Breast Cancer Awareness Month is personal for Sharon Wallace

OKEECHOBEE — Do you have that one date, where life changed? Where time stood still? For local resident and breast cancer survivor, Sharon Wallace’s date is Aug. 8, 2012. Mrs. Wallace said that after her diagnosis she knew she “was going to fight and win” against the awful disease called breast cancer.

Mrs. Wallace always knew she was “at-risk,” noting her mother and sister were previously diagnosed with breast cancer. While she said that this was a challenging process, for which she was unprepared, she is certain that early detection and a mammogram saved her life.

Sharon Wallace

Sharon Wallace

Mrs. Wallace did not have a lump, which is one of the early signs of breast cancer. Rather it was during a routine mammogram that the cancer was detected.

“I know mammograms are not comfortable, but get one or get an ultrasound,” she said, as it might save your life. Mrs. Wallace feels compelled to do anything she can to “get the word out to men and women to get their annual screening.” While men are not always seen to be at-risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer, men do get the disease, Mrs. Wallace said.

Over 200,000 people across the nation are diagnosed with breast cancer annually. Another cautionary note from Mrs. Wallace, is that if you know you are at risk for cancer of any type, do your research now, ask questions, because at the time of diagnosis it is a time of fear and confusion, and the process is quite overwhelming. She also encourages the newly diagnosed to continue to ask questions throughout their journey through cancer.

During her own fight with cancer, Mrs. Wallace met another local resident, Jaimie Hans, who was newly diagnosed and the two later joined forces to bring awareness to Okeechobee. Mrs. Wallace pointed out that she was fortunate to have great insurance coverage, and a wonderfully supportive husband. While Mrs. Hans had great family support, she was between insurance policies, which made treatment options a bit more challenging in the beginning for her. For other local residents, lack of insurance coverage and family support is sometimes an issue.

Once Mrs. Wallace recovered from multiple surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, she knew something had to be done in our community to make this experience for other women and men less burdensome. She rallied local officials to approve the painting of local fire hydrants. Not only does Okeechobee have pink hydrants, but now the city of Sebring also has pink hydrants, due to her efforts.

Mrs. Wallace has also been named an Ambassador of The Pink Army which is a campaign to raise awareness about early detection and prevention of breast cancer. This is all part of a statewide initiative by Florida Hospital, which encourages women over 40 to get their mammogram. In addition to awareness, the campaign specifically raises funds to provide women in need of a mammogram. You can find out more about The Pink Army at: www.jointhepinkarmy.com.

Mrs. Wallace and Mrs. Hans have continued to spread the message about breast cancer and the importance of early detection. Last year with nearly $7,000 in seed money received from Gilbert Chevrolet and Gilbert Ford’s Buy One Save Two Initiative during Breast Cancer Awareness month, For Okeechobee, Inc. was able to begin providing needed mammograms for men and women in our area.

This year, the Gilbert Family of Companies has activities planned during the month to promote breast cancer prevention and screening. They also plan to donate a portion of the sales from each vehicle sold at either Gilbert Chevrolet or Gilbert Ford during the month of October to For Okeechobee, Inc. to continue providing much needed mammograms to people in our community.

Area residents are still able to memorialize or sponsor a hydrant, to raise funds for the provision of mammograms to local women who could not otherwise afford one. Also look for the Ribbon Run which will be held Feb. 13, 2016, at the Okeechobee County Agri-Civic Center. This run is dedicated to raising awareness and funding, but is not specific to breast cancer and it is hosted by For Okeechobee, Inc. which is the nonprofit that organizes and hosts the Adam Bryant Minimal Regatta. Mrs. Wallace is quick to point out that For Okeechobee, Inc. also provides scholarships in memory of Adam, for students wishing to pursue a career as a firefighter or EMT.

If you would like to make a donation to fund mammograms for women in need, you are able to send a check (write “mammogram” in the memo section) and make it payable to: For Okeechobee, Inc., P.O. Box 9, Okeechobee, FL 34973.

Raulerson’s Absolutely Art Gallery will host a Pink Painting Night in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month on Friday, Oct. 16, at 6:30 p.m. The cost is $30 per canvas, with a portion of the proceeds to be donated to fund mammograms for women in need. For more information about this event, you can stop by Raulerson’s at 401 S.W. Park St. or call 863-357-1199.

Mrs. Wallace notes that when her diagnosis came at age 51, she spent many hours in treatment among many younger women who lost their lives to breast cancer. She has found breast cancer to “be a blessing from God to help others get through it, fight it and fight it aggressively” like she did and be victorious. Mrs. Wallace notes that she is one of the lucky ones, whose life was spared to see the birth of her first grandchild and says about her breast cancer advocacy for women and men, “Thank God I have a voice.” To which the community collectively says, job well done!

To find out more about Breast Cancer Awareness Month, visit:  http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-awareness-month.

Leah Suarez is a freelance writer.

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