by Cassie Pierson
Sherrie Chapman is my client and my friend. She is also a brave and courageous woman who has been in CIW since 1981. Sadly, she is suffering from metastasized breast cancer; a cancer that may not have ravaged her body if her doctor at CIW had ordered a biopsy in 1991.
Sherrie discovered a lump in her right breast and went to the prison doctor (Dr. Herrick). She told him there was a family history of breast cancer. That was in 1991. The doctor told her that she had “fibrocystic breasts” and nothing more was done. Sherrie continued to have pain and kept going back to the doctor. Finally, in early 1993, she was given a mammogram which showed, according to the radiologist, “extremely dense breast parenchyma.” The radiologist recommended that a follow-up mammogram be done in one year. It wasn’t until late 1994 that Sherrie was able to convince CIW’s medical department that she needed another mammogram. This time the radiologist noted, “dense breast parenchyma could easily obscure a mass mammographically”, and recommended immediate follow-up tests be done. Doctor Herrick, however, adhered to his diagnosis of “fibrocystic breast disease” and refused to order any biopsy, ultrasound, or fine needle aspiration (FNA).
In 1995, Sherrie was seen by a different prison doctor who, upon reviewing Sherrie’s medical records, immediately ordered a biopsy which was performed at an outside facility on August 8, 1995. On August 23, 1995, Sherrie’s right breast and four cancerous lymph nodes were removed. Unfortunately, by the time Sherrie had the surgery, she was also experiencing painful lumps in her left breast. On January 8, 1997, her left breast was removed. In August of 2000, after complaining for several months about a painful lump in her neck, Sherrie learned that the lump was metastasized breast cancer.
During this time, Sherrie was also utilizing legal avenues for relief; her pro fe complaint was wending its way through the United States District Court. On September 20, 2000, a settlement was reached awarding Sherrie $350,000. As part of the settlement Sherrie will receive a letter from the Department which will state that, (1) Sherrie will not be treated by Dr. Herrick in the future except in emergency situations; (2) CDC doctors will give a good faith consideration to recommendations made by non-CDC physicians; and, (3) that neither the Department, nor any departmental official, will refuse to grant a compassionate release based on the fact that the lawsuit was filed, prosecuted, and/or settled.
Sherrie testified at the legislative hearings at CIW on October 12, 2000. She did not mention her lawsuit nor did she mention the settlement agreement. She looked at Senator Richard Polanco, Senator Cathie Wright and Assemblyman Carl Washington and spoke to them about her illness. In closing she said, “All I want to do is go home. All I want is a compassionate release.”
Thank you Sherrie for your fighting spirit and your eloquent testimony.