(Editor’s note: This week marks the first anniversary of the death of Sherri Little, a 53-year old California woman who took her own life, after years of struggle with chronic pain and depression. Suicide is a difficult but important issue to address in the pain community, and our story about Sherri’s final days (“Sherri’s Story: A Final Plea for Help”) touched many readers. Tina Petrova was a friend of Sherri’s and wrote the following tribute to her.)
By Tina Petrova, Guest Columnist
Sherri L. Little was a stunningly beautiful, diminutive blonde with sparkling, mischievous eyes. We became fast friends on Facebook, united by our common passion of pain patient advocacy.
She initially reached out to me after hearing that I had a film in development on chronic pain (“Pandemic of Denial”), saying, “Do I have a story for you!”
And indeed, she did.
Sherri was one of those rare people who could light up a room upon entering. She possessed charisma in spades and emanated a childlike wonder and joy.
During the all too short time I knew Sherri, her key focus was advocating for pain patients, speaking up, and getting involved. Her search for treatments for her own painful conditions (occipital neuralgia, fibromyalgia and complicated IBS) took a back seat to her passion to help others.
I had the pleasure and honor of hosting Sherri in Toronto, Canada in May 2015. She made the long trek from Mexico where she was staying, to New York City to participate in the 2015 Caterpillar Walk for fibromyalgia, travelling onwards to me.
I drove her around to my own treating doctors, hoping she could benefit from those who had greatly helped me. We filmed a short interview with her, which is to become a key centerpiece in our upcoming documentary.
It was Sherri’s final wish that we tell her story to the world.
Despite sleep deprived nights and painful days, she took delight in all the small activities I had planned during her stay with me, such as lunching at a vegetarian restaurant.
It surprised me that such small gestures could be so impactful for her, until she explained that her adult relationships thus far had not supported her pained life. She shared with me that she longed for deep, authentic connections.
Sherri was to return to Toronto in September 2015 to continue the interview process. Sadly, this was not to be.
Sherri was found dead on July 7, 2015, after a July 4th weekend attempt to get medical help at a hospital in Los Angeles. Unable to eat and drink for four weeks, she had taken a solo train trip to L.A. from San Diego, hiring a patient advocate to champion her rights.
Her last ditch hope with faltering health was that she would gain access to the specialists and treatment she so badly needed to live her life with any quality. For reasons her family and I still cannot fathom or piece together, Sherri left the hospital and checked into a hotel room across the street, alone and in pain. We will never know for certain what transpired in those final hours.
Having a previous diagnosis of Clostridium difficile colitis and suffering from severe abdominal pain, she had been unable to keep food down for over a month and was existing solely on raw juices.
Her mom told me she had driven down to San Diego to take her daughter to the hospital on more than one occasion for horrible bowel pain and dehydration. After giving Sherri an IV drip in the ER, they released her home on each occasion.
In honor of Sherri’s courageous battle with chronic pain, we will be dedicating “Pandemic of Denial” to Sherri and her fight for better pain care for our community.
Sherri’s laughter will no longer echo in the halls of life, but I’m sure she’s busy keeping the angels on their toes in heaven with her loving heart and her shining soul of activism.
I can just see her high above us saying, “But you have to DO SOMETHING!”
And with that, we are. Sherri, you are loved and missed dearly.
Tina Petrova is an award winning filmmaker, pain patient and chronic pain activist.
Tina co- founded Give Pain A Voice in 2014 with Bob Schubring, to champion the rights of pain patients everywhere.
The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.