SHERRIE PALM BIO | Advocacy as a Career
ENGENDERING THE NEXT SIGNIFICANT SHIFT IN WOMEN’S HEALTH DIRECTIVES
Sherrie Palm carves the trail to de-stigmatize pelvic organ prolapse (POP), a common but rarely acknowledged women’s health condition impacting an estimated 50% of women, as she educates and inspires regarding the evolution of women’s vaginal and intimate health awareness.
Sherrie Palm is the Founder/CEO of APOPS, Association for Pelvic Organ Prolapse Support, author of 3 editions of the award-winning book Pelvic Organ Prolapse: The Silent Epidemic, a pelvic organ prolapse patient advocate, vaginal and intimate health activist, internationally recognized speaker, POP key opinion leader, and prolific writer regarding POP physical, emotional, social, sexual, fitness, and employment quality of life impact.
Sherrie has presented speeches nationally and internationally to physicians, research, academic, corporate, government policy, and patient audiences since 2011. Her points of focus are raising awareness of the next significant evolution in women’s health awareness, screening, practice, and policy, advancing global women’s vaginal and intimate health understanding, developing POP patient guidance and support structures, and bridge-building within patient advocacy, white coat, and white-collar sectors toward the advancement of women’s pelvic health and POP best practices.
Recognizing a need to shift the global view of the remaining stigmatized aspects of women’s health, Sherrie Palm takes steps to pioneer change. Cognizant of her audience’s diverse and sensitive needs, Sherrie delicately places all the cards on the table to disclose aspects of vaginal health and intimate wellness rarely effectively discussed. Sherrie’s capacity to respectfully and compassionately answer all questions posed during speaking engagements endears her to the audience.
Sherrie’s engagement in POP projects and protocol enables patient voice to be an integral part of women’s health and wellness evolution. Sherrie presented to the FDA Obstetrics and Gynecology Advisory Committee Panel transvaginal mesh complication meetings in 2011 and 2019, sat on the Pelvic Floor Disorders Stakeholder Advisory Committee from 2011-2013, and currently sits on the FDA Medical Device Epidemiology Network (MDEpiNET) committee. Additional information about APOPS, pelvic organ prolapse, or Ms. Palm’s book or speaking presentations is available on the APOPS website.
I wandered into my career path in my mid-fifties. I had my first real job at 15 and discovered that I was good at whatever job I had, but that if I did not like a job, I would move on down the road rather than hang around just for the money. I did all the right stuff as an employee, was dependable, on time, asked what I could do when I ran out of things to work on, the whole nine yards. Like so many, I had intentions of heading in a specific direction in college, but life didn’t quite roll out that way, and I dropped out before getting my degree.
I had always been comfortable with math and numbers. When offered a bookkeeping job which included training at a large well-known drug store, I snagged it, having already worked in their checkout, stocking, and pharmacy departments. I was comfortable with the shift. I spent many years in that position.
A move outside of the city engendered the next evolution of my career path. My sig other and I bought a commercially zoned property to follow his dream of owning a semi-truck body shop. My bookkeeping/store management skills were priceless to build and organize the bookkeeping system for our new business; it was a great base to expand from. I continued to work at this drug store while I handled the books for our new enterprise, meshing the two paths together as we continued to build our business strong. When I finally managed to get pregnant at 34 years after trying, I continued to juggle both jobs, not really having a plan on whether I would return to the drug store bookkeeping job after my child was born. I discovered juggling a baby and our business alone was more than a full-time job, and I gave notice at the drug store. I spent the next 24 years running the office of our shop, addressing accounts payable, accounts receivable, screening and hiring (and sometimes unfortunately firing) employees, running for parts, providing a shuttle to pick up and deliver customer vehicles, along with a multitude of other tasks that came with the turf. Then shortly before the recession of 2008, we had to make the difficult decision after being in business for 24 years to close our doors. There weren’t enough jobs coming in to sustain a crew of 5 shop employees and my assistant. As sad as it was to shut the business down, we knew we had no choice.
