Saltwater Portrait

Cheryl Blackman upbeat as she fights breast cancer

Rehoboth icon plans to be in costume for July Fourth
May 5, 2011

For years, Cheryl Blackman has been a mainstay in Rehoboth Beach.

Although she's only 4-foot-6, Blackman is hard to miss at her job at Grotto Pizza or on the Boardwalk selling raffle tickets for her favorite causes. With her infectious smile and colorful holiday outfits, Blackman is a popular fixture in Rehoboth Beach.

The Rehoboth community now has an opportunity to pay Blackman back as she tackles the fight of her life: breast cancer.

Nearly 300 cards and letters have poured into Blackman’s mailbox, from friends and businesses in Rehoboth and from her friends in New Smyrna, Fla., where Blackman and her mother, Shirley Bennett, spend the winters.

“I feel great,” Blackman said.

She is in the early stages of her recovery, undergoing chemotherapy and other treatments. Blackman was diagnosed with breast cancer just before she and her mother were set to go to Florida Dec. 31. Doctors found Blackman had a 4-centimeter lump, and 19 of her 21 lymph nodes were malignant. Blackman had to undergo a mastectomy and will have to have radiation treatments and shots to help rejuvenate her white blood cells, among other treatments, for the next several months.

“We have a long way to go,” Bennett said. “She’s really tough.”

Blackman initially didn’t tell her mother about the lump. She said she knew about it last summer, but didn’t want to miss work or miss raising funds for Kinfolk, which helps kids in need. Blackman said towards the end of the year, she started to feel extreme discomfort, and that’s when she told her mom about the lump.

Despite here surgery, Blackman is as upbeat as ever, even when undergoing treatments at Tunnell Cancer Center.

“I make everybody happy at the Tunnell Center, too. They’re all down like this, but I make them all happy. I get dressed up in all my different costumes,” she said. “They’re super nice there.”

Blackman said she really hasn’t had too many down days since her diagnosis, although there have been times when the pain has been overwhelming.

“One day I was really sick. I didn’t get out of bed at all. I was like, ‘Ugh.’” Although in typical Cheryl Blackman style, she wasn’t down for long.

“Then the next day I got out, I went all over town and all over the place. And people were like, ‘You got your hair!’ I said, ‘I didn’t lose it yet. I will, but I haven’t lost it yet,’” she said.

Blackman stays positive even about the prospect of losing her hair during chemo and radiation treatments.

“No, it will feel good. Nothing there, I can get a suntan,” she said.

Of course, Blackman is looking forward to being at Grotto and dressing up for Fourth of July this summer. Bennett said she doesn’t know what to expect with this next round of treatments, but Blackman is pretty adamant about being there.

Blackman’s attitude of enjoying whatever life brings held true even when she had to schedule her mastectomy. Her mother tells the story of how Blackman, a good shuffleboard player, scheduled her mastectomy around a shuffleboard tournament.

“We see the doctor, she says, ‘Well, I can operate either Monday or Thursday.’ Well, Wednesday is the tournament. Mastectomy, shuffleboard tournament, she really had to weigh this. Of course you know what won,” Bennett said.

“Shuffleboard!” Blackman chimes in immediately.

Blackman has spent much of her life making people smile, whether it’s her work with Grotto and Kinfolk, her work as an actress and stunt double – she used her roller-skating talents as a double for Miss Piggy in the 1984 film “The Muppets Take Manhattan,” and has also appeared in the films “Her Alibi” and “Avalon” – or dressing up for the holidays. She said she is taking life day-to-day and not dwelling on her condition.

Blackman and her mother said they wanted to thank the community for all the cards, letters and flowers.

“It’s really, really nice. I love it. And I love everybody, they all know that,” Blackman said.

“The community has been really so wonderful to her. We’d like to say thank you,” Bennett said.


  • The Cape Gazette staff has been doing Saltwater Portraits weekly (mostly) for more than 20 years. Reporters, on a rotating basis, prepare written and photographic portraits of a wide variety of characters peopling Delaware's Cape Region. Saltwater Portraits typically appear in the Cape Gazette's Tuesday edition as the lead story in the Cape Life section.

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