 am and said he needed to go to the Emergency Room. The ER doctor immediately suspected gallstones.  A CT scan was ordered and Dave was given medication to help manage his pain. Unfortunately, Dave was in such excruciating pain, that the normal dose of medications was not helping him. The nurse told Sam, “I had to give him more pain medicine than I have ever given a patient before. Please keep an eye on his breathing.”

Sam waited nervously for the results of Dave’s CT scan. A nurse came in and reassured her that Dave likely only had gallstones and they would be sending him home soon. Shortly after that conversation, the doctor returned and said, “Has anyone talked to you yet? Please have a seat, Sam. Dave, you have a pancreatic tumor.” Sam recalls that she did not know anything about pancreatic cancer at that point in time, except that the disease had a deadly reputation.  The doctor wanted to attempt a biopsy of Dave’s tumor, but that procedure was unsuccessful. The recommendation was for Dave to get an endoscopic ultrasound, so that they could accurately determine what kind of tumor he had. Unfortunately, the local teaching hospital had a wait time for the procedure of 8 weeks.

Frustrated, Sam called their neighbor who was an anesthesiologist.  She was able to get Dave seen the very next week at her alma mater in Iowa and in Colorado.  AT CU, the Sherwoods were told that Dave, who was only 42 years old, had a Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumor (PNET).  Most cancers of the pancreas occur in the exocrine cells. When cancer forms in the exocrine cells, the tumor is a Pancreatic Adenocarcinoma. When cancer grows in the endocrine cells of the pancreas, that type of tumor is called a Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumor. The surgical protocol for a PNET is the same as it would be for an adenocarcinoma, but different types of chemotherapy are given for the two types of tumors.

PNETS tend to be slower growing than adenocarcinomas. Dave was eligible for a surgical procedure known as the Whipple, which would aim to remove the tumor. However, Dave also has Addison’s disease, an illness that causes his adrenal glands to function improperly.  Addison’s Disease has a wide range of effects on Dave’s body. He had to carefully consider how the Whipple, which is major surgery, coupled with his Addison’s Disease, would affect his recovery and his overall quality of life. The first surgeon that Sam and Dave consulted with emphasized the very serious nature of the Whipple. He told Dave that there is a risk he could die and a risk that they might not get the entire tumor. Dave was monitored for a period of two years before he decided to proceed with the Whipple. When Steve Jobs passed away as the result of his own Pancreatic Neuroendocrine Tumor, Dave finally made the decision to have the Whipple surgery.

Sam recalled how when Dave woke up in the ICU, his first question was, “Did they get it all?” She had to break the news to him that the doctor had not been able to remove the entire tumor. Unfortunately, some of the tumor was near vital blood vessels, so a small amount of the tumor remained behind following the surgery. Dave had a very rocky road to recovery. At one point, he went into cardiopulmonary arrest and had to be revived. Sam sat by his side, holding his hand every step of the way. Dave ultimately spent 57 days in the hospital following his Whipple. He was released once briefly, but after four hours, had to return and be readmitted.  Dave’s surgery was in October of 2011, and he made it home for good just prior to Christmas.

Dave was going to have radiation therapy following his Whipple, but after all of the stress of the surgery, he opted not to undergo the treatments. The only treatment he currently receives is a Sandostatin injection once each month. He is monitored by CT scans every six months and his tumor has been remarkably stable.

Sam has been by her husband’s side for the six years that he has been battling his cancer. She is a geotechnical engineer and has become the primary breadwinner for the family. Sam feels that Dave is perhaps 80% of his pre-cancer self these days, but it has been a long road. Dave has struggled with depression brought about by the cancer and the long recovery from his Whipple. He now fulfills the role of stay-at-home dad to the couple’s 12 year old daughter, Carson. Dave enjoys doing homework with Carson and being an active supporter of her passion for competing in the rodeo.  Sam says that dealing with Dave’s cancer has brought their family closer together. She loves seeing the deep father-daughter bond that has developed between her husband and daughter. This summer, they are spending every other weekend hiking because it is something Dave loves to do. “We don’t value ‘things’ anymore. We value each other”, she adds.

Carson & Dave Sherwood
Carson & Dave Sherwood

Sam will be running the Denver Rock ‘n’ Roll Half-Marathon with the Project Purple team. She has been a runner since she was about 8 years old. She still remembers seeing her cousin wearing a New York City Marathon t-shirt when she was 8. She was fascinated with the idea of the marathon, and that is why she initially started running. She played soccer from the time she was 10 through college, but returned to running for fun as an adult. She says, “I just like to run. It is my peaceful, happy place. I don’t keep a log or keep track of anything. I just run because it is fun.”

Sam Sherwood running with her daughter Carson.
Sam Sherwood running with her daughter Carson.

Sam found Project Purple while looking at a list of marathon charities. She says, “I am stuck between activism and trying to figure out how my own story is going to play out. I am in the middle of it. I am still writing my own story.” Sam’s family has been fortunate so far, and has received a lot of support from their community. Since she is already a runner, it just seemed natural to her to run with the Project Purple team to raise funding for others who have been affected by Pancreatic Cancer. Sam wants to help others while she can, and acknowledges that someday her family may be the ones in need of assistance.

You can contribute to Sam’s Project Purple fundraiser by following the link below:

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