Sheila Blankenship, center, is congratulated by LuAnn Edwards, American Cancer Society High Plains Division missions staff lead, left, and Thelma Suson, Global Relay For Life Hero of Hope volunteer lead, right, after the two Texans surprised her July 18 at the Relay For Life of Texas County, Okla., to present her Global Relay For Life Hero of Hope plaque. Courtesy photo
• Special to the Leader & Times
Sheila Blankenship of Hooker, Okla., was honored July 18 as a 2014 Global Relay For Life Hero of Hope at the American Cancer Society Relay For Life of Texas County, Okla.
The plaque presentation by Thelma Suson, Global Heroes of Hope lead volunteer, was a total surprise for Blankenship who was also thrilled to welcome LuAnn Edwards, Director of Mission Initiatives for the High Plains Division, American Cancer Society, Inc., to the local Relay. Blankenship had not seen these dear friends for too long and greatly appreciated them traveling from Dallas and Austin, Texas to Guymon, Okla.
The 19-year survivor of Hodgkin’s lymphoma was notified last December that she had been selected for the recognition after being nominated by the High Plains Division Relay For Life survivorship workgroup. She is also a 2007 Relay For Life Hero of Hope for the High Plains Division of the American Cancer Society.
“The division’s Hero of Hope program opened new vistas to me as a cancer survivor and caregiver by preparing me to help promote American Cancer Society research, services, education and advocacy programs,” Blankenship said. “And this added honor of Global Hero of Hope widens my horizons even more as a spokesperson while humbling me in a field of exceptional individual cancer fighters. We’re all in this together but it’s up to each one of us to help end the threat of cancer.”
A highly visible symbol of a personal victory over cancer, Global Relay For Life Heroes of Hope and their stories encourage support of and participation in the programs of each global cancer organization.
The current class of Global Heroes of Hope includes 32 extraordinary cancer survivors who represent courageous voices of hope. In telling their stories, they encourage others to support their cancer organization and get involved in Relay For Life events.
As ambassadors of their countries’ cancer organizations, Blankenship and other Global Heroes of Hope work to inspire all survivors and expand survivorship worldwide.
Blankenship represents the American Cancer Society along with Cherilyn Pollard of Cooke County, Texas and Patty Stewart of Gonzales County, Texas. Other 2014 GHOH members represent cancer organizations from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Japan, Portugal, Malaysia, Denmark, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Guatemala and the Netherlands.
Blankenship is eager to talk about the services of the American Cancer Society and the opportunities to help finish the fight with members of area civic groups, church groups, relayers and businesses. She can be reached at 580-522-1076 or
Blankenship’s profile from the 2013-2014 Global Heroes of Hope booklet tells her cancer story and is reprinted here.
Blankenship clearly remembers Feb. 14, 1996, as the day her personal fight for life against Hodgkin’s disease became a fight for all lives threatened by all cancers. It was the day of her son’s third-grade Valentine’s Day party, and she was in her third month of chemotherapy.
As Blankenship watched the 21 kids exchanging candy and cards, she thought of a cold, hard statistic from the American Cancer Society: One in three Americans will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.
She realized this number really meant seven of those happy, laughing third-graders would one day face their own battle against the disease and she couldn’t bear to let that happen.
Blankenship felt driven to do something to change those awful odds but didn’t know what one 37-year-old single mother in a tiny town could possibly do to save others from cancer, when she did not even believe she would be able to save herself.
The answer to her prayers arrived within a few weeks with news of the first Relay For Life of Texas County and once Blankenship walked that first Survivors Lap, she knew she had the perfect weapon for this huge battle. “It just was not in me to sit back and let others hear those three words, ‘You have cancer,’” Blankenship said. “So I went to Relay For Life and have discovered the power to stop those three terrible words is in three amazing words: ‘I am Hope.’”
Blankenship continued her personal fight as she took on all cancers as a Relay participant. She went into remission and captained her own Relay For Life team and then joined the event committee. The Relay For Life movement became a constant passion, even when Blankenship’s cancer recurred in 2001.
This time, well-armed for the fight, she used her position as publisher of a local newspaper to share hope in weekly articles chronicling her journey through a self-donated bone marrow transplant.
She feels blessed and humbled to have been a face of hope and survivorship all these years. “At my first diagnosis, the American Cancer Society provided what I knew I had to have – information and support; and then Relay For Life gave me what I didn’t even know I was missing – hope and the power of one,” Blankenship said. “So at my second diagnosis, I was willing and able to share those gifts with others at every opportunity. I’m thankful to still be sharing those gifts because that’s the only way I know to save my son and his 20 classmates... that’s the only way I know to finally stop cancer for good so we can all celebrate more birthdays.”