With the scars from her double mastectomy healing, Cleo Kent-Vandersalm felt an emotion she’d never experienced before.

On Tuesday, doctors told her she is cancer-free.

“I can’t even describe it,” said Kent-Vandersalm, 48, who is on her sixth day of remission. “It’s something I’ll never feel again in my life. It’s a new birthday. It gives you new life.”

Despite feeling chemotherapy drain her body’s energy as it fought away cancerous cells, Kent-Vandersalm was never scared of her breast cancer diagnosis. Her mom beat ovarian cancer twice and her sister beat breast cancer.

“I already knew what it felt like to have cancer in my family. I just didn’t know what it felt like for me to have cancer,” she said. “I knew I would beat it. My mom beat it, my sister beat it and I was next.”

Kent-Vandersalm has now dedicated herself to helping other cancer patients. She never would have pictured herself volunteering for Relay for Life, but after fighting — and winning — a battle against cancer, she is on the committee for the local Relay For Life, which is from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. May 3 at Shoemaker High School.

In preparation for the event, residents raised more than $600 during a Dancing for Cleo event Sunday at the Clements Boys & Girls Club.

“I want to make sure that I help everybody else who is fighting cancer, who has passed from cancer and who’s surviving cancer,” she said. “The best thing for anybody who has cancer to do is to have a good mind set. Think positive, you’re going to beat it.”

Kent-Vandersam’s husband, Sgt. 1st Class Timothy Vandersalm, 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, said he was stationed in Korea and set to retire when his wife called to tell him of her diagnosis. He’s glad his wife is in remission and at a spot in her life where her positivity can inspire others despite an uncertain diagnosis.

“I was happy, but it was more relief. For the last year, it’s just been very stressful, going through all the procedures with chemo and radiation,” he said. “The journey’s not over, but it’s at a good halfway point and we’re just going to continue on helping other people.”

Contact Sarah Rafique at srafique@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7553. Follow her on Twitter at SarahRafique.

I'm the education reporter at the Killeen Daily Herald. Follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SarahRafique

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