In the months that followed that emotional July through the end of the year, I put a lot of thought into the next steps regarding my employment. Wrapping up a business that generates nearly a million dollars gross sales annually creates many strings to tie up upon closing. About the same time, I started noticing a health symptom that was a bit unsettling and contacted a physician friend who suggested I come in for a pelvic exam. That exam led me to what my real career was meant to be.
Being diagnosed with pelvic organ prolapse (POP), a condition I had never heard of, was quite the roller coaster ride. Upon returning home from my pelvic exam that fateful day, I did what anyone else would do under similar circumstances, asked “Dr. Google” to fill in the blanks. What I discovered was both shocking and infuriating. POP impacts 50% of women and has been on medical record for nearly 4000 years, dating back to the Egyptian Kahun Gynecologic Papyrus, circa 1835 B.C.E. Despite thousands of years of medical documentation, POP continues to remain shrouded in stigmatized silence. While childbirth and menopause are the leading POP causes, many lifestyles, behavioral, and co-existing conditions compound the risk for all women mid-teens through the end of life. There are 5 types of POP, 4 grades of severity, and women can experience diverse embarrassing symptoms. I shifted from deer in the headlights to an infuriated woman in the blink of an eye. I could not believe I had never heard of this condition when it was incredibly common. Clearly, the stigma of embarrassing symptoms was shrouding POP in silence. I found that unacceptable.
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Before my POP diagnosis, aggressive multiple sclerosis (MS) had been detected when I was 30, and I was given a wheelchair-bound within a short time frame prognosis. Once I moved past an initial 3 months of depression, I did all the right stuff to optimize my health. I could not accept that I would end up in a wheelchair, having been active and fit the bulk of my life. I moved into the library to research MS aggressively. I stayed on top of my wellness checks, both pelvic and breast. I dug deep into alternative health resources and experimented plenty with supplements to optimize my strength and balance. I built a full-bodied 5 day a week exercise regimen to maintain, adjust, and build on to this day. I did all the right stuff, and it worked; I have been able to keep my MS under control for decades. I had every intention of walking the same walk to address POP.
Rather than depressed upon POP diagnosis, my anger at lack of awareness led me straight into where I was meant to be career-wise. I knew within 2 weeks of my diagnosis that POP advocacy was my destiny. Within 2 weeks of my diagnosis, I was laser-focused on shifting the POP status quo from a seldom talked about, highly stigmatized, common, cryptic, women’s health condition to a routinely screened for, de-stigmatized women’s health movement. The rest is history and continues to be.
The first step for me was writing a book to get information into the hands of women. Step 2 came about 15 months into marketing the first edition of Pelvic Organ Prolapse: The Silent Epidemic, 1st Edition (I’m currently working on my 4th prolapse book). The light bulb came on that if I wanted to help women truly, I should organize a federal 501(c)(3) nonprofit, so I wandered down that rabbit hole. Step 3 was building a global grid of patient, physician, research, academic, industry, and policy connections. Along the road, I had to learn so much related to things I had never given any thought to, much less knew anything about. Writing books, finding a publisher, building websites, building and navigating social media, writing articles, outreach to the medical community, attending medical conferences, public speaking to physicians, industry, researchers, and women was all new and, frankly, terrifying. But my path was and continues to be a labor of love. I never feel like what I do is work; I live, eat, breathe, sleep POP, and am deeply embedded in communications with patients and clinicians every day. Has it been easy? No. Do I love what I do? I am utterly, completely, compassionately, passionately consumed with the joy of my career every single day! I had never intended to become a patient advocate or activist, but I count my blessings every day to find a shoe that fits so comfortably. Always be open to chasing your dream regardless of when it first makes itself known in your daily flow. A career doing something you love is not work. It is a labor of love.
Here is a ready reference with links to the tools I have built to clarify what I have been and continue to do:
Also read How I Became an Advocacy Communications Strategist