Lynda fights for women's health tests

Wednesday, November 4, 2009
In her sanctuary at Sherland farm on Verona-Caney Road, Lynda Sherrell protects her "diva dog," Muffin, and traditional family values in this peaceful rural community.

Lynda Sherrell fights like a girl.

It's more than a slogan on a pink T-shirt she got from her sister, Leanne.

It's the lady's young-woman spirit of spunk to influence folks instead of yelling at a protest or some demonstration of rage.

Between duties for cattle sales at Sherland Farm during the past six years working with her husband, Mike, Lynda has been president of Marshall County Republican Women and an influence on Mike's administration as head of the Republican Party here.

Recently, she's taken on a cause for women's health with her diagnosis of ovarian cancer. She plans to speak with state Sen. Bill Ketron and state Rep. Eddie Bass in December about annual physical examinations for women, and a test that she advocates as an indicator of the prospect that a patient might have the malady.

It's a political step in the field of medicine. Lynda's experience makes it a logical route for her.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, she worked for a Nashville law firm. One of the partners was Lamar Alexander, now a U.S. senator, this state's former governor and a U.S. education secretary for the first President Bush, among other things.

The firm brought on young associates and Lynda's turned out to be John Edwards, former senator and candidate for the Democratic nomination for president.

"I did like he man," she said during an interview at her home. "He was very personable." Edwards "was and wasn't" the same man she knew years ago "I'm disappointed in his actions lately," she said without mentioning his infidelity; "everybody makes mistakes." Their friendship was close enough for Edwards to present "tiny tennis shoes" when Lynda had her first child.

"Many years ago," Lynda says, "it was not mandatory that women have a mammogram. Now they are paid for during annual check ups."

She's had good health insurance with her employers: "I worked for the Teamsters' Union and they have remarkable coverage." Later, her health insurance was through BlueCross BlueShield, and, "If you wanted a mammogram and hadn't met your deductible, then you'd pay for it yourself.

"There's a similar situation, now, with a test that will indicate that you may might have ovarian cancer. The test is called a CA-125 blood test. It's an ovarian cancer indicator. It alerts the doctor to look further to see what's going on."

Like so many others, Lynda's had tests, treatments and procedures. She praises her doctors and spoke up when Alexander consulted with county residents in Lewisburg this year. Lynda supports the private insurance system, opposes a government-run system, and says if she was treated in that system, she'd be dead.

Amid these Byzantine systems Lynda will pause saying, "I believe God has been in every step with what's happened to me."

After dinner one night last spring, she had an attack of diverticulitis.

"It was so painful that I thought I was going to die."

It started her journey through hospitals and doctors' offices. She became aware of a test for CA-125, the technical term for a substance in the blood of some women with ovarian cancer. It's criticized by the American Cancer Society as having false positives and negatives and not being a single indicator.

It's one of several measurements to help physicians do their job, Lynda said, endorsing it as part of annual checkups.

"I had presumed that I would live to be 99 and die in my sleep. That's not going to happen. You just don't think that you're going to die someday."

She credits her doctors for looking beyond symptoms of puffiness around the middle, something she sees in "others at 59."

Measurements of her CA-125 have been all over the chart: 30 or less is normal; Hers has been over 400.

She went to the Sarah Cannon Cancer Center at Centennial. Five days after being told she had cancer, she was in surgery.

She's had chemotherapy and other treatments, and she's been in and out of remission.

Pain returned and left.

"When I knew there was something wrong, it was about 10 p.m. ... I had to come to terms ..."

She pulled out her Bible, and she concluded that God is in control. She read and prayed all night at the kitchen table.

"His answer to me is, 'I'm in control and you'll be OK here or somewhere else," she said. "We believe in heaven."

Cancer has no politics, Lynda said.

"But I still have hope" that her advocacy will help others, she said. "God will tell me when it's over."

Lynda graduated from Cornersville High School in 1966.

Raised at Gnat Grove at her great-grandmother's farm "on one of the highest hills in the county," she says, "Marshall County is a wonderful place to grow up.

"It's beautiful."