Sherry Pollex is battling cancer for a second time and she looks at it as a gift.
MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- It's September. In the NASCAR world, that means it's time for the playoffs, a 10-race dash to determine the champion after a grueling 10-month, 36-race grind.
In Sherry Pollex's world, it's a month she never knew would mean so much to her — it's Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month.
"When you're a cancer patient, and you stare your mortality in the face every day, you don't forget. You just don't," she said. "Even if you look healthy on the outside like I do, you don't forget you have this disease."
'When you're a cancer patient, you don't forget...Even if you look healthy on the outside.'
After winning her first bout with ovarian cancer, Pollex received some disappointing news.
Pollex was originally diagnosed with Stage IIIC ovarian cancer in 2014. She beat the disease, but in July of 2017, she found out she was part of the 85 percent of women that have a recurrence.
"I can't say I wasn't disappointed that I didn't beat the statistics, but I still believe that I can," Pollex said.
Pollex is the long-time girlfriend of NASCAR driver Martin Truex Jr., whose currently having the best on-track season of his career. Truex kickstarted the playoffs by scoring his fifth win of the year at Chicagoland Speedway, advancing his No. 78 team to the second round.
That victory, which was his second in a row at Chicagoland, came in a month that now carries a special meaning to him, too, as he stands by Pollex for her second battle with cancer. Sundays have quickly become a reminder for Pollex that she isn't fighting alone.
Competitors on the track, family away from it
During the drive for the championship, NASCAR teams are taking a rare opportunity to show that they're all on the same team.
This September marks the second annual "Drive for Teal and Gold" campaign for the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation. Twenty-nine NASCAR drivers, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, and Chase Elliott, are taking part by using special steering wheels or driving gloves that are either teal for ovarian cancer, or gold for pediatric cancer, which are the two primary causes supported by the foundation.
"To walk up and down pit road, and to see all those wheels, it's hard not to cry," said Pollex, describing the what she sees in the anxious moments before the race.
In the midst of a playoff battle where drivers are putting it all on the line, it's a rare opportunity for the NASCAR family to all be on the same team.
"It's so surreal. After the drivers meeting and just looking around me and seeing all these guys come together for someone else's cause and someone else's fight, it makes me realize what a huge family NASCAR is, and when someone else gets sick it’s everyone’s battle they’re fighting together," Pollex said.
Sunday's race at New Hampshire will be the final race the drivers use those steering wheels before they're auctioned off for charity. And after visiting victory lane at Chicagoland, there's no doubt that Truex's will be a hot commodity.
For Truex, the meaning behind winning with that wheel — in September, with Pollex by his side — wasn't lost on him.
"I'm a lot better driver these days because of her and what she's been through and what she taught me. We've learned a lot about life together and we continue to face every challenge head-on, not scared and we get after it," Truex told NBC Sports in victory lane after his win Sunday.
"He doesn’t talk a lot about his feelings, so to say it on national TV in front of everybody was...I was trying really hard not to cry," Pollex explained. "For one, because I didn’t want to do the ugly cry on TV. But to think I could be an inspiration to him, to be a better athlete, to fight for what he thinks is his is just really neat."
'We continue to face every challenge head-on'
From celebrating in the hospital to honoring courageous kids battling a deadly disease, Pollex and Truex strive to inspire each other.
In May, the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation hosted its eighth annual "Catwalk for a Cause" in Statesville. The star-studded event featured appearances from several NASCAR drivers and a special performance by Florida Georgia Line that paid tribute to the real heroes in attendance: the children battling cancer.
Some of NASCAR's biggest names were here in charlotte to walk the Catwalk for a Cause.
As part of the special event, the kids take to the red carpet to show off fashion and to raise money for charity.
"That's what's really so special about this event. The kids are a part of it," Truex said. "They're the show. They're the stars of the show, and the people can see the difference they make in the lives they're affecting."
When Truex won the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway in July, viewers at home noticed someone was missing from the celebration.
Pollex, who's always by Truex's side, was not in the Bluegrass State to help him celebrate his third win of the season. Instead, she tweeted her congratulations from a hospital bed, where she was recovering from surgery.
"Family selfie from my hospital room!!! Whaoo!!! GO MTJ!! #NeverGiveUp," Pollex wrote.
After hundreds of retweets, Pollex posted again, thanking everyone for their well wishes and support, promising to return soon.
"I got to say hi to Sherry back home," Truex said in victory lane. "She didn't make it this weekend, so, 'I love you, babe.'"
They’re a team that wins together and fights together.
"In moments where I’d say I don’t know how I'm going to do this, he’d say, 'because you’re going to be the one that beats this. Because you can do it,'" Pollex said.
She's proving that she can do it again. Despite having treatments scheduled for the next four months, Pollex believes there's a blessing hidden beneath her difficult diagnosis.
"It's like the one thing cancer gives you. You get to wake up every day and truly live like you're dying. And I don’t think there’s many people that get the opportunity to do that," Pollex said.
If you'd like to learn more about Sherry's experience, you can read her blog by clicking here.