Principal of the Year Nominee Marches in Relay for Life Winter Haven 2022
by James Coulter
Nearly two and a half years ago, Amy Heiser-Meyers of Horizons Elementary, was raring to fight for breast cancer awareness in October when, ironically, breast cancer decided to fight her. Nearly a year of treatments later, she walked away winning that fight.
“A month we were supposed to be kicking breast cancer’s tail, [it] was trying to kick mine,” she said. “They chose the wrong chick. Literally! The last thing I was thinking about was ever being diagnosed with cancer. That happens to other people, right. Well, I became a statistic.”
Upon feeling a lump, she received a mammogram and was diagnosed with breast cancer stage 3C. She underwent 16 weeks of chemotherapy, followed by a mastectomy and 30 radiation sessions, until she finally was able to declare victory against the disease.
Through it all, her husband, a principal at another school, supported her and escorted her to her every treatment. She also received love from her school of 1,200 students, for whom she was a surrogate mother. Spending most of her time as a caregiver, she realized the importance of caring for herself as she does for others.
“We are caregivers,” she said. “Sometimes we chose only giving of ourselves to others that we do not pay attention to our ownselves. Please do not neglect your own health, be your own medical advocate, If all you are doing is caring for others, then you need to be caring for yourselves.”
Through it all, her experience taught her the importance of self-care. Heiser-Meyers is currently nominated as the Polk County Principal of the Year. She uses her platform to advocate that everyone becomes their own medical advocate and be alert for the signs of cancer. After all, nobody knows your own body than yourself, she said.
“Cancer can hit anybody,” she said. “It doesn’t care what race you are, it doesn’t care what socioeconomic status you are in, cancer will take and try to destroy anybody that it can, and we have to push back against it.”
Heiser-Meyers was one of the many cancer survivors who proudly marched the first lap of the Winter Haven Relay for Life event hosted Friday evening in Central Park. She was joined by nearly a dozen other survivors in walking around the park to celebrate their victory against cancer.
Relay For Life is the annual fundraiser for the American Cancer Society (ACS), a national non-profit organization that raises funds for cancer awareness, research, and assistance. Each year, fundraisers are hosted in cities across the country and world to allow people to show their support in the fight against cancer.
Each relay involves teams from throughout the community spending an evening raising funds and taking turns walking laps to raise awareness. The first lap is taken by survivors to celebrate their victory against cancer, with the second being taken by caregivers to celebrate their support. At dark, paper lanterns are lit and decorated in memory of a fallen loved one who lost the fight.
The Winter Haven Relay for Life was hosted Friday evening at South Central Park in the downtown area. The event raised $48,358.94, which was slightly short of their goal of $75,000. Of the 41 teams that participated that evening, Gerald Tucker of Cancer Can’t Tucker Us Out raised the most at $10,000.
Chris Hazelwood, event-co chair, praised ACS for its dedication to assisting cancer patients with vital services such as transportation to treatments, as well as for advocacy for preventative measures such as smoke-free environments in eateries and other public spaces.
“We are gathered here this evening because cancer continues to affect the lives of those we love. It is something we cannot ignore,” she said. “The ACS is fighting on every front. From providing patient access to services and treatments. They are leading the fight. You are not alone. Today we are here to celebrate all of those who have battled cancer, our survivors, remember our loved ones lost, and take action.”
Katie Banks, who also assisted with the event, also praised ACS for its efforts, and commended the volunteers and participants that evening for making the effort to fight the disease on every front.
“Let’s never forget why we are here,” she said. “Our survivors and those no longer with us are the reason we need to come together. Each and every one of you are here to bring the fight to cancer. Together we can beat our biggest rival.”