MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — The University of South Alabama will pay a special tribute Thursday night to its healthcare heroes with A Night Honoring Healers.

One honoree is fighting her own health battle and is still serving the community. For the last 23 years, Shelia Ross has worked in brain and stroke care. Since 2016, she’s been with USA Health University Hospital, serving as the Director of the Comprehensive Stroke Program.

“We’ve gone from a small number of strokes coming to our hospital to where we’re calling 120 stroke codes a month,” said Ross.

Ross’s work involves community outreach. She talks to people daily about brain health and stroke care.

“We use every opportunity to go out in the community. Health fairs, senior citizen centers, the brain at the football game. which was huge and so much fun. We have this huge, mega-inflatable brain that taught about brain function and what’s going on with a stroke, and we handed out materials to over a thousand people.”

When it comes to matters of health, Ross believes in speaking up for yourself.

“You have to be your own advocate. You have to get out there and really be a little forceful sometime,” said Ross.

Ross took her own advice last year when her health took an unexpected turn. After many routine mammograms, on Sept. 3, she found a lump on her breast.

She said, “It was hard, it was stationary, it was irregular” and knew right away it was cancer.

“I called the office and I said, ‘I have a found a lump. I need to see my doctor.’ This was September 3rd. She said, ‘I have an appointment on November 10th.’ And I went, ‘Absolutely not. I’m going to see her this week,’” said Ross.

And so, she did. She went in for an ultrasound and a biopsy.

“We didn’t have any results back but Dr. Lynn Dyess, who is a dear friend and the oncology surgeon I chose to participate under my care. She came in the room and said, ‘Shelia, you and I both know it’s cancer. We just have to find out what kind.”

It turned out to be triple-negative breast cancer, which is hard to destroy and has no targeted therapies. With the help of many healthcare professionals, Ross was set out on a treatment plan.

“Thanks to Dr. Dyess, I had my port placed on October 5th and I started my chemo Oct. 6, and Dr. Pro is my oncologist. She mapped out my plan,” said Ross.

Ross received chemotherapy on Fridays and said University Hospital did a great job working around her treatments, so she never had to miss work. After a while, scans showed that her tumor shrank. It was gone by the time she was ready for surgery. 

Things were looking up for Ross until she came down with bilateral pneumonia and other problems in January. In March, an enlarged lymph node, the second cancer, was found, setting her on another long road for treatments. Despite her health challenges, she’s not letting that get her down.

“I feel good. I don’t feel sick, at all. I don’t feel like I have cancer,” said Ross.

Throughout her journey, Ross said her healthcare providers always answered questions and kept her in the loop about her treatments. Not being in the dark made it easier for her to stay positive.

“If I had any concern, it was addressed so I could be happy. I am so fortunate to be in Mobile, Alabama and to be a health care provider, and to know the people I know,” said Ross.

While she wouldn’t wish her challenges on anyone, Ross says her battle with cancer has helped her grow.

“It’s changed my perspective on total care and being an advocate for more than just stroke,” said Ross.