Tribute to Sherry Swanstrom by Virgil Martenson. Hermantown, MN

mesothelioma asbestos

Sherry and Randy Swanstrom

I wrote this to remind others to fight with everything they have and never give up. It's not about how long a person's life is, but how they live it. Virgil

Sherry K. Swanstrom lost her battle to mesothelioma on January 27, 2008 at the age of 51. I met Sherry eleven years ago as my new boss, and I remember everyone thinking we were in for trouble because before she transferred over she was the manager for loss prevention at Sears. She would turn out to be the only boss I've ever had whose first and foremost care was the people who worked for her.

Sherry always made sure we had everything we needed. She really cared about everyone, not just how we did our jobs but also about our personal lives. She made an unforgettable difference by caring enough to just listen as I was going through the toughest time of my life.

It's amazing what you think are "tough times" when you see what other people have to endure. Due to company downsizing they closed our unit. On the last day of work Sherry found out she had terminal cancer. I remember telling her I thought it was sad enough that she was losing her job, and on top of that she had this awful cancer. She told me that it wasn't all that tough. She just had to deal with the cancer; it was the rest of her family that would need help. That's the kind of caring person she was.

I later found out they had given her just six months to live.

All this happening to a lady who had just found out that both of her daughters were expecting, and she would be a grandmother in a short nine months. Up until that point Sherry and I weren't friends outside of work, but at most company functions my wife and I would sit with her and her husband Randy, and my wife would always say, "We should get together with those guys."

For everything Sherry had done for me, I wanted to be the best friend I could for her during her difficult time. We would eventually get together with Sherry and Randy for many "dinner and a movie" evenings over the next twenty-seven months. Sherry apparently hadn't gotten the memo about only having six months to live.

I never heard Sherry complain about what life had dealt her. Words will never do justice to the respect and admiration I have for how she fought her battle against mesothelioma. She fought it with courage, dignity, and grace. How many of us can say we did that for a single day when we reflect on our thoughts and actions, much less for close to three years with a terrible disease?

For almost a year she endured treatments that included a trial with Onconase, radiation, and finally Alimta. After going through these brutal treatments she was able to have almost an entire year treatment-free and enjoy time with family and friends.

I am grateful that we got to know Sherry and Randy and her family, but in truth it makes the pain of losing such a good person all that much worse. She is an inspiration to anyone diagnosed with mesothelioma, or any disease, or even just facing the obstacles that life throws in your way that seem like you just can't ever surmount. She showed that by fighting it and doing everything you can there are still great and wonderful times ahead. Sherry showed that laughter and joy and love and friendship aren't things that only happen to happy people, but that they're treasures you can attain even in the darkest times if you're of a noble heart, a generous spirit, and brave enough to face hardship with hope.

At Sherry's funeral I found out that what endeared me most about her was a common compliment given to her by many people, the willingness to listen and yet never judge. Sherry touched our lives and will be sorely missed by her family and friends, a pain made worse because it was caused by companies that knew the dangers of asbestos and who could have prevented this horrible loss. We miss her very much but are grateful she is no longer suffering. I will always remember her as a very special friend

She did get to see her grandsons born and see their first birthdays, too.

Virgil Martenson

*** POSTED MARCH 4, 2008 ***