Our Life, Our Story: Sherma Mills-Serrette

Whenever Sherma spoke about her late husband, her eyes lit up. You could tell that he was and still is her best friend.

“He was my go-to guy. If the car broke down, if I heard a noise, if I had good news, belly cramps – he took care of me. He was my friend, my cheerleader, my liming partner, and my drinking partner. He was my early-morning-bath-at-Macqueripe guy, my going-for-coconut-water-around-the-Savannah guy. We’d go for coconut water, walk around the Savannah and end up standing in line for pholourie. [laughs] I miss that life. I miss my life with him.”

Sherma met her husband, Wayne, how many people wished their fairytale love story would begin – unexpectedly and organically.

“We met at the Port Authority around 1998/1999. I was having an issue with one of the workers and I went to him [Wayne] because he looked like he was in charge.”

After assisting Sherma with the issue, the two remained in contact, and three years later, their friendship began. According to Sherma, Wayne was stern, and the progressive lenses he wore added to his strict and sometimes grim demeanor, but she was determined to break down his barriers to reveal his fun-loving side. The two bonded over working in the public service, being the first-born in their respective families, being Christmas babies, their love for Panorama, and the spontaneity of life.

“Being married to him was fun. We could’ve lived in a matchbox and I would’ve been ok. Wherever he was, I was happy.” Her eyes seemed to trail off whenever she spoke about Wayne. Her mind was enthralled by his memory. It was clear how much she missed him.

When asked to recount the details of her husband’s diagnosis, Sherma cleared her throat and exhaled deeply. After three years, her husband’s diagnosis remains a vivid memory in her mind.

“On September 18, 2017, Wayne called me. He was at work. He told me he wasn’t feeling well and that his feet were shaking uncontrollably. ‘I feel like I’m cold, but I’m not cold.’ he said. I asked him if he wanted me to pick him up, but he refused.”

When Wayne got home, Sherma took him to the St. James Medical Complex that night.

“I went to the car to gather my thoughts because having him sick was a ‘no-no’. I took care of him more than I took care of myself; and I know that.”

While there, Wayne’s body started to convulse. He was having a seizure.

“He held my hand, looked at me, and said, ‘I’m sorry’. Seeing him like that? I felt like I stopped breathing.”

While Wayne had no prior symptoms or medical history, Sherma admitted that he smoked for most of his adult life – a habit he tried to overcome. Wayne was transferred to the Port of Spain General Hospital later that night, where he had a second seizure. He spent two weeks warded.

Sherma’s hope for her husband’s early discharge was short-lived when she received the results of his CT scan on her birthday.

“They were telling me that he was going to be ok. When I saw the reports, I knew we were in trouble, I just didn’t know he wouldn’t live long.”

As an Oncology Nurse and Clinic Manager at the Trinidad and Tobago Cancer Society, Sherma maintained an extensive career and a wealth of experience providing care and support for those who had an experience with the disease. Although she was aware of life’s eventualities, nothing could have prepared her for what happened next.

The CT scan revealed brain metastases – cancer cells in the brain that had spread from its original site. Due to Wayne’s history of smoking, a biopsy further revealed cancer cells in the lung and liver. Wayne was later discharged on October 6, 2017.

“If you saw him you would’ve thought he had a stroke.” Even through his diagnosis, Wayne remained cheerful when his friends and family flocked to his side to visit.

On October 9, 2017, while getting dressed to go to his first appointment for cancer treatment, Wayne died.

“He just said ‘God’; not ‘Oh God’. He didn’t try to snatch or grab. I stood there asking if he was ok until I realized.”

“It was really hard having to do CPR on him. I couldn’t continue. His brother took over and I just stood there in shock. It was less than a month.”

For a while, Sherma experienced a bout of survivors’ guilt fueled by people’s perception of her and her own reality.

“People felt like – he had a wife who is a cancer nurse so how did he die? Not only that, but I’m an oncology nurse, I’m the face of the Cancer Society when it comes to volunteerism and education, and my own husband dies? With cancer? I didn’t choose when his cells changed to cancer. I didn’t choose how the cancer would behave.”

Throughout their 16-year marriage, Wayne and Sherma never spent much time apart.

“We got married on Christmas Adam. We loved Christmas,” she said, showcasing their wedding photo. “This is in our new house that he should’ve been in.”

Although Sherma admits that she feels like she lost her best friend, she remains thankful for her stepson, Julien, who has remained by her side during the darkest period in her life. She looks forward to the new chapter of her life, filled with new memories and maybe new love.

“Heartache is real. Grief is real, but you can’t stay in that position – you’re not honouring yourself or the person that passed. Every day is not about me. Everybody’s journey is different.”

November 9, 2020
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