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DIANE MAKAR MURPHY Cancer survivor helps others battle the disease



Published: Tue, May 22, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Barely a year after Cheri Picken's mother died of skin cancer, Cheri was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was, sadly, no surprise to her; cancer wasn't unusual in her family. Her father was a cancer survivor, as were her daughter and cousin. Her aunts had died from it.

& quot;I just fought it. I said, this isn't going to get me down, & quot; Cheri said.

The two things she found most helpful in her battle, which hopefully has ended after a bilateral mastectomy and chemo and radiation therapies, were support of others and exercise. Now, Cheri brings these two things to others.

Tuesdays and Thursdays, at the Jewish Community Center pool on Youngstown's North Side, Cheri teaches aquatic exercise to cancer survivors. Her class began last month. The 12-week course is one part support group, one part aquatics.

& quot;I want to continue it all summer and even into the fall. I think there is a need, & quot; Cheri said. & quot;When I was in chemo, it helped me to be around people and to socialize. & quot;

Exercise a must: Cheri also said the mastectomy left the muscles of her chest and back tight and sore, with some numbness. She wanted to stretch out and restore muscle strength. Exercise proved essential.

Her students come to her with various backgrounds in different stages of treatment. Some are in remission, one has just finished chemo, another is about to begin radiation. Survivors of breast cancer, uterine, ovarian and cervical cancer participate.

The class is an hour long and begins with a period of just & quot;hanging out. & quot; Then exercisers walk in the water, use dumbbells and noodles (long flexible, floating tubes) and do muscle lengthening and strengthening exercises.

& quot;My students say, 'This is the best thing you ever did.' It's so important to have someone to talk to. Even people in the class say there are hard days. Some days I want to cry, & quot; Cheri said. & quot;It helps to go into class. & quot;

Cheri's mother died after being diagnosed with a melanoma inside her mouth, in April 1997.

August of the following year, Cheri's breast cancer was discovered. Surgery and chemo and radiation therapies eliminated the cancer. She later had problems with bleeding and underwent a hysterectomy. A biopsy showed pre-cancerous cells.

& quot;Right now, & quot; Cheri said, & quot;I feel wonderful. I have a lot of strength. My energy level is phenomenal. With my family's help, I beat the cancer once and now again. God is watching over me. I'm supposed to still be here. & quot;

Daughter's love: Cheri's daughter Stacy had a cancerous tumor in her kidney at age 4. Chemotherapy put it into total remission. & quot;She's doing great, & quot; Cheri said of her daughter, who will be entering college next fall. & quot;She was my strength. She's going to Mount Union, and I don't know what I'll do without her. & quot;

The support of others was essential to maintaining the positive attitude, Cheri insisted.

& quot;People need to go and exercise and be around people, & quot; Cheri said. & quot;So many people could benefit from this class. I know there are many cancer survivors. & quot;

According to Cheri, the class is an open forum for people to discuss what's bothering them. The discussion sometimes turns to medications and treatments, side effects and other issues.

Cancer survival can be difficult, even with support. As Cheri said, & quot;I do sometimes cry. I've gotten really emotional. My mind will go blank, and I'll just start crying. Sometimes when I talk about [my cancer], I get choked up. & quot;

& quot;But, & quot; she continued, & quot;I won two times, three times when I count my daughter's cancer. I feel blessed. & quot;

For more information about the 12-week water exercise and therapy class, call (330) 746-3251 and ask for Cheri.

& quot;Do it for yourself, & quot; Cheri said. & quot;All I can say is stay positive and come in and exercise. & quot;

murphy@vindy.com




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