Cari Kerkman is young, vibrant and beautiful.
She’s also dying of cancer.
But it didn’t have to be this way, Kerkman says.
The Timberline High cheer coach and mother of five describes herself as a typical mom, always busy taking caring of her kids and putting their needs before anything else.
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So when she discovered a “tiny little lump” last September, she ignored it. By November, that lump had grown to the size of a gumball. Then at Christmas, while wrapping presents, she found she had to stand up straight to avoid discomfort.
“But I didn’t have time. Life was busy. Things were crazy,” Kerkman said. “In February, it was so big that I went to go get help, but they made me go get a blood test, and I am so afraid of needles. I was so upset I had to get a blood test, I forgot to talk about it.
“By the time I got help, it was as big as a corn dog.”
The cancer started in her lower torso, and eventually reached her breasts and multiple organs. She’s had several surgeries.
There is no way to know with certainty that Kerkman wouldn’t be facing terminal cancer had she gotten help sooner, but she still blames herself.
She’s hoping her story may save the lives of others.
“I think a lot of women don’t take the time, when you’re so busy. ... Moms are like, ‘I don’t have time for it,’ ” Kerkman said. “But if I could save anybody’s life by my story, you know? If you see something different, it can kill you. It’s killing me.”
Kerkman shared that message during intermission of a Timberline volleyball game Tuesday night. The match was a “Pink Out” in Kerkman’s honor. Players wore pink jerseys, students received free pink shirts and fans wore pink.
“I just want to say she is one of my most favorite people in the world. She has an infectious smile,” Timberline Athletic Director Tol Gropp said while introducing Kerkman to the crowd. “Any challenge that comes her way, she’s right there to face it. You could never tell that she’s battling cancer herself.”
When Kerkman took the microphone, the team rushed over with flowers and hugs. Then the crowd went silent as Kerkman began to speak.
“Thank you so much for honoring me tonight, but there are a lot of people in this room who have been touched by cancer or maybe have cancer,” she said. “... I’m not alone in this battle. I just want to say that my life story is that early detection is key. If something’s different, get it checked immediately. I didn’t do that, and now I’m in the fight for my life, but I’m fighting.”