ALTONA - When Barbara Nephew learned she was recipient of the 2009 Elizabeth Heins Inspirational Survivorship Award, she was in total shock.
The 68-year-old cancer survivor and Plattsburgh resident was among a room full of people attending the 11th annual Treasure Chests Rainbow of Ribbons Soiree May 21 at the Rainbow Wedding and Banquet Hall when she was called up to accept the award.
"I was thinking, 'Oh my God. I guess this means I have to go on stage,'" said Nephew, laughing. "I was wondering what I was going to say and, of course, when you do that, you draw a blank."
The award annually recognizes a breast cancer survivor who has exhibited the same characteristics as Elizabeth Heins, who was diagnosed with breast cancer, among other medical issues, in the mid-1980s. Nephew was nominated by her peers for her commitment to cancer awareness groups and other efforts since she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003.
Nephew's cancer was classified as inflammatory breast cancer, which is a more aggressive and rare form of breast cancer, she explained. In Nephew's case, there was no lump in her breast to tip her off to the cancer within her. Though her cancer was treated with chemotherapy and radiation and she underwent a mastectomy, cancer reoccurred in her clavicle region a few years later. She went through further treatment and is doing well today.
What's kept Nephew going since her life was first affected by cancer has been focusing on others, she said, just as the late Elizabeth Heins was known for. Nephew began teaching religion at her church, and, being a retired elementary school teacher, she found great joy in substitute teaching as a way to occupy her time.
"I purposely kept myself busy thinking about other people," she said.
Nephew also became active in the Treasure Chests breast cancer support group through CVPH Medical Center, and began working on committees for cancer awareness events such as the annual Susan G. Komen Foundation Race for the Cure held in Albany and the annual Relay for Life walk held in Plattsburgh.