Thank You Sherry Pollex: Inspirational Fighter, Philanthropist
This week, the racing world lost Sherry Pollex, an inspirational fighter of cancer, and incredible philanthropist. Holly Cain, who has courageously battled cancer, shares her perspective on the loss of Pollex, and what the 44-year-old meant to the industry, and world.
Sherry Pollex was a rare gift to our world – such a strong person she was able to transform her grueling personal battle with ovarian cancer into a healing time for everyone around her - even as she physically and emotionally took on the tough, absolutely unrelenting beast.
Sherry passed away Sunday at only 44 years old after a nine-year cancer battle that was unique in that she so often seemed to gain strength by all the good she did for everyone else – motivating, reassuring, and staying positive during the most difficult circumstances.
I know this. I know from watching first-hand Sherry’s effect on the sport, on her community, and on her friends and family and countless race fans. And I know this because Sherry and I received Stage 3 cancer diagnosis months apart and she was that beacon of light to me that she was to countless others; sharing her journey and offering support. Always there to help.
I vividly recall Sherry and I – along with our mutual friend, Steve Byrnes who was also going through cancer at that time - texting one another while sitting in our “chemo chairs” receiving chemotherapy for hours at a time at our cancer centers – she and Byrnes in North Carolina and me in Florida. When I was feeling scared or received bad news about my progress fighting breast cancer, Sherry calmed me or made me laugh. And vice versa.
We wished we didn’t share the same unwanted perspective, but it sure helped having one another during such daunting times and it created a unique friendship.
Although I had known Sherry casually from seeing her at the race track, I learned a lot about her as she navigated her illness.
I realized immediately that Sherry Pollex was not a “sit-still and accept things” kind of person. From diagnosis to treatment to mindset, Sherry was a go-getter, that positive light in the room. And she spread the vibe so generously.
Sherry and her former partner, NASCAR Cup Series driver Martin Truex Jr. started the “Catwalk for a Cause” in 2010 in Charlotte – years before Sherry’s own cancer diagnosis. The event has not only brought much-needed attention and funding to children’s cancer and eventually ovarian cancer “fights” – it did something much more.
It allowed the young cancer patients that walked the catwalk with NASCAR stars from Dale Earnhardt Jr. to Joey Logano to Ryan Blaney to smile. It gave them something to look forward to. It encouraged them to just “be” – to take in the support, the love. To forget. To be transported from days of chemo packs, bad news, hospital beds, and uncertainty into a rare night of absolute certainty. An evening of feeling happy and unworried – of feeling positive and celebrated.
Sherry and the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation raised and donated millions of dollars. But the feelings of unburdened happiness granted to those patients – even if only for a matter of hours – was the real gift.
And in turn, those people in the NASCAR industry who walked the runway with those strong, inspiring young patients, could not help but be moved either. Fundamentally - from heart and from gut.
I was able to walk in one of the Catwalk for a Cause events at Daytona International Speedway during Speedweeks last year. This time, she invited ovarian cancer patients and survivors – some in treatment and some in remission – to walk with a group of women with NASCAR ties. Television’s Jamie Little escorted patients, as did other regulars in the NASCAR garage from Erin Crocker Evernham and Erin Blaney to industry elite like Chicago Street Race President Julie Giese and Speedway Motorsports executive Jessica Fickenscher.
It was a first-hand glimpse of how very hard Sherry worked to help others even as she was in pain and unsure of her own future. It was remarkable.
Sherry was admired for her strength in fighting for her resolve to make a difference in the world, and for her ability to always share a smile – no matter how scared she may have been of her own prognosis. She was not defined by what she fought or by the expectations given to her – and she made everyone else feel stronger just in her company.
When I received word of Sherry’s passing this weekend, I was in disbelief, gutted. She had persevered through SO MUCH, given the world SO MUCH, meant SO MUCH to so many.
As I looked back at years and years worth of text messages in my phone between us, there was a distinctive theme: emojis always punctuating her words. There were prayerful hands, blue hearts, smiling faces, and lots of those “arm muscles.” All so appropriate considering her spirit and her strength.
In one of her blog posts on SherryStrong.org, I remembered a very telling entry.
“People ask me all the time how I always have a smile on my face and stay positive when it comes to my disease,’’ Sherry wrote. “The answer is simple: It could always be worse. I don’t look at my disease as a death sentence. Just the opposite, actually. I look at it as the opportunity to live like you are dying. To experience and know a type of joy that most people will never feel. It’s an opportunity to spend precious time with loved ones and make memories that they’ll carry with them forever.’’
That perspective and insight are so inspiring but also an important reminder to us all.
I wrote a story about Sherry in 2017 for NASCAR.com where she recognized and appreciated the love and support she has received over the years from the sport.
“The passion the fans have in NASCAR, there’s really no other sport like it,’’ Sherry said. “I wonder sometimes, why do they feel so connected? I think some really feel like they are going through a battle with me. So many people around the world are touched by cancer and any time you can relate to someone going through something that tough, you feel a connection to them. You can’t explain to people what it is to meet people who are going through what you are going through. It’s real.
“For me, I’ve been very open with what I’m going through and I want to help other women and people in general who are battling cancer. I kinda feel like that’s the path God has put me on. Everyone is dealing with a struggle or something going on in their life. No one’s life is perfect. I just put it all out there and hope it inspires or helps someone.”
There is no doubt about all the ways Sherry Pollex has inspired and helped. And will continue to. She unfailingly showed the kind of strength it takes to care so deeply, and to work so hard for others. Her life work of generosity is a lesson that will live on as will her legacy - one of never giving up.
Peace, Sherry. And thank you.
Photo Credit: Chris Graythen, Getty Images for NASCAR