Sheila Adkins was halfway through her devastating chemotherapy treatment—unable to eat, walk, work, consumed by exhaustion, weakness and pain—when, one day, she looked at her oncologist and said: “Someday, doc, you and I are going to dance.”
It may have been false bravado, a desperate expression of hope, because the promise was unlikely to be kept: Sheila had stage 4 stomach cancer that had already spread to her liver, and the powerful treatment had rendered her an invalid. But here she was a year and a half later, back to work, making the keynote speech at a recent Cancer Survivor’s Day Celebration sponsored by Einstein Medical Center Montgomery.
William Biermann, MD, her physician, was in the audience of survivors, their families and friends, and the nurses and other physicians from Einstein Montgomery who brought them back to health. The fact that Adkins could walk to the podium at all showed just how far she’d come.
The year before, she’d attended the Cancer Survivor’s Day Celebration on a walker; the year before that, in a wheelchair. She was virtually bedridden with cancer and chemo side effects for a year, dependent on her daughter and her sister for everything from bathing to toileting to driving. Her sister moved into Adkins’ King of Prussia home to help, along with her husband, son and dog. Adkins’ daughter moved in also.
“Chemo stripped me of everything,” she said. “It rendered me helpless.” Adkins, 64, is a feisty, independent entrepreneur who’s founded and managed two companies and is now a general contractor who remodels and repairs residential properties in Philadelphia. She previously founded and operated a music management company, and helped produce recordings for many groups.
Two years ago, when she began feeling poorly, she attributed it to the long hours she spent working. Eventually, when fatigue consumed her, she sought treatment and was diagnosed at Einstein Montgomery with the disease she considered a death sentence. Everyone she’d known who’d had cancer had died. She was terrified. But she rallied her fierce spirit and her faith to resist succumbing to the same fate.
She told Dr. Biermann right off the bat not to give her any prognoses or speculate on her chances of survival. “I told Dr. Biermann that we’re part of a team here. The head of the team is God. Then, it’s you. Then it’s me. Then all of my angels,” she said. “I don’t want you to predict anything—like, you have six months—don’t do that. Just let God touch your hand and it’s going to work out.”
Adkins said she was frightened enough without the psychological burden of being told what her chances were. “Had I known I was in Stage 4—I think that messes up your psyche. I’m glad I didn’t know.” And when she lost her hair, her fingernails and toenails and 90 pounds of weight, she never once looked in the mirror.
That was the story Sheila Adkins told at the Cancer Survivor’s dinner. It was moving and inspirational. But there was still a surprise to come.
At the end of her speech, Adkins turned to Dr. Biermann and said, “I told you one day we were going to dance. “ He looked up at her, with a grin. Her daughter, Karima, brought up the music she’d prepared. Adkins beckoned Dr. Biermann to the floor and said, “Now’s the day.” And, grinning and joyous, with the audience rapt and teary, Sheila Adkins and Dr. Biermann danced. “It was a promise fulfilled,” Adkins said. “If you need to witness a miracle, then look at me,” she said. “I’m definitely a miracle.”