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Sherry Pollex, NASCAR's Martin Truex Jr. help ensure fight against cancer endures

Reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr., right, and longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex, who twice survived ovarian cancer, announced at their annual Catwalk for a Cause a $1.2 million donation to Novant Health to build new facilities. The couple are seen at the 2017 event.
Reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr., right, and longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex, who twice survived ovarian cancer, announced at their annual Catwalk for a Cause a $1.2 million donation to Novant Health to build new facilities. The couple are seen at the 2017 event. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

For all the pomp and circumstance at Statesville Regional Airport on Wednesday night — the flowing ballgowns, the multicolored lights flung to every corner of the converted hangar, the ice sculptures, the catwalk and even the fervent live auction — none of it could touch the allure of Martin Truex Jr. and Sherry Pollex.

And shouldn't it be that way? After all, Pollex is the one who survived Stage 3 ovarian cancer (twice) and created a foundation to try to extinguish the disease. Truex, the reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion, was by his girlfriend's side the entire time. And Wednesday, they took a massive step toward ensuring as few people as possible have to endure what they did.

Yes, technically Wednesday's Catwalk for a Cause in a converted airplane hangar was to raise money toward fighting ovarian and pediatric cancer as well as helping already-afflicted children. That in itself would have been worth commemorating.

Instead, Truex and Pollex announced a $1.2 million donation to Novant Health — where Pollex received treatment — to establish the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation Children’s Emergency Department in Huntersville, as well as the SherryStrong Integrative Medicine Oncology Clinic in Charlotte.

"I can't believe it," Pollex said. "I can't believe my name is going to be on a cancer clinic. It's just so cool to be a part of that and to know that I can teach other cancer patients all the integrative therapies that I used while I was going through my treatment, because they helped me tremendously."

And what does it mean to Truex, who has seen firsthand what it's like for a loved one to battle cancer?

"I get chills when I think about it," he said. "It's hard to explain. ... To be able to help the community right here in North Carolina, where we live and can see the impact it's going to have?

"For both of us, these are the things that really matter."

Wednesday night could not have made that message more clear. This is the ninth year Truex's foundation has helped put on Catwalk for a Cause, and in that time, it has grown exponentially. Heck, they filled two airplane hangars with donors this year. Pollex has survived her cancer more than once in that time (although she happily admits to feeling better in remission now). Considering the meager start in Year One — Pollex estimated there were about 50 people at the inaugural event — it's a testament to them that it has grown so large so quickly.

But if Pollex and Truex were reading this, they likely would not appreciate that the focus was on them, not on the message or the children they were helping.

So now let's discuss those kids, the ones who braved cancer and stage fright to strut down the catwalk Wednesday. It was a parade of hope and of inspiration. Truex and Pollex led the way, followed by a line of NASCAR drivers, all of them trailing behind their own patients.

Perhaps that's the wrong word for this occasion. Heroes, then, same as the foundation referred to them. They put up with Kyle Busch's awkward dance moves, Ryan Newman's broken sprinkler and even Bubba Wallace's fake drum routine. They endured it all with smiles, with class — who would expect anything else? — and with fun.

This was supposed to be their night. And for 45 minutes, as they swiveled and twirled and fake-kissed their way down the catwalk, it was. As it should have been.

As the night's festivities drew to a close, though, it was Truex and Pollex back on stage to announce their massive donation to Novant. And even in front of hundreds of people, dressed to the nines, Truex couldn't help but get emotional when he looked to his left, at his girlfriend.

"You saved Sherry's life," Truex said of Novant.

Now their hope is that these new facilities will do the same for someone else.

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