The numbers are in: 340 miles, 9 cities, $90,000.
Those are the totals that Sherri Lynn, 49, notched up after completing her ninth and final Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in September. But the figures are nothing compared to the Manville, N.J., resident’s nearly two-decade long journey since her breast cancer diagnosis in 1995.
That November, Lynn felt a lump in her breast. She didn’t give it much thought since she assumed that it couldn’t be cancer unless she had a family history of breast cancer.
But when a week passed, and the lump hadn’t gone away, she made an appointment with her primary care physician. He sent her to get a mammogram, followed by a visit to a surgeon, who scheduled a biopsy for the next day.
After the procedure, she and the surgeon walked down the hospital hallway and she could feel that the news wasn’t going to be good. Lynn asked to sit down. The doctor opened a broom closet.
“I think I sat on a bucket,” she recalled. “I don’t know because it kinda got a little dark. Tunnel vision. And he told me I had breast cancer.”
She was only 31 years old.
“I sat in the parking lot for about 5 minutes, cried, had a cigarette, and then I thought, ‘Okay, bring it on, bring it on. We’re gonna do what we need to do.’”
Lynn opted for a mastectomy, which was followed by six months of chemotherapy. The experience of breast cancer crystallized the thought that she shouldn’t delay the things she’d always wanted to do. They became priorities, “as important to me as breathing,” said Lynn.
Even before she fully recovered from the surgery, she managed to pull on a winter coat and shovel her entire driveway just to be outside. A few months later, she and her sister rollerbladed for the first time. From there, Lynn kept going: winter camping, snow tubing, whitewater rafting, hang gliding, power paragliding, dog sledding.
“Appreciate every single moment and just live every day as if it’s your last, ” said Lynn. “Because you really don’t know. Breast cancer actually saved my life. Because I was putting so many things off that I wanted to do. It just gave me a new respect for life and a new energy for life. So, I’m grateful to breast cancer. I am so grateful.”
With her cancer in remission and a new outlook (“I am way past survivor, I’m a thriver,” she said.), Lynn wanted a bigger physical and emotional challenge, and a way to celebrate her survival. She completed her first Avon Walk in 2002, close to home in New York City. After four walks in that city, her niece and her best friend proposed a great way to see the country — doing the Avon Walk in all nine cities where it is held.
Lynn went on to complete walks in Boston, Washington, Chicago, Houston, Charlotte, Rocky Mountains, Colo., and San Francisco. She walked the final one, in Santa Barbara, Calif., on her 49th birthday last month. The $90,000 she has raised over the last decade has helped fund mammograms and given meals to people who couldn’t cook while in treatment.
After she returned from every city, Lynn wrote a multi-page letter, illustrated with photos and filled with details of her training and the event, sent by mail to each person who donated to her walk.
“Closing ceremonies always manages to bring it home for me,” Lynn wrote after her San Francisco walk in 2012. ” I am reminded annually of how very lucky I am. I walk into closing ceremonies, holding the hands of someone who may have just gotten diagnosed, just completed treatment, just made the 5-year mark, or just been told there’s no more doctors can do for them. It is humbling, heartwarming and heartbreaking all at the same time.”
ABC News’ Henry Gretzinger contributed to this report.