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Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016

Battle against cancer is family affair

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Five-year-old Rebecca Heppe hugs her mother and cancer survivor Julie Heppe.
SIKESTON -- Rebecca Heppe may not know everything about the American Cancer Society, but she knows this: it's helping her mommy.

And for that reason alone, the 5-year-old from Sikeston is raising money for the organization's annual Relay For Life event in Scott County.

"We sent out letters with her picture, and the community response has been good," said Rebecca's mother, Julie Heppe. "She's excited about it."

Rebecca is hoping to raise $5,000 for the June 3-4 event in Sikeston, and has already raised $1,500.

"Some of the letters people sent with their donations have had smiley faces on them -- and she likes that," said Heppe about her daughter.

Rebecca even plans to walk in the local event with her friends, Morgan and Georgia Poindexter, whose daddy, Heath Poindexter of Sikeston, also has cancer, Heppe said.

"To her, I'm just like everyone else. She doesn't understand everything about my cancer," Heppe said about her daughter.

Twelve years ago Heppe was first diagnosed with breast cancer.

"I was only 25 at the time and underwent surgery and radiation. I faced the fears that all cancer patients do -- the ones you could never understand until you face them yourself," Heppe recalled.

Even so, Heppe never really felt like a cancer patient at the time, she said and overcame her cancer.

Four years later, the cancer returned in the same place. There were no more surgeries and this time chemotherapy was Heppe's treatment.

Heppe admitted she became very ill with the treatments, but still felt lucky because the disease hadn't spread through her body.

"My biggest concern was that the chemo treatments would ruin my chances of having a child, but one year after treatments, I was blessed with a 10-

pound, 12 ounce baby girl. She was literally a huge gift straight from God," Heppe said.

But two years later, the cancer was back. Heppe had more surgeries and radiation treatments, and since her cancer didn't spread to any organs she considered herself among the fortunate ones, she said.

Heppe was five years cancer-free -- and another bomb dropped. The cancer was now in her left lung. Numerous tumors -- 2 centimeters and less -- are picked up on routine scans.

This time around, Heppe is taking, tamoxifen, a hormonal, noninvasive treatment taken in the form of a pill. It's keeping Heppe's tumors under control. Tamoxifen is a spinoff of another cancer medicine, aromasin.

"Over years, the American Cancer Society did research that lead to my medicine that has been helpful to me and other women," said Heppe, who was quick to point out all cancers are different and the medicine doesn't work for everyone.

Ironically, Heppe said she doesn't "feel" like she has cancer and the treatments she's been receiving are the easiest she's had to endure -- even though she's in the final stage of cancer.

"I think it's important to realize they (ACS/Relay For Life) does more than help locally. It's a worldwide effort to really try to research to find a cure for cancer," Heppe said.

The American Cancer Society's Relay For Life funds go to research education, advocacy efforts and patient services, in addition to nutritional supplements, wigs, turbans and various programs, according to Julie Aycock, community specialist and income development officer for the Scott County Relay For Life.

Aycock said she thinks it's wonderful what Rebecca and other children are doing to help the American Cancer Society.

"If we get the youth involved, the more educated they are," Aycock said. "And they can take the early detection steps and prevention steps and be more educated about cancer."

Heppe said she credits the American Cancer Society for her lack of symptoms with her cancer.

"They have funded the way for the treatment I am now taking. I don't even like to think about what my life would be like without the knowledge the doctors have about my disease," Heppe said.

Currently the cancer is still in Heppe's lung, and she -- with Rebecca by her side -- will visit her doctor in Houston, Texas, this week.

"I don't feel like I have cancer -- I feel great," Heppe said, adding "Life is good!"

For more information about the Scott County Relay For Life set for June 3-4 at the Sikeston Sports Complex or the ACS call (573) 471-1823.