By Charity L. Cohen
Special to The Alamance News
At 33, Anita Sherer couldn’t understand the bizarre things that kept happening to her.
Sherer hardly ever bumped into things or missed seeing objects directly in front of her. But she found herself experiencing this quite often. She didn’t know why items on the floor disappeared when she looked at them. Nor did she understand how she had gotten into three fender-benders despite never having previously had a car accident.
The answer to these questions soon came, but even the answer provided little clarity.
After a visit to her eye doctor and two exams by specialists, Sherer was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP).
The rare, inherited degenerative eye disease affects the retina and causes severe vision impairment, often total blindness. Currently, no cure exists for RP.
Sherer was told she was legally blind and would never drive again. She’d have to go into early retirement, leaving behind a career she’d loved as a cardiology nurse. Thus began the cycle of grief, as well as the loss of her independence.
“I thought everything was over,” Sherer said. “My whole life was over; my career was over. How was I going to take care of my little boy – just all those tail-spinning kind of questions.”
At the time, her son Jonathan was just two years old. He inspired her not to give up.
“I think if I hadn’t had him, I don’t know how I would’ve handled it all because I was so discouraged,” Sherer recalled in a recent interview with The Alamance News. “And yet here was this cute little boy and he needed his mother.”
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Eventually, light began to shine through once more and she was able to find “hope beyond hurt and life beyond loss.” Sherer found new passions through project management, consulting, and teaching jobs.
“I had two more jobs that were both perfectly matched to my skill set and visual abilities, as things went on, and I worked 21 more years,” Sherer recalled in the interview.
Throughout her journey, Sherer journaled her experience and learned to adapt to her new realities. Even without the aid of eyesight, she found new ways to apply makeup, adjusted to walking with a white cane, and learned to accept asking for help when she needed it.
In 2022, Sherer published a memoir, Rough Places Smooth: Moments In A Journey Through Blindness. Her memoir includes pieces from her journal, stories, and her message of faith and perseverance. Her book is available on Amazon and on Kindle for those who require accessibility features.
[Story continues below photo of Sherer with her book.]
“Chronic disease doesn’t have to be a crippling thing, you can live beyond it and the line from the book is that you can find hope beyond hurt and life beyond loss,” Sherer insisted. “That’s my message: it’s possible to find that and the faith, the hope, the love, that’s what helped me find that.”
Over time, Sherer grew to appreciate the catharsis of writing a memoir – and the esprit de corps she found with the Burlington Writers Club, some of whose members helped her edit and publish her book.
That village of friends, neighbors and family members helped guide her through a once-seemingly bleak journey, be it through driving her to work and church, to helping her organize her closet to make it easier for her to get dressed, Sherer recalled.
“I’ve had such incredible support from my family, from my husband, from my friends, my parents, his parents,” she said. “I’ve learned over the years that we help each other in different ways and meant something to them to be able to help me, and vice-versa.”
Sherer continues to participate in the Burlington Writers Club, in addition to gardening and traveling with her husband and son. Her vision is limited, but she can still see things using her peripheral vision.
“It’s not normal vision,” Sherer said, “but I can see enough to tell me how beautiful things are.”