LORAIN — The always-optimistic Amy Butler said she was devastated when she learned that she had Stage 4 breast cancer in March 2013.
Already in what is considered the most-invasive stage of the disease, Butler immediately began chemotherapy and surgery treatments in what she said was the “the plan for a long life.”
Other women in her situation may have been discontent, but Butler saw a unique teaching opportunity.
So, between cancer treatments, Butler has continued her day-to-day work as principal of Elyria Catholic High School. She said she didn’t want her students to be afraid of the disease, and she wanted them to know that there are treatments for people like her.
“It’s not a death sentence anymore. You can live a long and meaningful life. You just have to do it one day at a time and have faith that God has a plan,” she said.
Butler’s story reached a larger audience on Saturday, when she received the American Cancer Society’s Living Angel award. The award recognizes individuals who have direct involvement in the field of cancer, either by working with cancer patients or through personal experience.
Butler was nominated by her older sister, Nora Conner, who said she looks up to her sister for handling her struggles in such a positive way.
“She’s awesome. Amy is, she’s positive. She’s just always been that way,” she said.
Conner said she nominated her sister, because she believes Butler can help others affected by cancer with her positive attitude and outlook on life.
Donning a sparkly pink dress at the American Cancer Society’s 28th annual Life Savers Ball, Butler said she wasn’t pleased that her sister nominated her for the award — she felt she didn’t deserve such an honor.
“As a cancer fighter, you do what you do every day, because that’s how you get through it. Certainly, I don’t feel that I have to be recognized for getting through it, but I do appreciate everything that has certainly come my way,” she told the audience.
Dr. Alexander Zolli, who organized the Life Savers Ball with his wife Maria, said Living Angels have touched lives, embraced challenges and created paths for others to follow. Each of the Angels has a unique story, he added.
“Each one has touched our hearts and has illustrated the finest qualities of the human character,” he said. “They live life with an attitude of gratitude.”
Butler was born in Oberlin — the third of seven children. The family grew up in Elyria, where Butler graduated from Elyria Catholic in 1980, going on to study at Kent State and Ashland universities.
Butler overcame juvenile diabetes at the age of 16 and fought Eclampsia with the birth of her son, Patrick.
Zolli said Butler’s most impressive feat was being open about her cancer diagnosis with her students, however.
“Her openness about this disease motivated them into actively participating in a variety of ways to help others and reinforced their resolve to meet life’s challenges intelligently,” he said. “She showed them that the cancer battle is not a pity part but an opportunity to be who you are meant to be.”
Butler remains optimistic about her prognosis. She said she’s responded well to cancer treatments thus far.
“I’ve had more good days than bad days, and I’m here for the long haul,” she said. “Whatever I can do to help the cause, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Some previous Living Angel Award recipients
- 1995 — Patti Betka
- 1997 — Madeline Zaworski
- 2005 — Rueben and Maria Escuro
- 2008 — Emily and Laura Zicchi
- 2010 — Matt Nakon
- 2012 — Marge Diadone
- 2013 — Jeremy, Ben and Debbie George