When Sharon Heller was diagnosed with breast cancer, she decided to handle the situation the only way she knew how – to be positive and hopeful.
The Westchase resident was diagnosed 10 years ago with cancer. She discovered a lump in her breast after performing a self-examination.
“I was lucky it was really in the early stages,” said Heller, 70.
Heller attributes the monthly self-examinations she started doing at a young age for her finding the lump early on. And although she found it in the early stages, she still had to get the lump removed and then undergo radiation and chemotherapy.
She said all the treatments lasted a year.
“I didn’t let it break me down,” said Heller. “I knew God was there.”
Heller, mother of four grown daughters, lives with her husband of 47 years, Joe.
Now 10 years after winning her battle with cancer, Heller tries to stay active and spread the word of what she went through.
As of last year, Heller began participating in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life as the survivor chairwoman.
“I contact as many survivors as possible,” explained Heller. It means a lot for survivors to communicate with other survivors, she explained.
Heller said the term cancer intimidates many people but “we have more and more survivors everyday.”
Many people have the concept that it can’t happen to them, she added.
“It’s doable and you can get yourself through it,” said Heller.
When facing such a difficult situation like cancer, Heller recommends people find a support group. Whether it is friends, family or other survivors from network groups, she encourages others to find help and not go through it alone.
“I hope women listen and know there are options and ways to handle cancer,” said Heller.
To keep herself active, Heller participates with Wellspring United Methodist Church, supporting the youth group. She is also a member of the Westchase Senior Group.
Throughout her life, Heller was a teacher at the University of Iowa Hospital School for the Severely Handicapped. She also served two terms on a school board and she
helped open a school for mentally and physically handicapped students.
“She is an amazing and inspiring woman,” said Marie Monsky, Relay for Life team development chair. At every committee and team meeting, Sharon shows her enthusiasm for the cause.”
Presently, Heller is on her quest of finding as many survivors in the area as possible to attend the relay. During the event, survivors can enjoy a spaghetti dinner, a survivor’s lap which kicks off the relay, and the luminary to honor those who have died to cancer.
“Survivors should come because we can see how well the survivor network is,” said Heller. “There are so many strides being made. People can see there is hope.”
So far, she has about 35 survivors signed up to attend this year’s relay at Tampa Bay Downs, 11225 Race Track Road, on May 18-19. The relay begins at 6 p.m. and continues until 10 a.m.
“She loves to tell her story and I never get bored listening to it,” said Monsky. “It actually brings tears to my eyes knowing what a great lady she is and how brave she was to put up a big and successful fight against breast cancer. Anyone going through not just breast cancer treatment, but any cancer should have the attitude Sharon had and has.”
“I am no different,” said Heller. “Just an average person.”