Sherry B. Williams never has a bad day. “I have good days and not-so-good days,” she explains. “You know how some people say you have bad days? Well, you only have bad days when you don’t wake up.”
Williams, an independent senior sales director for Mary Kay Cosmetics in Phoenix, is one of thousands of black women and a small percentage of black men who will battle breast cancer every year. However, despite being diagnosed with the disease not once, not twice, but three times since 1999, she maintains both a positive outlook and her reputation as an exceptional entrepreneur and sales performer for Mary Kay.
Williams was introduced to Mary Kay by a fellow member of the National Black M.B.A. Association in 1995. “Then, I did not know that people could work full-time and make money selling lipstick,” she recalls. “My first full year as a sales director in Mary Kay in 1997, I made $80,000.”
Before joining Mary Kay, Williams was a branch sales manager for a regional bank in the Chicago area. She says that after winning her first car she quit her job at the bank because it was stressing her out. Williams has been with Mary Kay for six years and has been a director for five. She says, “My job is to help women become successful entrepreneurs.”
Williams, who now lives in Phoenix, does her job well: She has earned five cars — two Grand Prixs, two Grand AMs, and the coveted pink Cadillac — as well as 12 karats in diamond jewelry. Sales directors can make anywhere between $30,000 and $200,000 or more per year. “I wasn’t trying to win [awards initially],” says Williams, “I was just trying to replace my corporate income.”
Williams says that the first time she was diagnosed with breast cancer in March of 1999, she underwent chemo and radiation therapy on her right side. “The [doctors] told me I was so healthy that I could do chemotherapy and radiation at the same time. I said, ‘Well if I am that healthy then why do I have breast cancer?’”
In December of 1999, Williams was diagnosed with breast cancer a second time. “After the biopsy,” Williams recalls, “[my surgeon] said, ‘I don’t have good news for you.’ She said that they would have to remove both breasts followed by reconstructive surgery. I had been strong, but I really broke down. I tried to call my family and closest friends and no one was home. Finally both of my girlfriends called me back and calmed me down.”
After her second diagnosis, Williams spoke to an audience of 200 people at a Mary Kay directors’ meeting in Elmhurst, Illinois, about breast cancer. She told them not to feel sorry for her and that God was watching over her. While she was out of the room, the directors secretly collected $2,000 for her. One of those women, Judi Tapella, told Williams that the directors would take care of her sales unit, do her newsletters, and come by her house and