Cancer research gave woman the gift of one last summer

Cancer research gave woman the gift of one last summer

When Rich Valenta looks out over the lake in front of his cottage and feels the peace it brings, he understands the value and importance of cancer research. That research bought his wife of 30 years one last summer of knowing the same peace.

Sherri and Rich, who lived in Sun Prairie, bought the cottage on Big St. Germain Lake for their retirement. It was while there on Memorial Day weekend of 2012 that Sherri knew something was wrong.

“The pain got significantly worse and so we went to the local emergency room and while there the doctor, the emergency room doctor informed her after a CAT scan that she had a significant amount of cancer,” Rich said.

Diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer doctors told her to go to the UW Carbone Cancer Center. Before leaving for Madison, the realities of the situation were clear.

“When we left that year, at that time I pretty much had a feeling that we might not ever have a chance to come up here and enjoy this again,” Rich said.

Sherri’s doctors began aggressively treating the cancer and got her included in a clinical trial.

“She started the treatment and it was a very, very difficult summer because the treatments really took a lot out of her. But as she started to rebound out of treatment she started to, you know–it’s all about hope,” Rich said.

That hope led Sherri to a wish. She wanted to spend one summer, the summer of 2013, at the cottage by the lake with her husband.

They arrived on Memorial Day weekend of that year and spent the next three months in a place where Sherri wanted to be.

“She would just look out over the lake,” Rich said. “And it seemed to me that she was trying to encapsulate all of those years that we enjoyed up here.”

June turned into July, and all of the days turned into memories.

“I mean as we sit here I can see a million different images of her and what she did. Sometimes it was very joyous because it was a smile as she would just sit and look out.”

The time spent at the lake that summer gave Sherri comfort and on Labor Day she knew it was time.

“She said, ‘I’ve spent my summer. I’ve been here.’ And she was so happy,” Rich said. “She got to do what she wanted to do and I know she was really content when she left. That was a really special summer that we got to spend here.”

Less than three months later, Sherri passed away. Rich said without the cancer research Sherri would have not have gotten that one last summer at the lake.

“If they did not have those trial drugs and didn’t do that extra work, I don’t think she would have ever had that time. I actually don’t think she would have made it past that first summer.”

Because of that Rich decided to honor Sherri by participating in the Carbone’s Race for Research, a 5K run and walk. Money from donations is used to continue the cancer research.

“Through all of these different trials, that not only prolonged her life and enjoy what she wanted to enjoy, it sets the state so that the next person, and the next person, has a better prognosis and has more hope.”

This year the Carbone’s Race for Research is Saturday at 9 a.m. on the UW Campus in the Lake Shore area. Register or check in on race day starting at 8 a.m. The cost for runners is $35 and $30 for walkers. Money raised goes directly to cancer research.

People can also donate to Team Sherri by visiting

This will be the third year Team Sherri will participate in the event.

After Sherri’s death, Rich moved from their Sun Prairie home to Madison and still maintains the St. Germain cottage.