Two-time breast cancer survivor gives message of hope

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)– Believe it or not, Sharon Clark, near 80-years-old and living a very full life surrounded by family and friends, says breast cancer put her on a welcome new path in life.

“It was like stepping through a door into this wonderful world, a new kind of world.”

Sharon was 38-years-old in 1979 with three teens and a crumbling marriage when she found a lump in her breast. Surgical removal of her breast, a mastectomy with chemotherapy, was the only treatment option her doctor offered.

“He said, “Okay you’re going in for a mastectomy.” She said there was no choice because they weren’t doing biopsies back in 79.

The diagnosis and soon, a divorce, changed Sharon’s whole life. She went to nursing school, worked, and continued her schooling, even as she discovered a lump in her other breast and endured a second mastectomy.

“I had faith in myself and faith in God that I would get through this.”

Now, 41 years after Sharon’s first breast surgery when she left the hospital with only a pamphlet on cancer, modern experts in cancer treatment have many more options to offer patients from the very beginning.

“Now we can do these minimally invasive procedures with a needle targeted right to the area to figure out whether it’s cancer or not,” said Dr. Ermelinda Bonaccio, Chair of Diagnostic Radiology at Roswell Park.

“We can do things so much better and we have been able to do things so much better for women over the years,” says Dr. Marie Quinn, Director of Breast Imaging at Roswell Park.

As a volunteer with the nonprofit Breast Cancer Network of Western New York, Sharon provides support to the newly diagnosed and she finds support as well.

“The first meeting I went to, it was like coming home because all these women are talking about it. Nobody talked about it when I was first diagnosed.”

And she says friends who would listen were so important as she faced cancer.

“I know they were busy doing things. They just let me talk. All they did was sit there and listen. That’s all I needed. Ten minutes later, I was gone. But they were always there.”

Now, Sharon is working on her bucket list, like zip-lining, a hot-air balloon ride, and lots of family travel time.

Her faith and her joy are carrying her through a remarkable life. She holds the hands of women who’ve just heard a cancer diagnosis and she urges them to look toward better days ahead.

“There’s no right way or wrong way of going through it. You just go through it. You just press on.”

Jacquie Walker is an award-winning anchor and reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 1983. See more of her work here.

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