Today I have a very special guest—Cheryl Harvey Hill. She’s not famous and I doubt you’ve heard of her. But to me, Cheryl is a hero. At only 5′ 2 ½ tall and less than 100 pounds, Cheryl is one of the strongest, most courageous people I know. She has beat many odds and has defied medical opinions. Three years ago they took her off life support, expecting her to die. But Cheryl had other plans and she’s still going strong, despite limitations! She always has a positive attitude and I can feel her smiling in emails. Rather than shorten her interview, I’m posting it in 2 parts.
Cheryl is an adventurer, and began to explore life at a time when women weren’t doing much on their own. After graduating from high school in 1962, when her friends were getting married, Cheryl joined the army to see the world. Her love of writing and photography impacted her career choices. In the late sixties she was one of the first female sports writers for Cycle News and Motor Cycle Weekly, among others. She was also one of the first females to give the speedway race results on radio.
Cheryl was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 1967. In 1972, Cheryl was recruited by the California Army National Guard as a photographer/journalist and became the first woman in history assigned to a combat, field artillery unit. Unfortunately, her cancer returned soon after. In 1973 she had surgery to remove several malignant tumors and underwent three surgeries and a barrage of chemo and radiation. She was determined to get back into the military, and did in 1982. Cheryl was diagnosed with COPD/emphysema in 1999 and a routine stress test and MRI indicated she’d had a small stroke in the previous year. The following year she was hospitalized nine times. Her grit helped Cheryl become a two-time cancer survivor!
A chance meeting with a cousin of Willie Nelson got her an interview with him and inspired creating 2Steppin.com, one of the very first country music websites. More recently Cheryl spent almost two weeks in the hospital. Her prognosis was quite bleak and they gave her husband two choices: keep her intubated and transfer her to a rehab center or remove the tubes and take her home under hospice care. Either way, they said she would most likely not survive more than a few months since she’s in the later stages of emphysema. Keeping his promise to her, he took Cheryl home. A few weeks later, Cheryl was back on her computer. She defies what doctors predict with her strong faith and will to live. Here’s what Cheryl had to say:
What gave you the courage to join the army? I was always going against stereotype from as far back as I can recall. When other girls were playing house, I was playing Army. I never dreamed about getting married, I dreamed of traveling around the world. I’m certain this desire came from my mother who began telling my brother and I at an early age that there was a big, wonderful, exciting, world outside of Warren, Ohio and if we wanted to see it, we’d find a way. My mom was a third generation factory worker. She wanted more for us and taught us that “2/3 of achieving is believing.” ??With your small stature, how do you exude confidence and make people take you seriously? As silly as it sounds, I really do “walk tall” and I believe that your attitude sets the tone. I also think being petite and pretty definitely was most often an advantage because no one was ever threatened by me and being articulate was a plus too. It was easy for people to underestimate me and that worked in my favor. I always did my homework and I took a lot of pride in everything I did so the rest was easy. When people respect you, they automatically take you seriously.
What were the first feelings/thoughts that went through your head when you were diagnosed with cancer? My first reaction was anger. I was so angry at God because I had gone through so much to have a child. My first husband and I had tried for years to, there were several miscarriages, and then finally success and then here I was with a six month old daughter, newly divorced and diagnosed with cancer. I couldn’t stop crying. I was furious with the powers that be. Then I looked at my daughter. She was asleep and looked like an angel. At that moment I knew that we were going to be okay. I could hear my Mom’s words echoing in my head, “God will never put on you more than He knows you can bare.” I simply trusted that God’s plan for me was going to work, whatever it was.
Over the years you’ve had several life threatening health problems. What pushed you to prove doctors wrong? Oh, that’s an easy question to answer; quite simply, the bad diagnosis always came at the most inconvenient times. After the first doctor predicted my demise and it did NOT, thankfully come about, my mother, laughingly said, “Well, now you know why they call them ‘practicing physicians’; they are always practicing.” I learned basic survival skill—always get at least three opinions. Feeling sorry for ourselves was always discouraged and we were constantly reminded that no matter how bad off we might be, there would always be someone else worse off so we needed to remember to count our blessings.
I could always find plenty to be thankful for no matter how bleak things seemed because I always had my beautiful daughter to keep me feeling blessed. My mom is truly special and I have been blessed with amazing friends and family who are so positive all the time; they are great cheerleaders. It’s all about choices. You can choose to feel sorry for yourself or you can choose to concentrate on the positive things in your life. I have a lot of positive things in my life so I choose to concentrate on those things. My illness can fend for itself.
Please try to follow Cheryl Harvey Hill’s inspiration. She’s had many obstacles but continues to remember that as her mother said, limitations are only in your head. Tomorrow I’ll have part 2 of this amazing woman’s interview.
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