HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Sheila Easterlin started her journey with breast cancer just five days before her birthday in September of 2015. She felt a lump and had it checked out by a doctor. They discovered it was a tumor. Her birthday was pre-planned at Painting with a Twist, so she decided to celebrate and take her mind off her diagnosis.
"When you're diagnosed with cancer, when you hear that 'C word,' that's all you hear," Easterlin said. "It takes time to process it."
On the day she was diagnosed, her friend Miranda prayed with her. On her birthday, Miranda gave Easterlin a journal. Each day she filled the pages with her good and bad days. Before the disease, Easterlin knew many friends with cancer, but none had talked about what to expect when you have cancer.
"Nobody really talked about it, so I did it on a daily basis," Easterlin said.
She started a closed Facebook paged called "Sheila's Journey with God and Breast Cancer." Over 900 supporters have followed her journey online. Easterlin shared the reality of her disease. She posted about chemo and losing her hair. Easterlin credits her supporters, family and God for getting her through this tough time.
In October 2016, Easterlin found out she was cancer free, but her journey with breast cancer didn't stop there.
"I'm doing everything I can to help others," Easterlin said. "I know I was appreciative of those for me and until I die, that's what I'm going to do."
While still battling cancer, Easterlin started a breast cancer support group at Merit Health Wesley. Twenty-four women come together every second Wednesday of the month to discuss chemo, hair loss and anything else going on in their lives. Two women with different types of cancer have also joined the group.
"One of my highlights is to be able to meet with them and have our lunch together," Easterlin said.
American Cancer Society also awarded her with the "Hero of Hope" title. Easterlin has spoke to multiple groups about her journey with cancer and faith. She said that although going through the disease was terrible, it gave her an important purpose to help others.
As a result of cancer, Easterlin suffers from nerve damage. Her grandson also suffers from the same type of pain, and now she feels she can better relate with him.
"I was able to talk to him and say 'I understand now,'" Easterlin said.
Last September, Easterlin celebrated her birthday again at Painting with a Twist but this time cancer-free. The cover of the journal her friend Miranda gave her is still the cover of her Facebook group and her journey to heal herself and others continues.