By Rose L. Thayer
Killeen Daily Herald
When Michael DeHart heard he was selected as a Hero of Hope by the American Cancer Society, he thought the caller was joking.
"I'm going, 'Sure, OK,'" he said laughing about the telephone conversation in April.
DeHart knew of the award, which recognizes 27 cancer survivors and caregivers who made significant contributions to cancer control, had an impact in the lives of others and had exemplary involvement with Relay for Life. He just never thought he would be a recipient of the honor.
Finally, he recalled, the caller in April got serious, "'Michael, you're not paying attention,'" he said the organization's representative told him. He truly had been nominated and selected as a 2012 Hero of Hope.
As a Hero of Hope, DeHart, whose day job is executive officer of the Fort Hood Area Association of Realtors, will serve as an ambassador for cancer patients and survivors in the South and Central regions of Texas. He is the first Killeen-area resident chosen for the award.
"He's good because he's a local person people are familiar with," said Brooke Honza, community manager with the American Cancer Society. "He'll be that person there to walk beside you and hold your hand through the process."
DeHart's main duties will be to serve as a speaker for area cancer events, share his battle with tongue cancer, support committees of the 104 Relay for Life events in his coverage area as well as support cancer patients, survivors and caregivers.
Honza said she loves to hear DeHart speak. "With Michael, you get the sad part, but he makes light of the situation and brings a lot of humor into the story," she said. "It's okay to laugh at yourself and to laugh at the struggle you've been through."
For DeHart, the most important part of being a cancer survivor is reaching out to people dealing with the disease and helping them through it.
"When you hear those three words, 'You have cancer,' after that, everything else is kind of a blur," he said. "They are giving you so much information, it's like you're drinking out of a fire hose that's on full blast. You're getting real wet, you're just not getting a lot of water in there."
DeHart's cancer was deemed stage three and he underwent chemotherapy, radiation and surgery in 2007. He said doctors warned that he might lose his tongue and larynx.
"I want to tell people that cancer is not a death sentence," said DeHart about his goals as a Hero of Hope. "That the American Cancer Society is doing some really good things, and I want to help people that are currently in treatment or about to go into treatment. I want to be a resource for them."
He also is looking forward to working with the committee for Killeen/Fort Hood/Harker Heights Relay for Life committee, which is held each spring.
"He's very deserving of (being a Hero of Hope), and I think he'll do it justice," said Misty Byrd, a committee co-chair of the local event. "Relays themselves are pretty big, and ours is huge. Just to have him be a part of that with us is special."
Michele Cox, the event's other co-chair, said DeHart's excitement about Relay for Life is contagious. "Just hanging around him helps," she said. "Your excitement level beefs up just being around him."
Despite DeHart's ability to bring humor to a serious topic, there is one very real, true message he wants to share during his year as a Hero of Hope. "There are going to be good days, and there are going to be bad days. That's just the way it is," he said. "You get through the bad days, so that you can live the good days."
Contact Rose L. Thayer at firstname.lastname@example.org of (254) 501-7463. Follow her on Twitter at KDHreporter.