Strong. Determined. Loving. Mom. Grandma. Survivor. Sharon Baker is a woman of many strengths.
Baker, a breast cancer survivor, has turned a negative time in her life into a positive for others by being an American Cancer Society volunteer in the area.
When her family moved outside of Doe Run in 2000, Baker missed a routine mammogram.
“I knew I should have gone,” she said. “My husband kept reminding me, and I kept putting it off.”
Baker said she never got sick and was healthy. Nothing bad ever happened to her, she thought, so it could wait.
After one mammogram, a second followed, then a biopsy. Baker could see a small dot on the screen and she said she knew in her heart something was wrong.
Her family doctor told her it would be a few days before the tests came back.
“My daughter was 14. She went with me and waited in the waiting room,” Baker said.
When she left the doctor’s office, the wait was over.
“I looked at my daughter, and said ‘I have cancer’,” Baker said.
“Her eyes got real big, and I told her, I’m okay, I’ll beat this.”
With three daughters and a husband to think about, that was the only option — to beat it.
“My daughters needed me. Giving up wasn’t an option.”
Fifteen lymph nodes were removed and three were positive.
Baker went through weeks of chemotherapy in Bonne Terre. Her husband, Frank, was able to take off work to attend the sessions, but had to return shortly after.
Tiffany, Sharon’s youngest daughter, was by her mom’s side through the process.
“She would bring me drinks and the last thing I wanted to do was drink or eat,” she said. “But I did, to please her.”
Tiffany decided then that she wanted to become a nurse. Now, nine years later, Tiffany is an LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse).
Eventually Baker had to have a complete mastectomy, which means she had both her breasts surgically removed.
“I lost all of my hair around that first Christmas,” she said. “It was Dec. 15 and the girls wanted to put up the Christmas tree.”
She said she went into the bathroom and put on a long blonde wig before they decorated. “They loved it,” she said of her family’s reaction.
About two months into her recovery, an American Cancer Society volunteer, Pam Rector, came to Baker’s house to see how she was.
“I knew right then, that was what I wanted to do,” Baker said as she described the ways Rector was able to help her.
“She gave me advice and resources,” she said.
It took some time for Baker fully recover, but when she did, she became a volunteer.
“First we worked across the street from Mineral Area Hospital,” she said.
Now she is at the Farmington USA Drug store, every Monday.
“I go to every training I can attend,” she said. “I want to know everything there is to know about helping cancer victims.”
She even has a license that states she is an American Cancer Society volunteer.
Although Baker’s job is to help with resources, bras, wigs and other cancer related materials, she goes above and beyond what is expected of her.
“I host cancer support meetings once a month,” she said.
The meetings are open to all types of cancer survivors and are the second Tuesday of each month from 1-3 p.m., at Mineral Area Regional Medical Center basement.
The meetings have guest speakers, gifts and lots of helpful information.
“I realize what types of cancer there are out there and I know how to help,” she said.
Baker said there are many cancer patients who must choose between their medication and food.
She looks down, “That isn’t right. I don’t give up until I help them,” she said. “I find a way.”
She has helped many people through the years.
“Once a woman came in with her daughter. She had throat cancer and needed a voice box but couldn’t afford it,” she said. “She was crying, so I hugged her and told her we’d find a way.”
Two weeks later, that same voiceless woman came to the support group and motioned for Baker to come to her. She moved her lips to tell Baker she was getting a voice box.
Unsure if Baker understood, the woman wrote it down.
“I yelled ‘woo-hoo’,” Baker smiled.
“I fight like a tiger for my patients,” she said. “They need me.”
Another patient of hers was a 52-year-old man whose parents just died. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and his uncle was taking him to St. Louis every day. They were spending up to $60 a night on hotel expenses and couldn’t do it any more.
“I called the Hope Lodge and they didn’t have any available rooms,” she explained. “I told them to find one, and sent the man up there with a note,” she said.
When he arrived, there wasn’t only a room waiting for him and his uncle, but they told him to keep his key, because they knew he’d be back the next night.
Hope Lodge is one of the many resources funded by the money raised by Relay For Life teams.
There are several American Cancer Society Hope Lodges throughout the country and are free of charge for patients and caregivers actively undergoing cancer treatment on an outpatient basis. There are Hope Lodges in Kansas City, Mo. and St. Louis.
Baker encourages all women to check themselves for breast cancer regularly. She wants all women to attend a Well Woman Clinic and have annual mammograms after age 40.
For more information on how to receive help from the American Cancer Society or Sharon Baker, call 1-800-ASC-1234 or visit www.cancer.org.
Jessica Crepps is a staff writer for the Daily Journal. You may reach her at 573-431-2010 ext. 143 or firstname.lastname@example.org